“If We Think Every Kashmiri Muslim Is Responsible For Exodus Of Pandits, We Are Wrong”

A few days ago, the trailer of the movie Shikara was released; it is an upcoming Bollywood movie directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, starring Aadil Khan and Sadia. As per the trailer, the film is based on the events of 1990, when the Pandit population, living in Kashmir, were forced to leave the valley by the radical elements. This event is popularly known as the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and how they were forced to live in their own country as refugees.

A still from the movie Shikara – it is a Bollywood movie directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, starring Aadil Khan and Sadia.

The trailer forced me to go back to history and find out what happened in Kashmir on 19th January 1990.

The night of January 19, 1990, turned out to be the most violent night, for several Pandits, Sikhs etc. living in the valley – where loudspeakers with words “Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galiv” (convert to Islam, leave the place or perish) were announced, and radical people had come out on the streets, chanting highly provocative slogans.

Col. Tej Kumar Tikoo in his book ‘Kashmir, Its Aborigines And Their Exodus’ writes about the experience of that tragic night: “As the night fell, the microscopic community became panic-stricken, when the valley began reverberating with the war cries of Islamists, who had stage-managed the whole event with great care; choosing its timing and slogans to be used. A host of highly provocative, communal and threatening slogans, interspersed with martial songs, incited the muslims to come out on the streets and break the chain of ‘slavery’. These exhortations urged the faithful to give a final push to the Kafir in order to ring in the true Islamic order. These slogans were mixed with precise and unambiguous threats to Pandits.”

These lines mentioned by Col. Tej Kumar Tikoo clearly show why the victims of this event still remember the night with shivers. It is said that around 1,00,000 to 1,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the valley during that period, to save themselves from the violent situation.

So when the Indian Government abrogated Article 370, it was quite understandable why many Kashmiri Pandits celebrated, because they thought that there is a chance they might finally return to Kashmir.

But after reading this, if we think that every Kashmiri Muslim was involved in this crime, then we are wrong: Sanjay Tikoo who is the head of KPSS, an organisation that looks after the Pandit population in Kashmir, reminisced his experiences of the event. In front of his house, there was a note, asking them to leave Kashmir, but when his Muslim neighbours came to know about it, they supported Tikoo’s family and made sure they did not leave the valley.

This event proved, that still there were people who did not want this event to occur, but he also stated, that even after that fateful night, there were instances, where the remaining Pandit population faced violence. Following this, the relations between the Muslims and Pandits did get affected.

After the many of the Pandit population were forced to leave, the situation in Kashmir deteriorated and there were many reasons for this; which has made Kashmir one of the most militarized regions in the world, and this has definitely affected the population in Kashmir too, in many forms.

Although, if we talk about who was responsible for this crime or what were their vested interests were, even a book might not be enough; but still, one question comes to mind, can this situation be solved, can the people who were forced to leave their homes return back to where they were born and intend to spend their lives?

In my opinion, attempts should be made, by responsible authorities, to ensure that the situation stabilises in Kashmir. This should happen in co-operation with local people because till now whatever has happened in Kashmir, it has not brought any positive impact either for the people living there or the people living in other parts of the country –  all it has led to is hatred.

Hence, all efforts should be taken to make sure Kashmir actually becomes synonyms with heaven and becomes a symbol of religious brotherhood, so that the people who are waiting for years, can finally return to the valley. After all, they too are Kashmiris.

It is not only the responsibility of the Government but also the citizens because the choice is ours: either we continue the conflict-like atmosphere; where no one benefits or we take initiatives to develop the region, which will not only benefit the local population but also the country as a whole. But again, this can only happen if the people of Kashmir and other parts of the country co-operate.

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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 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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