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Has The Pandemic Given India The Chance To Move Towards Mass Surveillance?

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“The world is ending” has been resounding since time immemorial. Every generation lives on believing that the world as it is will end before their time on earth ends. But this belief begs the question, is the world ever “as it is,” isn’t the world ever-changing? Aren’t things which seem at rest to the naked eyes always on the move? Is it not change if we humans don’t perceive it?

To think that the world will not be the same after they are gone, to believe that one particular generation is torch-bearer to something the subsequent generation will neither recognize nor value is egocentric and this tendency isn’t the privy of one particular generation. All generations have felt and feel threatened by their successors. Each predecessor society had uttered with a heavy heart that the children are up to no good. And so the wheel of time has moved on, unabatedly, uniformly.

Despite these disaffected deep sighs, the time has effected its malevolent looking shenanigans. There’s almost always something sinister going on behind the facade of mundane quotidian life which is invisible to the naked eyes of the uninitiated.

Representational image.

Some change is coercive. These fundamentally change the status quo prevalent in societies and cultures within a blink of an eye and these changes mark the high and low ends of the flow of time. Events like the economic liberalization of 1991, Pokharan, Subprime Crisis of 2008, 26/11 terror attacks, etc. remain etched in collective memories for a long time. But much else is going on between these extreme events. These unremarkable footprints slowly but steadily traverse the same milestones ever so unobtrusively, and these journeys – unworthy of making headlines, in the end, create the heavy divides between two different generations.

Time works its magic eventually and one-act looking at which one’s very soul would’ve rebelled earlier, becomes innately natural over some time. There are examples galore of such momentous changes that have occurred already which didn’t make any waves, like the movement against the institution of Sati or Dahej. Some movements with the same DNA are still in the process of evolving into beautiful majestic results, like the LGBTQ Movement or Woman Empowerment movement.

Some in our society can’t bear to hear of these fundamental issues that drag us down but maybe a decade or so later, these will be the topics of normal dinner conversations. Then lesbian couples will walk the street without fearing those glares and women will feel true male friendship instead of the patronizing male machismo that is served to them today.

The past three months have been all Corona for the whole world. ‘The world as we know it is coming to an end’ is resounding again. The old world is crying foul of the globe-trotter millennial generation. But rebellious transformations the likes of which have happened in the last 20-25 years have happened before, albeit in other forms. But, the response which these all have garnered has always been similar. The call for protectionism is getting stronger. But, will globalization recede? I don’t think so.

mother daughter wearing mask
The past three months have been all Corona for the whole world/Representational image.

This pandemic is truly disrupting the whole status quo. Wherever one may choose to look- newspapers, televisions, markets, roads, hospitals, malls, airport lounges, and hotel corridors, it truly resembles a dystopia. Technology has come to the aid of governments everywhere in tackling this pandemic. Surveillance has helped in other respects too, like battling hunger, malnutrition, climate change, illiteracy, etc.

But, times like these call for drastic measures and so the state of virtual emergency has been declared and governments everywhere are using ICT to track citizens’ every move. It is obvious to believe that these drastic measures will fade once we have dealt with the present crisis.

But all that human experience teaches us is that abrupt change comes in the times of great crisis as short term measures. It comes in the name of empowering the nation for the citizens but it sticks around empowering the state against the citizens. The American surveillance state which came in the wake of 9/11 is an apt example of this.

But this surveillance state is an inevitable happenstance, given the rate of growth in digital technologies, their exponentially increasing reach among the masses and the slow-paced rate of legislation to curve their invasive reach into people’s lives so far. We all already live in the world of pervasive corporate surveillance. But this present crisis will provide governments around the globe with the excuse to appropriate for themselves these corporate tools of mass surveillance.

It would have eventually happened but tragedies like the current one may just accelerate their rate of approach. Once we’ve dealt with this unfortunate pandemic at our hands, then we will begin the slow and surreptitious work of time. This here is that remarkable, headline-making event but soon after the steady, unobtrusive manoeuvre in stealth will begin. This manoeuvre in stealth must become visible on the public radar lest we endanger creating another big divide between two different generations.

From a society that worships its privacy and individual space to one that is happily letting the government sit in its bedroom is not that big a leap. All it needs is a regime ready to pounce on citizens’ right while the latter snores smilingly.

Don’t sleep. Be vigilant, for they will come promising good times and unseen benefits for all.

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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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