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“As A Kashmiri, Questions Of Free Speech And Movement Refuse To Leave My Mind”

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Internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” said former President of USA, Barack Obama.

Its the 21st century, where we are supposedly in the most developed time of mankind. The internet has changed lives around the Globe. People have been coming up with wonderful innovations, from almost every aspect of life, and have presented it to the world.

The Internet is yet to be restored fully in Kashmir, which has been under an internet shutdown for 5 months now.

Whether the development is in the field of science, literature, or any sphere, anything takes just nanoseconds to reach any corner of the world. Anyone can access information about anything. It’s not like when people would confine themselves to very limited things; when they didn’t have access to the rest of the world.

Today, no matter where you are, or how far you are from the source of information, you will still get within nanoseconds.
Digital technology, especially the internet, has had a wide impact on the present world. Can anyone imagine if the internet were to be suspended all over the world for a day or two, what would happen?

The Internet Clampdown In Kashmir

It’s not the first time that the people of Kashmir have been denied their basic rights. An internet clampdown is something that’s been very commonly used in Kashmir. Internet clampdowns have become as common in Kashmir as curfews, hartals (strike), encounters. It seems like each encounter follows an internet clampdown in Kashmir.

The abrogation of Article 370 came along with the rhetoric to decrease unemployment in Kashmir.

From the day that the abrogation took place, on August 5, 2019, there has been no internet in Kashmir. The people who were trying to make ends meet, those who earn their livelihood through the internet, have only been left in despair.

With the internet clampdown, it seems like Kashmiris have been shunned by the rest of the world.

The recent years have been very much transformative, in terms of creating a space for work by the youngsters, for themselves, and for others as well. There are an n-number of youngsters who have launched their online shops rather than craving for government jobs, which is quite praiseworthy. But, who cares about those young investors whose businesses are wholly dependent on the internet, right?

The women of Kashmir were coming to the forefront in business, and a lot of women had launched their online stores over the last few years. They also tried to use the online space to show their creativity to the world.

But, with the clampdown, more than 150 days in Kashmir, the investors must be disappointed. After making investments they are ending up with a loss. The people of Kashmir, who were looking for new things, and also trying to get out of the established system, have always only been put down by the draconian laws.

The people of Kashmir have been left with no space to think, no space to initiate anything. As a Kashmiri, the question of free speech and of free movement grows its branches, deep down in my mind. Everyone has been greatly affected by the internet clampdown: students, people in business, news agencies, bloggers, online investors, hoteliers, and more.

Students have been the worst-hit by the internet clampdown in Kashmir. Rather than spending a lot of money on books, students used to be able to study the material available on the internet, or even buy some research papers for a very little amount and go through them, and prepare for exams.

Kashmiri schools re-open, but classrooms remain empty © BBC Network

What usually happens in Kashmir when the internet doesn’t work is that rumours about anything start to float everywhere, which just adds chaos to already-traumatised minds. The exact, accurate news doesn’t reach people. They end up believing anything which has been said. With the internet clampdown, it seems like Kashmiris have been shunned by the rest of the world.

In the present, post-modern time, its a tragedy of our civilisation, that there is a place called Kashmir where people have been left with nothing, they cannot even think, because they cannot act according to their thinking.

Not a single strong voice comes from anywhere in favour of Kashmir, against the blockade of common life, against the internet clampdown because every ‘so-called’ strong voice is afraid of the circumstances that might follow them afterwards.

India is a global market, and I feel that no powerful country would like to have a rift with India by speaking in favour of humanity. It seems like they have more interest in the market rather than the people. It seems like the people of Kashmir don’t matter at all. Not talking about the people of Kashmir, their rights, their free will, their choice, is an abnormality in itself.

In the name of employment and development, Article 370 had been abrogated. It now seems that the abrogation has only put forward unemployment over the last four months.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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