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“This Republic Day, I Have More Reasons To Be Angry Than Proud”

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It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

Incredulity, belief, wisdom and foolishness notwithstanding, superlative degrees of comparison are trending in India today. For every argument you put forward, there are three rebuttals. Unfortunately, none of this is in the democratic spirit of debate, but a fervent compulsion to prove one narrative, and one narrative only, as encompassing.

As a former student of philosophy, I find it important to tell you that there is no universal truth. It just doesn’t exist. Just like Smriti Irani’s degree. (Not that that’s a problem, but this is supposed to be a wordplay on truth, so just go with it.)

Before it upsets you that my comment was elitist, let me clarify that I will not, through the course of this article, pretend to be something I’m not. Given India’s sprawling social, historical, and political fabric, I come from considerable privilege. And at the risk of sounding preachy (though I hope it doesn’t sound so), I find that at this specific crossroads, the least I can do is accept my privilege and use it to smash exactly what keeps it alive.

A telling placard held up at one of many anti-CAA protests across the country.

Yet, despite my privilege, I am in danger in today’s India. Simply because I choose to think for myself. And, if you are guilty of the same, then you are in danger too. What is important to note here is that this fear is the final manifestation of the state-sponsored violence that is being inflicted on citizens at this point.

It is no longer physical, the violence. It now cracks down on you like an ideological whip, shaping you into the exact kind of nationalistic marauder you’re supposed to be. This is a narrow and claustrophobic definition, which will take generations to dilute.

The idea of India that we, as children, were asked to write in every Republic Day Essay Competition is something we truly thought we would grow up into living in. (Well, me, at least. Is that naivete or privilege?) For heaven’s sake, we never thought that Shah Rukh Khan playing a character called Major Ram Sharma was an issue. If anything, he was a better Ram than the mythological character.

Let me break it down.

As a member of the anti-national youth, I am mad. I am mad that this is what I have to deal with. I am mad that a bunch of adults voted in this government in 2014, but now, those who were kids then, have to deal with decades of damage. Literally nobody who is serious about giving their exams wants to talk to PM Modi about it while the country is reduced to chaos.

As someone with a job in a flailing economy, I am mad. I’m nervous about any investment I make, skeptical about taking loans, and just downright irritated because no one takes my concern seriously. Why, you ask? Because “women don’t know anything about money.” Kudos to our Finance Minister for inadvertently but generously endorsing that stereotype. This was an opportunity of gigantic proportions and could have pushed us forward immensely, but alas! Uber just ruined it all.

As a woman, I am mad. The impunity with which crimes against women continue to be committed is appalling. When the media decides that one such crime is more gruesome than the other, political leadership does nothing but appropriate it for their own benefit. Divorce, consent, harassment, are as much political issues as they are personal issues. That doesn’t mean you make vote banks out of centuries of oppression.

As a product of India’s public education system, I am mad. College is one of the few equalising spaces that exist in the country. Therefore, it is not surprising to me that some of our premier universities were the first to be attacked. But what this signals is a dangerous downfall.

Antagonising the majority of the nation (as of 2020, 65% of India is below 35 years of age), is a smart move. It makes them angry against the government today, but tomorrow, it makes them angry against the establishment. The insides of a disillusioned mind are without hope, and that can be a fatal blow to a republic.

As someone with parents from two different faiths, I am mad. My right to exist as a citizen in a secular country is being threatened with fancy-sounding plans that seem to have no substance. In my honest opinion, anybody who cares about your surname while befriending you deserves the very worst of a Takeshi’s Castle task set.

As someone who is privileged to have multiple meals a day, I am mad. The only reason you and I have food on our plates each day are our farmers. The farmer crisis has never been worse, and this government’s apathy regarding the situation is, frankly, worrying. Agriculture and rural economies are the backbone of the country and remain extremely vulnerable while you and I debate in comment sections online.

Yet, as a democratic citizen, I am determined to be unfazed. This is a careful creation to keep your minds away from the fact that Modi and his Cabinet couldn’t govern the country if you gave it to them on a Monopoly board.

My biggest fear remains that should the outrage against the government reduce at any given point, we will be met with crucial institutions and the basic structure of the country going completely defunct. As important as it is to fight the arrows shot at India’s secular fabric, it is equally important to hold the government accountable for reducing our quality of life, maintaining which, is literally their only job!

This Republic Day, while I spend a lot of my time being mad, I hope that collectively, we’re able to realise our true potential and rise above the mincemeat that is being made out of us. We’re above just one identity defining us. We’re above giving in to foolish narratives that do nothing but jeopardise freedoms that people have fought for generations to get. We’re above two men telling us what to do.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Rafael Matsunaga/Wikimedia Commons; Sonu Kishan/The India Today Group via Getty Images.
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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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