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Manto’s “Khol Do” And “Mozel” Are More Than Relevant Today Amidst Delhi Riots

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Urdu writer Saadat Hassan Manto is as relevant today as was he during the first half of the last century. His stories are as meaningful today as they were during his lifetime. Manto wrote with such eloquence and artistry that upon starting a story, the reader is compelled to read it to the end in one sitting.

There were riots happening during Manto’s times too. Muslims killed Hindus and Sikhs and in return, Sikhs and Hindus killed Muslims without any remorse and without sparing children and elderly. Women got abducted and were raped by rioters.

Manto was a witness to all this mayhem and bigotry. How humans turned beasts overnight and bloodied the earth with innocents’ blood, Manto and his stories are witnesses to all of it.

The short story “Open It” ( Khol Do) is not only one of the best stories on partition and communal clashes of Manto, but also holds a high place in world literature.

Old man Sirajuddin loses his daughter Sakina and with it, he also loses his senses. Sakina’s mother died during the riots but before dying, she had told Sirajuddin:

“Leave me here and run away from here with Sakina.”

Sirajuddin couldn’t understand where his daughter has gone and in what condition must she be in. Then after some time, he comes into contact with volunteers, who promise him that they will find his daughter. The volunteers are able to find Sirajuddin’s daughter, but she falls prey to their lust and Sirajuddin only gets the living corpse of his daughter and astonishingly, he is happy that his daughter is alive, forgetting what his daughter has gone through.

Here, Manto has shown how during communal clashes, humans lost there humanity and are turned into beasts; how hate and bigotry trample everything which comes in their way. And, the ghastly treatment meted out to Sakina is proof of the same. Manto has depicted this beastliness of volunteers and haplessness of  Sakina’s father very artistically in these lines.

“The doctor turned towards the girl and took her pulse. Then he said, “Open the window.”

The girl on the stretcher stirred a little.

She moved her hand painfully towards the cord holding up her salwar.

Slowly, she pulled her salwar down.

Her old father shouted with joy, “She is alive. My daughter is alive.”

The doctor broke into a cold sweat.”

The Gujarat riots, Muzaffarnagar riots and now Delhi riots have shown how neighbours turn beasts in no time and lust blinds human beings. Politics of hate wreak havoc upon humanity. And like Sirajuddin of “Khol Do”, we find hundreds of Sirajuddins and Sakinas created by this bigotry, hatred and religious extremism.

Then there is another story “Mozel” in which love has been shown surviving all odds. In his short story, Manto has shown how love triumphs every other emotion in the end. This is a story about people, who turn into beasts overnight and bay for each other’s blood. Mozel, a Jew, loves Trilochin, a Sikh man, but at the same time hates his religious showoff, his beard, his clothes for she thinks that it is this religious extremism and bigotry which has caused much harm to humanity and spilt blood on the streets.

Mozel has seen killings in communal clashes and now, he doesn’t want to see another. And we find Mozel’s resonance in two Delhi men, Mohinder Singh and Inderjit Singh who saved 60 to 80 lives on their motorbikes and kept them at a safe location. They risked their lives during the worst riots since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, to not only save the people of the different faith but to save humanity. They showed how love and humanity can triumph and can surpass hatred and bigotry and prove there is humanity still alive. And here is Manto’s Mozel:

“Mozel got up and, in her alluring way, shook her well-trimmed brown hair. “Shave your beard and let your hair down. If you do this, guys are going to wink at you—you’re beautiful.”

These words actually show Mozel’s hatred for bigotry and religious extremism, but not for any particular religion. She believes in humanity. Mozel helps in saving Kirapal Kaur during a communal clash but ends herself from being killed.  Nearing death, these line of Mozel bring out her hatred for religious extremism.

“Mozel removed Trilochan’s turban. “Take it away—this religion of yours,” she said, and her arm fell dead across her powerful chest.”

And we have enough Mozels today who can put their lives in danger, even sacrifice their lives for the sake of humanity. And we have here Ravi Prashar, who removed the saffron flag, a symbol of bigotry and hatred from a mosque and showed the path of love and how to survive during these tough times. And who can forget Mamta Singh, whose son Manish Singh was killed by rioters, and instead of fueling the Muslims mudslinging and hatred and bigotry, showed us that humanity is still alive. And like Manto and Mozel she also believes and rightly so:

“ Hindus and Muslims have not died. Innocents have died.”

Manto through his stories have shown us the path of humanism, but at the same time disclosed the bitter truth of riots, how hatred and bigotry consume humanity, and how religious extremism is anathema to a society full of diverse people with different faiths. Manto’s hate is not directed against any particular religion, but against those who want to use religion for their nefarious ends. His short stories have artistically demonstrated this. And in these stories lies Manto’s greatness.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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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