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Extraordinary Laws In Extraordinary Times: UAPA, Sedition Laws, Instead Of Health Policies?

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The Delhi Police on Tuesday booked Jamia Millia Islamia students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, along with activist Umar Khalid under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for conspiring the Northeast Delhi riots, which took lives of more than 50 people and left more than hundred injured and displaced. Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar are Research Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia and were associated with Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC) which was looking after the Anti-CAA protest at Jamia.

Earlier, Masrat Zahra, freelance photojournalist from Kashmir was booked under UAPA for her alleged “anti-national” social media posts. On April 18, the Delhi Police filed a chargesheet against JNU student Sharjeel Imam with charges of sedition for his alleged role in Jamia violence which took place on December 15, 2019. According to reports, he is charged for his speech which caused violence in New Friends Colony and nearby localities on December 15.

Activist Anand Teltumbde placed under arrest on Tuesday, April 14.|| Credits: The News Minute

On April 14, Dalit Rights activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde were detained after the Supreme Court rejected their anticipatory bail plea in the Bhima Koregaon case. These two along with nine others—Sudha Bhardwaj, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferriera and Sudhir Dhawale—are booked in Bhima Koregaon case for allegedly conspiring against the State. Chingiz Khan, Research Scholar at Centre For Historical Studies at JNU, was arrested on April 10 by Manipur Police on charges of sedition for writing a newspaper article.

These arrests and bookings under draconian laws like UAPA and Sedition come in a time when the world is faced with a global pandemic, and every country is putting all its might to contain the spread of the coronavirus which has caused the death of more than 1.5 lakhs people across the globe. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of 1930s due to the pandemic. In developing countries like India, where the majority of people are engaged in the unorganised and informal sector, the lockdown has caused job loss for daily wagers and migrant workers, leading to a socio-economic crisis for poor families.

We are in extraordinary times which require extraordinary measures to check the deadly COVID-19 virus and its impact. In India, on the contrary, we are witnessing unprecedented use of extraordinary draconian laws in times of Health emergency, which is alarming. Civil societies, Human Rights groups and intellectuals have condemned the recent arrests and termed it a “politically motivated” attack on Free Speech and Expression. People associated with the Film Industry, including Mahesh Bhatt, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Vishal Dadlani, Zeeshan Ayyub and more than a dozen others, issued a joint statement against the arrests of Anti-CAA Activists amidst the Lockdown.

People in large numbers protesting against the CAA

Earlier this year, when the country was gripped with Anti-CAA protests in different parts, we had seen instances of sedition charges being made against Anti-CAA protesters too. Amulya, a young girl from Bengaluru, was charged with sedition for raising “Pakistan Zindabad” slogan in an Anti-CAA protest rally on February 20. In January, a teacher and a parent at a school in Karnataka’s Bidar were arrested for an alleged seditious play by a school kid criticising CAA. Similarly, there had been other cases too where sedition charges were used to curb Anti-CAA protests. In Jharkhand’s Wasseypur, 3000 people were slapped with sedition charges for participating in Anti-CAA protest, and it was only after an intervention by the newly-elected Chief Minister Hemant Soren that the charges were dropped.

With just four months into the year 2020, we have come across numerous instances where these extraordinary Anti-Terror laws have been used against students, activists and political agitators. It is just a coincidence that the colonial-era Sedition law completes 150 years in India in 2020; Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) which deals with sedition was brought by the British in 1870. Many people might find it fascinating to know that England, which introduced sedition charges in India, has already abolished this law in 2009 citing it as a hindrance in the Freedom of Speech and Expression, while we still continue with this colonial baggage.

Over the years, there has been debates on the misuse of Anti-Terror laws, leading to Human Rights violation and long pending demand by Rights Group and Civil Societies to scrap UAPA and Sedition. In the past, we have seen how Acts like Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) were discontinued in the year 1995 and 2004 respectively. However, over the past few years, there has been an increase in use of these laws which is a disturbing trend for a healthy democracy.

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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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