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Opinion: Why The Anti-CAA Stir Is An ‘Out Of Syllabus Question’ For The BJP

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In 2014, when Narendra Modi ascended to the post of India’s Prime Minister, not only did he enjoy the support of the masses but also some of the foremost intellectuals paraded for his run as the PM. Backed by the rich, media, academia and the masses determined for a “greater change,” his victory was inevitable. He had put forward a lucrative dream called a New India.

We must pause to recollect that this dream was overtly positive with no explicit communal suggestion similar to the 2019 campaign. The communal campaign was limited to the erstwhile so-called ‘fringe elements’ who are mainstream today. In this New India, Mr Modi promised to implement the lucrative Gujarat model. Each day of his ‘rule’ was supposed to be an “achcha din” (good day). 2014 was the beginning of a new India: Modi’s India.

Modi’s blitz did not cease here. He continued to win election after election. In a matter of just one year, the entire opposition was choke-slammed into silence. To every doubter, they said. “It is too early to ask questions. Let him work. Give him time. What did the Gandhi family do in the last 7 decades?”

This extreme repulsion against the preceding governments allowed Mr Modi to accumulate more meat. He became an ultimate heavyweight of the Indian political arena. Given his mammoth stature, it became simply irrational for him to even refer to the feeble existing opposition, therefore, the self-christened Pradhan Sewak (prime servant) challenged Pandit Nehru, the late Pratham Sewak (first servant) for rhetorical bouts! His flanks blamed Nehru for committing fatal anti-India errors. Nehru’s actions apparently hindered Modi from delivering.

A scene from one of several protests against the CAA at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi.

The clock was ticking. PM Modi’s voters wanted him to deliver. He could not carry on lamenting the blunders of the Congress party. It was exactly at this point when they launched a campaign to slay the inherent tendency of this country’s voter, i.e. to expect the government to work for the voter and in case of failure, the citizens would hold the government accountable through the institutions of checks and balances.

Slowly, the media, election commission and the judiciary started to lose their lustre. This was not unprecedented; deep down, a large number of Indians had always longed to be ruled by a man like Mr Modi; someone whose stature could make every ‘loathsome,’ indolent and corrupted institution look timid and obedient towards the majority. Indian media, being no exception, submitted to him. He was, by now, the Hindu Hriday Samrat (The ruler of Hindu hearts).

By this time, the BJP IT cell had developed its vicious talons. Back then, posting an anti-government post meant inviting a swarm of stinging trolls. Speaking up felt lonely and of course dangerous. The online atmosphere became more toxic. Never had people been allowed to openly show their communal fangs so routinely. It created a faux impression that everyone blindly supports this government.

For the trolls, it was so rewarding. They were often joined by union ministers and occasionally by the PM himself. In the backdrop of the aforesaid and the Aadhar controversy, we must recall that around this time a little known and entirely new telecom company’s popularity sky-rocketed. It was offering free and fast internet for several months. The IT cell enjoyed unquestioned power for most of Modi’s first term.

As early as 2015, Mr Modi’s BJP and its IT cell had developed a workable formula to keep the citizens busy. The formula given to the media and IT cell to set the agenda for the masses is quite naked now. At its heart, it is Islamophobic, anti-Dalit, anti-women, anti-science, anti-rational, and most importantly anti-national.

One film, one actor, one author, one public intellectual, one historical/religious figure, one university, one socially unfortunate student (Najeeb, Rohit, Payal and Fathima), one animal (cow) and one lynching every year (Akhlaq, Junaid, Pehlu, Qasim, Afrazul, Tabrez) was diabolically used to polarise the common masses like never before.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah greet crowds after their resounding victory in 2019’s General Elections.

Communal controversies like love jihad (hadiya), land jihad (kairana) were raised periodically to keep the communal pot on the boil. No one, not even the IT cell, follows this scheme as religiously as the Indian TV news anchors.

Let us just take the example of movie or the controversy surrounding it, to understand how films were appropriated or assaulted to match the narrative of the Hindutva brigade – PK in 2015, Lipstick Under My Burqa in 2016, Padmaavat in 2017, some other films that propelled the virulent us vs them, films on surgical strike and finally, bio-epics on Manmohan Singh and PM Modi!

In 2020, Chhapaak or Tanhaji merely follow this logical sequence. Never before had actors, cricketers, singers behaved like trolls of the government. The fiercest critics of the previous government became the most loyal generals of this government’s actions. When this well-crafted script failed, the rabbit of national security/valour was pulled out from the hat.

The first opposition to this government came from the universities making them its biggest ideological foe. This resistance was feeble but foundational. The rampage that ensued, gave us a plethora of fresh and intelligent voices like Umar Khalid, Kanhaiya, Pooja Shukla and many more.

In the constant pursuit to make new foes the people’s movement was silently bestowed with new friends. This list just keeps on getting bigger because India has never had so many educated, creative, informed and questioning young minds. Bloggers, comics, YouTubers, academics, a section of Bollywood, alternative critical new media, civil society and millions of disconnected citizens separated by geographical and linguistic barriers started speaking up.

However, this was no match for the organised almighty Goliath establishment. These voices seemed to be echoing in small closed rooms with no real on-ground impact. But, contrary to that, they were making an impact, although little less loud than the current movement.

While looking back, many feel that the past six years were the most testing ones for India’s democracy, especially its largest minority, the Muslims. What was earlier hidden, drawing-room communalism is now a cardinal daily public ritual: a standard of this numb societal normalcy.

India’s secular nationalism, based around the ambitious if not mythical “Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai” narrative seemed no match for this radical wave of Hindutva nationalism which defines our national character today. The biggest failure of secularists was to surrender all our cherished symbols of nationalism to their marauders. The liberal section of Indian media and a section of intellectuals kept theorising the failure of the “secular wonder.”

Ironically, the ‘secular’ parties blamed Muslims, the biggest sufferers, for their failure. Rather, it was they who failed to protect the Muslim community during their most humiliating ordeal in India. Muslims were advised to look less Muslim.

As electoral precautions, the opposition leaders were advised to appear more Hindu. This strategy failed too. The next election became an election where Muslims were completely irrelevant for all the national parties. It was reduced to an election of Hindus, by Hindus and for Hindus. By 2019, Muslims were political untouchables and secularism was a cuss word.

2019 was the second most crucial year of the last decade for India. It was a vivid testimonial of how India changed its character as a nation during the Modi years. It will be remembered for different reasons: Pulwama attack, Balakot airstrike, Captain Abhinandan, Narendra Modi’s unbelievable mandate and re-election, the reading down of Article 370 and 35(A), the momentous Ayodhya verdict, astonishing state assembly poll results, the CAA-NRC-NPR conundrum, and last but not the least – the unending anti-CAA protests – a rude shock and an ultimate challenge to this large compendium of hatred.

A placard from one of many protests across India.

The public reaction and disagreement over the CAA-NRC-NPR are no more limited to online outrage. They are now a loud offline slap on the face. There’s something remarkably peculiar about the anti-CAA stir led by university students, civil society and Muslim women.

Students have stood up for various causes in the past. However, one cannot recall any other struggle apart from the freedom struggle where such a large number of university students of India have hit the streets in unison for a change.

Before 2014, there was a huge disconnect between society and the university. JNU, Jamia and AMU were discarded as burgeoning havens of the “tukde tukde gang.” They were ignored as seasonal dissenters. They have successfully managed to establish a dialogue within society today.

By desecrating the foundations of universities like JNU, AMU and Jamia, the attackers have brought classrooms on the roads. The masses are their classmates now. The courageous people of Shaheen Baagh are the classmates of Jamia students.

Who had thought that the BJP with that ruthless majority in the Parliament will have to organise support rallies for the CAA and NRC? With his unquestionable charisma, the notorious BJP IT cell, the pan-media support and a swarm of ‘masked fringes’ by his side, PM Modi failed to divert people’s attention this time.

India’s secular nationalism is rising in rage against the narrow Hindutva nationalism. It is pushing back. The tricolour, the national anthem, and all other cherished symbols of national pride have been reclaimed from the clutches of Hindutva.

A bruised Jamia, a limping AMU and a battered JNU find the echo of their pain in Lucknow, Patna, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New York and London. Today, the whole world is a university campus for the dissenting students of India. By bringing down the fenced walls of the university, they have caused a flood of knowledge. This will free the masses of the mass disinformation and hate campaign.

There are incidents akin to the ones in Jamia and JNU everywhere right now. I saw one in Ranchi a few days back, where a group of students (most probably from the nearby Ranchi University) were distributing pamphlets, organising street plays, demonstrations and raising the slogans of inquilab (revolution) and azaadi (freedom). Hundreds of common citizens were listening to them.

At a time when most of mainstream media is busy in defaming these protests, my belief in the slogan, “the revolution will not be televised” is reaffirmed. Never before, apart from the Class X Civics exam, did such a large number of Indians read the Preamble of India’s Constitution while agreeing with all its words and spirit.

They know that they can be bruised, battered, detained, imprisoned and even killed, yet they are risking so much to save what they feel is the real India. They have taken this moment to reimagine the ideals enshrined in the Constitution – ideals that we have forced to protect and cherish for long.

Even if they’re silenced by force today, like the protestors in UP, the silence will be loud and deafening for everyone. The government, as Amit Shah has firmly asserted, may not go back an inch on the CAA, yet these protests demonstrate that a raging secular India won’t bow down. It has a strong spine, it will live on and prevail someday.

Featured image source: Praveen Kumar/Facebook;Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times 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.

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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