“Sorry For The Inconvenience, We Are Trying To Save Constitutional Values”

PM Modi addressing a rally in Delhi’s Karkardooma.

Our Prime Minister, during his first Delhi Assembly election rally, said that the ongoing protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the national capital is a ‘political experiment’ and not a ‘coincidence’. And I somehow agree with him.

The anti-CAA protest is an experiment, a political and social experiment by the ‘citizens’ in and of democratic India. And the citizens include the Shaheen Bagh gentry, especially the women and students of Jamia Millia Islamia, who are protesting since December 15 last year.

Protest Is A Part Of The Democratic Process

Democracy itself means the government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’. The citizens, or protestors, take democracy for guaranteed because it is theirs, personal, beloved, and hard-earned. They have created it together by participating in the democratic process, not just through voting but also by participating in a general discussion of public matters (Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India).

The government of the day is not the government of the few but the government of all. So, whenever, the people (irrespective of their numbers they all have equal right, that is, the right to be heard) feel that the government is diverging from its constitutional values or ignoring their concern and issues, they are left with the only option to resort to the various democratic tools available to them to assert their legitimate political dominance or claim, in which protest is one. And, also our constitution provides its citizen with the right to protest—Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression; Article 19(1)(b) assures citizens the right to assemble peaceably and ‘without arms’.

Protests are a means to restore the power temporarily in the hands of the people to make the government realise from where its power had come.

Talking About The Coincidence

Yes, Shaheen Bagh is also not a coincidence. What was the government expecting when there is an atmosphere of distrust, lie and hatred in society and political landscape? Protesting or practising democratic rights, whether you support CAA or not is not without the context. That context was explained in the chronology by our big politicians; it includes the anxiety, the feeling of frustration of the common people, minorities, women, students, unemployed and the farmers.

Shaheen Bagh
Women protestors at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh.

It is not a coincidence when in Shaheen Bagh, women of all ages, working or housewives, with or without their children in their jackets and mufflers, carried handmade signs, are sitting under the blankets in Delhi’s winter on the road under temporary tents, unprepared, unrehearsed to voice their feelings.

Are These ‘Experiment And Coincidence’ Contributing Anything To The Indian Democracy?

Yes, they are.

When mainstream media have a privilege to decide what’s important or what’s worth telecasting and ignore the voices of the people protesting on the streets against the injustice or issues, then the Shaheen Bagh protest becomes the spark of light in the darkness. It teaches the people to learn to protest democratically without hurting anyone physically.

It helps the people to connect, infuse the confidence in their bodies numbed from time immemorial that they are alive. It’s a classroom where children, students and people are interacting, conversing and experimenting with democracy through creative arts, drama, songs, dialogue and slogans. It opens the prospect of a new era of social activism in India which have no leader, no high command, anti-organisation.

“Sorry For The Inconvenience, We Are Trying To Save Constitutional Values”

One of the most pertinent existential points the protest re-affirmed to the political consciousness of the people and also send message to those who are feeling discomfort because of this protest, is that the Shaheen Bagh uphold the “WE” invoked in the preamble of the constitution. It is different from the “WE” of complainers who are basically those people who have been reduced by this materialistic world to the mere existence of consumers, who were invoking “WE” out of their inconvenience to reach their material needs or comfort. (Reference: “Citizenship as Participation Muslim Women Protestors of Shaheen Bagh” by Irfanullah Farooqi Economic & Political Weekly JANUARY 25, 2020 vol lV no 4).

In this case, the question of comfort is of those who are not feeling any discomfort on the context created by the politicians or the government. They are totally detached from the sense of the ‘FRATERNITY,’ that is, caring of their fellow citizens; inquiring their questions or anxiety which has forced them to come on the street and protest in uncomfortable conditions.

For How Long Will The Protest Go on?

It is not or should not be an indefinite protest. But the torch lit by the movement will not get dim; it will learn, adapt and amend itself for the next action. If you read about the Indian freedom struggle maneuvered by Gandhi, he was also experimenting with his idea of non-violence in mass protests. Gandhi knew when, where and how to start a protest without bothering about its outcome.

Today, Gandhi and his tactics should be embraced by each one of the protestors.

Though he knew his opponent well and sometimes it may look like he knew when and how the protest should take rest (not stop). His basic intention was to prepare the masses for the big moment in their life, that is, Quit India Movement, without resorting to any means to hurt anyone physically. Today, Gandhi and his tactics should be embraced by each one of the protestors.

The Future

Shaheen Bagh is an experiment, not a coincidence, which doesn’t, or shouldn’t, bother about the outcome of the protest, whether it will fail or not. Instead, citizens of Shaheen Bagh should be proud of themselves for they are preparing the concerned citizens of India for many future events—for the end of hate politics, ignorance and saving constitutional values.

Otherwise, if our representative fails to understand these protests and continues to ignore the voices of “Indian” citizens who have been insulted by their attempt to reduce their existence and love for the nation to mere a piece of paper and of damaging the ideas enshrined in the preamble, it could lead to the cumulative effect of massive distrust and no-confidence against their style of governance and politics.

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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.

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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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