“Anti-CAA-NRC-NPR Protests Are Remarkable For Many Reasons But One Stands Out For Me”

*Trigger warning*

How One Generation Found Its Voice And Another Rediscovered it

The anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests are remarkable for many reasons but one stands out for me: the mix of generations that fill the crowds everywhere. It has been five weeks since the CAA Act was passed, and the protests have swelled to include hundreds of thousands of people all over India.

What the crowds are asking for is the overhaul of an entire system, an end to a violent and cynical method of doing business.

From students to civil servants to lawyers to women to poor wage labourers, all have come out at least once, and many, multiple times, to join the voices against the destruction of the Indian Constitution.

It is heartening that no political party has been able to co-opt the protests though many have (half-heartedly) tried. Is it because the protests are not just against one ruling party but against an entire system of running the country?

Like the Hong Kong protests, what the crowds are asking for is the overhaul of an entire system, an end to a violent and cynical method of doing business. This is extremely powerful: against a 70-year-old system, and a return to a founding document: the Constitution.

Tearing up a political contract and renegotiating the terms. This is a hard-fought, no-going-back divorce. Let that sink in for a moment.

I am in my fifties now. I lost my political virginity in November 1984, when I travelled with a Delhi University fact-finding team, to Sultanpuri in Northwest Delhi. What I saw were bodies charred to a heap, hair torn from men’s heads, turning in grey piles on the cement floor, cloth embers burning in another corner. I will never forget that scene.

The very air smelt of bodies burning. That our own government would sponsor such violence against its citizens and not be held accountable for it was unimaginable. Many marches and over 30 years later, I, too, lost hope that justice would ever be reached for Sikhs who have held innumerable vigils, fought court cases, petitioned thousands of ministers.

My cynicism triumphed over hope. I saw the same Congress party that encouraged these collective killings moan about the BJP’s communal policies. Congress’s so-called intellectuals, like Shashi Tharoor and Kapil Sibal, were praising the Constitution even as they appointed Kamal Nath, one of the main accused in the 1984 riots, as Chief Minister, in a cynical move of electoral politics.

Three and a half decades later, it was December 14, in 2019, and I was at a protest against CAA-NRC at Jantar Mantar. I had forgotten, that over the years, a new fence surrounded the monument, and space for the protest had shrunk so much.

Then I looked around me, and there were these small groups, marching into that small space, filling it up, until I couldn’t move. There were groups of women from Old Delhi, shopkeepers, a contingent from the CPI, several university students. But above all, all around me were young people, all under forty.

I was one, out of maybe a hundred people, who had grey hair. In another hour, as Harsh Mander started speaking on the makeshift stage, even that was no longer true. There were many more people like me, but also young kids, some as young as seven. Kids who came up to the microphone and spoke about being called ‘Pakistanis’ in their schools, because they had Muslim names.

Even as they told these stories of verbal and actual violence, they laughed in embarrassment, because they didn’t believe that the audience would be interested in these small lived moments. But the crowd clapped and encouraged them. It let out cheers of “Inqilab, Zindabad” (Long live the revolution). Inchoate support rippled through the thousands of people, again and again.

At another protest, I saw the mix of young and old, but also poor people, forgoing a ‘diharito’ stand up for something so abstract as justice, and as formal as a Constitution.

Of course, everyone has seen the handful of women sitting in Shaheen Bagh swell to one lakh people. But my point is this: the mix of generations at the protests is unprecedented. It has never happened since Independence.

Of course, everyone has seen the handful of women sitting in Shaheen Bagh swell to one lakh people. But my point is this: the mix of generations at the Anti-CAA protests is unprecedented.

After the Mandal protests in early 1991, India had been seduced by the promises of neo-liberalisation. Shiny new goods, new jobs, new cars have sweetened the deal the different ruling parties made with us.

Put up with some violence here, some authoritarianism there, all helped along with lashings of corruption;  and in return, we promise you washing machines and cars and soaring property prices. Hand in your idealism for an iPhone.

My students, even some of my younger friends have bought into this social contract. Yet here they were, with “Hum Dekhenge” and “Azaadi”. And along with them, here WE are, rediscovering the joys of solidarity, of political camaraderie, the passion of nationalism, of self-definition.

This reaching out from one generation to another, from a lost idealism to newfound activism. And I want to thank each and every one of them for allowing this communication between us to flourish with such joy and such abandon.

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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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