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When Will Freedom Of Press Enter The Kashmir Valley?

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Internet blockade in Kashmir

Kashmir’s story, ravaged by misreporting and state-sponsored journalism for more than three decades, has now been pushed to an extreme, with the local populace hardly getting any representation in media to speak for themselves and question the narratives crafted in the studios thousands of miles away. The traditional mass media usually tends to lack inclusion of community voices, as the control, ownership, and authorship lie only in the hands of a few. Editors decide what is read and who is heard and who is not.

The free press is already struggling in Kashmir due to slow internet connectivity, and further intimidation and harassment are adding to hamper the smooth functioning of media. Journalists have been targeted more frequently in the past eight months. With this ongoing crisis, media too evolved—what didn’t change is the regular harassment, including summoning journalists to police stations and booking them under different draconian laws.

The advent of social media and digital means of communication revolutionized the way people in the world communicate and share information. It became part of the 21st century society; everything in the society is affected by digital media. The storytelling in the media industry evolved and became easy for the people who otherwise would remain unheard of.

A few years back we were so accustomed to traditional media studios and print media coverage, that only a handful of people, usually privileged ones would have access to become journalists and tell stories, set agendas and prioritize the content, and decide what people shall read in the morning or watch during the prime time TV shows. The previous decade changed just that; internet and mobile phone technology revolutionized the very concept of storytelling. It flipped the profile of storytellers and media makers; we saw hundreds of online news outlets coming to the fore.

Internet and social media had the potential to flip the coin, it allowed a wide range of people to produce news and tell stories. In 2014, after the Kashmir floods, a few like-minded activists, media students and I started Kashmir’s first community news platform “Kashmir Unheard” with the help of Video Volunteers India. Instead of joining any other media outlet after our studies, we established a platform that would open doors for the communities to tell the stories which never became a headline or were buried under hundreds of narratives.

The media landscape was led by communities with basic training of film making on their smartphones. We trained more than a dozen men and women from every district of Kashmir in a year. An alternative landscape like many across the globe with the potential to bring out real narratives from ‘media dark’ areas of the valley was all set. We at Kashmir Unheard managed the gender balance and trained ten women in storytelling.

Journalists in Kashmir face harrassment and restraints.

These community correspondents not only reported on issues which their communities had been suffering from for a long time, but also used their deep understanding of the issues to involve local authorities for action. In the past few years, Kashmir saw more and more people joining media organizations and starting their initiatives. This filled the information vacuum and offered a possibility to do journalism and storytelling in different formats.

Journalism can only be improved only when local journalists are allowed to improve and work freely. I believe, if the world wants to understand a conflict better and work towards its resolution, its people have to be empowered to speak.

August 5, 2019: With the abrogation of Article 370, everything changed for Kashmiris politically; we witnessed thousands of arrests, internet blockades, communication lines were shut and media paralyzed. Kashmir Unheard and many other online news outlets were silenced the same day.

In the past five years besides trying to explain what causes conflict in Kashmir, we had been trying to give voice to all perspectives—including non-governmental organizations and people from all parts of civil society. We reported on different efforts made to resolve the issues, looking closely at all sides, to make people from our communities and elsewhere aware of the real stories of Kashmir. The main aim was to report from all diverse communities of Kashmir, not just a few, as journalists must report about the whole society, not one half.

August 2019 brought a very difficult phase for journalism in Kashmir. Hundreds of people lost their jobs after many online outlets had to shut down, and journalists are being harassed regularly. While the media remains under threat in Kashmir and strategic attacks against them continue, the number of journalists is doing down.

As free journalism disappears from Kashmir, its stories are expected to remain buried. If a journalist who is living through the conflict and experiencing it writes something, it would be much more in-depth. We would not only see a greater chance of getting people to engage with the story but it increases the authenticity as well. During this pandemic, we need more freedom of press. If a journalist’s movement are curbed, it would keep us unaware of the ground realities. Free flow of information in desperate times is a must, which is only possible when the people associated with this fraternity do not feel intimidated.

The Kashmir conflict has affected not only Kashmiris in particular but people across South Asia as well. I believe conflicts do not end by themselves unless all parties are involved. Ground reporting from Kashmir by Kashmiris is a must for all the parties to understand different perspectives but also learn what this community is looking forward to. By putting real people in the story, all the parties can understand how this conflict affects them. We know that news reporting is still not the only means to resolve anything, but who reports and what is reported has the potential to change how we all look at things.

The real stories need to be heard, and they can neither be told by the mainstream TV studios of India, with a jingoistic attitude and its demonization of Kashmiris, nor can they be told by the print journalists coming from outside of Kashmir. Instead, it is such platforms, alternative media platforms that can do justice in real sense. An indirect ban on online media by restricting the internet speed is a punishment for the whole society and is adding to the wounds of Kashmiris amid these crises; the muzzling of freedom of the press is a question mark on the face of 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.

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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.

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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.”

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.

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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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