This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Shubham Rai. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why Can’t We Criticise The Govt Without Being Labelled As “Anti-National”?

Wall, a word that has multiple meanings and literary functions that sometimes the deepest of the meanings can be conveyed by this simple word. Remember that during the Cultural Revolution in Beijing? Chinese people put posters in public places expressing their views and speaking about their sufferings on a wall in Beijing that popularly came to be known as the Democracy Wall.

It seems like contemporary India, which has many similarities to Nazi Germany, like the slogan ‘Heil Hitler’ and its Indian avatar ‘Modi Modi,’ needs a similar democracy wall. But, who would give us this vertical platform?

PM Modi Ramlila Maidan Speech
PM Modi

Secularism Under Threat

Communal politics rules over secularism. The party in power thoroughly believes in religious ideologies, the principal cause of religious riots and lynchings all across the country. The set of communal, religious people, fundamentalists of any religion, not only hurt the sentiments of people from other religions, but they end up killing them in the name of God. Such incidents have put the very idea of a secular and plural country like India in threat.

Unprecedented Unemployment

It has become very easy to call someone who tries to perform the function of a democratic person in a free country, by asking significant questions, as an “anti-national” or an “anti-Indian”.

People who believe in democracy are really in distress. Under the NDA government, we saw that job creation, the essential job of the state machinery, did not reach even close to half its claims. However, when the then-president of the BJP, Amit Shah, was asked about this, he replied with an even less satisfactory answer, that it is nearly impossible to provide jobs for 125 crores people citing that self-employment is a big source of employment for people in the country.

At this point, I want to ask: if self-employment is a big source of employment, then, why did the unemployment rate rise to around 7.2% in February 2019, the worst in 28 months? Why has the number of employed people declined by more than 18 million?

False Promises

The rise of fascism is taking place. The new era of anachronism is taking place. A BJP minister spoke about the establishment of the Ram temples, where they got their way, but doesn’t talk about the establishment of schools, the establishment of hospitals. He sternly pointed at the very important fact that the main agenda of the ruling party is to create temples across India.

Another sector where the situation is worsening is agriculture. Our respected prime minister made huge promises of giving assurances to the farmers of more than 50% profit, but, it has been found that the income of the farmers has hardly incurred any noted growth over the last five years.

किसान
Representational image.

Let us recall an incident where our Mr Modi held a rally at Varanasi and delivered ‘inspiring’ and lengthy speeches. Thousands of people gathered to chant the ‘Modi’ slogans but nobody realized that the rally caused the destruction of the crops; the reason being the construction of two helipads for his special landing.

When the 60-year-old farmer Chamela Devi asked the officials about it, she was told that she would be getting compensation, or, in case, she doesn’t get it, she could claim the possession of the bricks. Later on, the bricks were taken away and her son was beaten up after he refused the government’s action of taking away the bricks.

So who were destroyed? Or is it just another brick in the wall, eh? A wall of false promises.

All these problems were not pointed out by popular media channels. Rather the campaign, along with the propaganda, was hugely portrayed through social media followed by advertisements at public places like petrol pumps. People are being subjected to misfortunes and lies regularly, and the government is leveraging the paid media to promote itself.

A Country Needs Its Youth for Development

Any country needs to be questioned by the young and liberal minds. It’s they who, through their critique and new ideas, shape the country. (It’s not the age; it’s anyone who has the power to connect with people and their outstanding humanity and valor.) Questions should be asked so that people get to know more from the liberal young and educated minds. But, for developing this ability to question, education is necessary.

However, it’s that very structure that the BJP-led government has harmed and ignored in order to stop producing ‘questioning minds.’ In propagating its policies of communalism, centralisation, and commercialisation the education sector was isolated, as profit-maximisation became the main motive for the private capital on whose support the government runs.

The Hindutva agenda is brought to the country, thereby leading to the destruction of the federal character of the Indian education and crippling it beyond repair. (Think about changing significant developments in the history notebooks, attack on the best of universities, and more.)

We must question why people are being influenced by this ‘nationalism,’ whose very notion the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore warned us against. We must ask the PM, who promised a lot and when it came to delivering, said that “selling pakodas” will be a great self-employment exercise instead of proper employment.

We must ask questions: Why have voters been denied the right to know about the funding of the government? Who’s funding whom and how much? Why isn’t proper education given to us? Why education is costly and lives so cheap (mob lynching)? Why did demonetisation fail to curb the black money problem, for which it was rolled out? What happened to the “give me 50 days” claim of the 56-inch PM?

Over the last 5 years, the institutions of the state have been injured badly. They seem to be either singing praises of the government or made irrelevant. More than 10 million Indians lost their jobs. Unemployment numbers have hit an unprecedented mark in the last 45 years. Why are we not talk about these issues? Why is someone called “anti-national” when one questions the government?

The nation seriously wants to know answers to all these questions. Break this wall and ask questions.

Let us build a wall of democracy rather than getting trapped inside the wall of autocracy.

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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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