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This Is How The Indian Civil Liberties Union Is Helping People Reclaim Their Human Rights

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This post is also a part of YKA's user-run series, Excluded - Understanding the CAA and NRC, by Indian Civil Liberties Union, curated by YKA top user Sanobar. Join the conversation by adding a post here.

By showing me injustice he taught me to love justice. By teaching me what pain and humiliation were all about, he awakened my heart to mercy. Through these hardships, I learned hard lessons. Fight against prejudice, battle the oppressors, support the underdog. Question authority, shake up the system, never be discouraged by hard times and hard people. Embrace those who are placed last, to whom even bottom looks like up.”

― Roy Black

The above-mentioned quote adorned the wall of Shahid Azmi ,who was shot dead for standing up for the rights of the last, the lost and the least. Today, Shahid Azmi’s life and struggles inspire us to fight against the repression, brutality, and inequality. This is quote guides us as well.

The Indian Civil Liberties Union (ICLU), a network of lawyers, activists, paralegals, and students across India have come together to reach out, and provide easily accessible information and free legal aid to Indian citizens, especially the poor, marginalised, and migrant laborers whose citizenship is threatened by the National Register Of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The fight is to bring justice to those who are excluded and threatened by the prospect of statelessness.

In Assam, ICLU became the first advocacy organization on ground and reached out to more than 400 people

True to its name, the ICLU has been working tirelessly since its inception in 2018 to protect Constitutional values and civil liberties. The ICLU has been at the forefront of providing legal aid to students and protesters who are being harassed, detained, and arrested during the anti-CAA protests across India.

We were key in the drafting of the anti-lynching law and the implementation of the Supreme Court guidelines in cases of lynching. We have reported on the violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) during the general elections of 2019.

The ICLU has also prepared easily accessible documents on several legislations such as the Right to Information Bill, 2019, and the National Register of Citizens in Assam.

A civilization succeeds only when the weakest and most vulnerable have access to justice and they believe in the rule of law. Access to justice is an ongoing mission that has faltered and failed, and yet, the ideals live on and continue to inspire a whole new generation of lawyers.

Access to Justice and the protection of civil liberties is the two-fold agenda of the Indian Civil Liberties Union.

The term civil rights gained popularity in the 1950’s and the ’60s and has become associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the March on Washington. The momentum of the struggle against Jim Crow laws and segregation across the nation carried over into other movements.

In India, the civil rights movement gained momentum during the period of Emergency in the 1970’s. One of the striking characteristics of today’s civil rights movement is its breadth and diversity, encompassing disability advocacy, LGBTQ groups, Forest Rights group and minority protection organisations. All share a commitment to creating a just society through legal means.

Civil liberties groups also actively defend the right to petition for the writ of habeas corpus as well as other writ Petitions. With the state now ruling with iron fists, these rights have become particularly important to protect, as the UAPA, AFSPA, CAA and various government programs undercut basic rights.

The issue of people being detained without due process or being booked under stringent charges on flimsy grounds has also been of central concern in the past several years, as well as the conduct in those prisons as well as detention centers, which violate both municipal and international law.

The ICLU intends to intervene against unfair government involvement in daily life, from religious profiling to free speech to invasion of privacy. Among the first interventions of the ICLU, was the implementation of the Supreme Court guidelines in cases of lynching.

The ICLU also takes pride in its effort to get at least three states to follow the model law prepared by us. Last summer, in the run-up to General Elections, the ICLU made important interventions on violation of the model code of conduct by various political parties and leaders.

The ICLU also created awareness around the Electoral Verification Program, as well as the necessity to participate in the democratic process.

When the final NRC list for the State of Assam was prepared, the ICLU shared the helpline of another civil society organisation, United Against Hate, to contain the panic and to let the people who were left out of the NRC list in Assam. ICLU also became one of the first civil liberties organiaations to set legal aid camps in the Bodo Territorial Districts of Assam.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

― United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

However, the most important intervention of the ICLU happened during the ongoing movement against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the process of NRC/NPR.

With a large number of people being detained and the police brutality in universities and otherwise, the members of the Indian Civil Liberties Union along with other organisations like Rihai Manch and individual lawyers made necessary interventions in getting people released and upholding the rule of law.

The simultaneous reactions in different cities lead to an instant expansion of the ICLU in many districts of Uttar Pradesh. The young lawyers by risking such interventions and in face of constant abuse, frustration, and fatigue have upheld the greatest tradition of bar and their profession.

Article 19(1)(b) All citizens have the right
a) to freedom of speech and expression;
b) to assemble peacefully and without arms
ICLU’s stay safe poster

We also realise that litigation by itself cannot fully address civil rights abuses. The ICLU has begun to work together with grassroots organisations like United Against Hate, ABMSU, and others to address problems in the local communities.

The ICLU also comprises experts in history, public administration communications, academics, psychology, management, and graphic designers. These people handle and shape the overall working, coordination, informatics, and ideology of the organisation. Along with lawyers, law students, and paralegals, these members and volunteers have worked tirelessly to keep the organization running and to provide crucial support.

In the last decade or so we Indians have chosen to increasingly forsake the spirit of liberty. We are ready to give all our rights to a ‘Leviathan‘ without thinking that leviathans often tend to destroy the very people who gave up all their rights in return for expected safety and development.

History is replete with instances where people who willingly gave up their liberties in an expected return of safety or fear of unknown ended up being brutalised and tormented by the very Leviathan they reposed their trust. However, this movement has also created awareness about the rights and liberties of individuals. It has been more than 3 weeks days since the movement has started and it refuses to die down.

The people of India have finally decided to take on the street to protect the Constitution and uphold the rule of law. This happened because the Courts have arguably failed the masses by either delaying or declining justice.

In a piece published in India Today, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, asked; “Does independent India value liberty in its true spirit or is it content with a mere semblance of freedom? The answer will come not from India’s courts, but from its people.

We believe the answer is written on the wall.

About the authors: Anas Tanwir is an advocate at the Supreme Court of India, and the founder of the Indian Civil Liberties Union (ICLU).
Sanobar Fatma is a student of History & Human Rights and is the co-founder of ICLU.

Featured image provided by the author.


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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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