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“I’m Your Sister When A Triple Talaq Victim, A Jihadist When I Raise My Voice”

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This is rage.

This is fear.

This is breathing in aluminium soil and sulphur clouds. 

This is tear gas tearing up your eyes.

The morning of uncertainty, the morning of being left alone, the morning of ruined hope, trampled esteemed and scarred bodies. This is the morning of calling friends to ask if they are okay. This is the morning of googling “casualties” and if anyone has died. This is the morning of counting your loss, their loss, our loss! This is unapologetically carrying your identity on your head. This is calling them out on their atrocities, this is parents fearing the safety of their child not on the black-lit roads, but under the arms of the protector of their safety. 

This is them saying, without saying, that you deserved your rights to be snatched, assaulted, threatened to live in fear because you are an outsider, an invader. You are the overpopulation; you are the disease. You are the terrorist, you are the leftovers, you are the Indian Muslim.

So, allow me to speak today before they snatch that right away. Allow me to write my story before they turn it into forgotten memories, changing histories, calling me a bastard in my own country, raising question on my entire existence, basing it solely on a mere sheet of paper. 

A Pattern To Police Brutality And Lawlessness

There’s a famous saying “Jiski lathi, uski bhains”, which in English means that he who has the stick gets to own the Buffalo, or in other words, “might is right”, “jungle law” or “power comes from the barrel of a gun.” If you still cannot understand, you need to watch movies like Gandhi or Bhagat Singh, and look for traces of violence and atrocities perpetrated by the police forces controlled by then British colonial government. If you think there was no law back then, and that the British officials did things because that suited their fancy, then you are highly mistaken.

The British did everything by passing an unjust law. A law that legalised every act of brutality with complete impunity; that’s how it all begins. It follows a pattern, starts by categorical and systematic discrimination against a particular community, by passing a law. Representative image. Source: Wikipedia

The British did everything by passing an unjust law. A law that legalised every act of brutality with complete impunity; that’s how it all begins. It follows a pattern, starts by categorical and systematic discrimination against a particular community, by passing a law. An unjust law, if not opposed, can lead to genocide, or apartheid of minorities. It’s started by giving unrestrained, unbridled power in the hands of police authorities. We don’t have to look far, it reflects in the recent police brutality during the ongoing CAA protest by Jamia students, or the apocalypse that has befallen in Northeast Delhi in the form of a pogrom.

I first posted this article on the YKA platform after the Jamia incident happened, but I was too scared by my ambition to join bureaucracy one day, so I pulled it down. That one cowardly act of mine has haunted me till date, and over the past few months, I have repeatedly asked myself one question, “Is giving up on my right to speak freely without fear something that I am ready to accept and live with?” After three months of contemplation, the answer I came up with was a naked No. Even after three months of relentless protesting and raising our voice, the majority has acted with utmost cowardice and hate. Whether it’s Jamia, AMU, JNU or the Delhi pogrom, the anger, helplessness, rage and shame that I feel is still the same.

I am an Indian Muslim woman and today, I will speak my truth till I’m allowed. As Faiz Ahmed Faiz says, “Bol, ki lab aazad hai tere, bol ke zubaan ab tak teri hai”. 

All my grandfather ever wanted was the freedom to live in his own country with dignity. We all know the history. Each one of us who proudly call ourselves citizens of India have had our ancestors contribute towards the struggle of Independent India. But no history book has documented the individual struggle for freedom. Tomorrow, if someone were to raise a question against my citizenship, my nationality, my loyalty, I would have no means to prove it, and why should I anyway?

Why should I tell them that my grandfather fought side-by-side with Mahatma Gandhi, that he was a driver to Kasturba Gandhi? That he’s still known as Gandhiji in his village? If you go to my native place in Siwan, all you have to ask is “Gandhiji ke ghar jana hai.” But none of this would matter to them because no matter what I say or do, I would be reduced to my Muslim identity, the identity I wasn’t even conscious of as I spent nearly 10 years in Muslim majority institutions i.e. Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Milli Islamia, until I went to pursue law from Faculty of Law, Delhi University.

I felt threatened by my Muslim identity, and it made me conscious of the politics around it. I become conscious of the society I was getting educated in, and my lack of privilege in this society. How I would refrain from talking in my Urdu zubaan, making sure I don’t use “shukriya”, “Inshallah” or “mashallah”, even though no one ever said anything. But I knew it would make people around me uncomfortable. 

What Does It Mean To Be Privileged In Modern India?

Privilege is a right or immunity granted as a benefit, advantage, or favour. There is religious privilege, gender privilege, heterosexual privilege, economic privilege, able-bodied privilege, educational privilege, and the list goes on and on. At some point, one becomes conscious of the privilege that they hold. It’s my privilege to be able to have the ability to write this article in a language that is not mine. It is somewhat embarrassing for me to accept just how privileged I am, and if you’re reading this, you too have some kind of privilege. 

It’s also really difficult for me to consider the ways in which I lack privilege, or the ways in which my privilege hasn’t rescued me from a world of inequalities and hurt. On many days, I’m not sure what is more difficult, being a woman or being a Muslim woman. I’m happy being both, but the world keeps interfering. There are all kinds of infuriating reminders of my place in my country. People question my faith, my identity, and my loyalty towards my own country; with the legislature persistently trying to legislate me, liberate me, sexualise my body, gender, citizenship, and my existence in my own damn country.

Privilege is when you have been given the advantage to create a particular fervour, banning the singing of something as beautiful and innocent as the prayer “lab pe aati hai dua”; painting it in a religious colour, calling it a “Muslim prayer” due to the word “Allah” in it. And the reason given is that State-funded institutions cannot be associated with any particular religious device in any way, forgetting the Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb or the rhetoric of “India’s diversity” that we often hear.

I could go on about the pettiness of logic behind it, but as a law student, I have to refrain myself from making any emotive arguments. When I see portraits of Goddesses of Hindu religion hanging in Law Faculty of Delhi University, I’m repulsed by the hypocrisy of it. 

I’m often chivvied that voices raised by the Muslim community, civil societies or others could only do so much. The silence till now was not the result of apathy, we were quiet because it was expected of us, because of the fear of consequences. When a State systematically discriminates against members of one community, it is unconscionable to expect that community not to mobilise against that discrimination. 

The schadenfreude of the majority is reflected in the celebration and keeping quiet during the whole thing, in the prevailing narrative of the other side of the debate that protesters have started Khilafat 2.0. There are accusations going around that protesters have allegedly damaged public property, and have attacked the policemen. That those policemen have only used “minimum force necessary” to stop the protesters. Minimum force doesn’t etch lathi scars on students’ backs. It doesn’t give them bullet wounds. 

Instead of holding those police authorities accountable for their barbarity, they are being portrayed as the “victim” here. This is seriously reprehensible. Without any investigation and inquiry, this presumption of protesting students having allegedly torched buses by saying “we all know people from criminal backgrounds live in these localities” reflects the prejudicial and biased mindset of the people. The Indian judicial system is based on the doctrine of “presumption of innocence until proven guilty”. I think these self-proclaimed academician and lawyers have forgotten the basic principle of criminal jurisprudence.

The Role Of Police In A Protest

The question that needs to be asked here is why does a protest always turn violent when the police get involved? If we have a fundamental right to protest and demonstrate, then why do we need interference from the police “until the protest gets violent.” That is the rider, the reasonable restrictions provided in the law. This assumption that a public gathering to protest is not people but mobs ready to vandalise life and property is problematic. 

The benefit of the doubt being given to the police authorities becomes nugatory when they are the ones hurling the students like criminals and terrorists, raising hands above the head, as if given the slight liberty, they would drop a bomb on them, meanwhile taunting students “Abhi hum patthar utha ke maare toh kaisa lagega? (Now, how would you feel if we pick up stones and throw them at you?)”

The revulsion and animosity was visible in their eyes. This is your privilege, it’s your stinking privilege with which you colour everything that a Muslim does in communal light, while you can protest, demand reservation, ask for extermination of the Muslim community, and your leaders can openly call out “to rape women of my community”.

I am your sister only when I fulfill your political agenda, when I’m a victim of polygamy or triple talaq. If  you see me raising my voice, defending my hijab, rejecting your placatory demands, you are quick to characterise me as a jihadist, demographic dividend, terrorist-making machine. That’s your privilege. 

The Position Of Indian Muslims In India

It’s the aim of the constitutional democracy to safeguard the rights of the minority and avoid the tyranny of the majority. The Constitution of India is a unique document because of the principle of constitutionalism. The Constitution is nothing without the principles of constitutionalism, which means there should be a Rule of Law, opposed to authoritarian or despotic rule, and based on the belief that the power of a government should be limited in order to prevent abuse and excess. It is based on the universal principle that citizens should be able to recognise an unconstitutional system of governance that does not respect the provisions contained in the national Constitution and demand respect for their rights and freedom. 

The liberal hysterics and fellow Muslim pragmatism of not making CAA and NRC a communal issue is misleading. To quote Susi Kasem, “The most dangerous people in the world are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts, but those who do the acts for them.” For example, when the British invaded India, many Indians agreed to work for the British and kill off Indians who resisted their occupation. In other words, many Indians were hired to kill other Indians on behalf of the enemy for a paycheck.

Today, we have mercenaries in Africa, corporate armies from the western world, and unemployed men throughout the Middle East killing their own people, and people of other nations, for a paycheck. To act without a conscience but for a paycheck, makes anyone a dangerous animal. The devil would be powerless if he couldn’t entice people to do his work. So, as long as money continues to seduce the hungry, the hopeless, the broken, the greedy, and the needy, there will always be a war between brothers.

Today, Muslims are being played politics with, they are reduced to TV debates and statistics of backwardness, crime and violence. Today, we are limited to a word limit on Twitter, trying to prove our faithfulness. You say you want to believe, but the majority of Muslims who stayed in India actually voted for the Muslim League, so now whatever we say or do will be seen from the prism of community-loving, partition-demanding, riot-instigating, and hate-mongers. 

Remember the independence of India and read how our grandparents spilled blood for this country, read the history of establishment of Jamia Millia Islamia; you would know its commitment towards the unity and diversity of India. When pain makes it difficult to articulate coherently, quiet remembrance helps. Like many other Indian Muslims, I have been in silence, commuting to memory, the deed, dates, and faces of the injured students, their scared faces, the grieving female students leaving the safety of their university because they don’t feel safe anymore.

These may disappear from headlines, but they have already found their place in our collective memory. India remembers what is done in its name, in the name of democracy, in the pretext of security. Whether its full impact reaches your drawing rooms and offices or not. Your soldier of reason carrying their press card might dissuade you from seeing it, comfort you with their cynical use of academic categories and interpretation of Indian nationalism. They might retweet, rerun the carefully-chosen, convenient images on TV, but India sees the unedited Jamia. 

Featured image is representative. 

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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.

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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