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Even A Pandemic Won’t Stop Islamophobia: Is This The New Normal?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

“If this jamaat thing did not happen, we would have been safer no”

“What? There was no Surat case linked to them.”

“Arre, but you did not see that video? The Muslim vendors around our area increased in lockdown and they were licking all the vegetables and all. It was on Snapchat.”


Now, my friend is a privileged rich Jain who studied in a good school and college, yet fell prey to such fake news propaganda. Interestingly, I had received the same information from a 60-year-old aunty who got this message on her WhatsApp, and then the society took an action to ensure the vendors are of a specific religion (this is what was told by a friend).

Why Is Islamophobia Becoming The New Normal?

Islamophobia is not a new disease except it is increasing exponentially just like Corona. Neither does it have a cure yet nor does it impact a particular class. Tablighi Jamaat is undoubtedly a big mistake on the part of the organizer as well as local government and shall not go unpunished. The issue is why are we attributing it to the entire religion? The moment the story was out, one channel screamed Corona Jihaad, I laughed and then felt the depth of this becoming the new normal.

In these 21 days, I read about the Shraadh ceremony being organized with 800 people in MP but no one attributed it to Hindus. I read about the Jain Munis breaking the law in Surat, but no one attributed to all the Jains, and I also read about UP ministers attending a religious ceremony, and as expected an FIR was lodged. No, not against the ministers, against the media outlet which informed citizens and did their work. What I did witness, is the circulation of fake news to malign an entire religion. The beauty of fake news is that when it arrives, we welcome it with open arms but when it is proven fake, we apologize with a pinch of salt. Hi, Arnab.

I still want to take the chance and say that all the fake videos were true and all the 500 people misbehaved with doctors, broke laws, and deliberately created those Tik Tok videos, yet we are talking about 500 people. That’s 0.000002% of the Muslim population in India. By that logic, lakhs of migrants on road trying to reach their home and defying the rules right now should be tagged as Migrant Jihaad. No, that’s the generalization or attribution we do on our biased small samples. This is what political parties play upon to create an atmosphere of fear and hatred which is now clearly visible during Corona. The time when we are supposed to come together as a country, we stand all the more divided.

Were we always like this? Well, I grew up in Saharanpur and my Jain school had people from all the religions. My Muslim friends were reciting Navkar Mantra and my Jain friends were sharing lunch meals with them. The problems started at home where my mother would raise an eyebrow seeing a Muslim friend coming home. She was taught to keep a separate glass for them and that’s where the discrimination began in our minds. Despite these small actions, she never hated them. The conditioning was simple- “We are different.” “Marry anyone but a Muslim.” What escalated the issue to go out of hand?

What Went So Wrong For Islamophobia To See A Sharp Increase?

There were two big changes in the last decade which led to the worsening of the situation, in my opinion. The advent of social media and the rise of right-wing. While the right-wing extremism can take an entire book about discriminatory policies, I will restrict myself to harmless social media observations. TRP Media played a big role in driving the hatred filled narrative and for the first time, it became normal for people to let out their worst thoughts. The lynchings, the threats, the Ghar vaapisi, the Romeo squads, the love jihad, the beef bans each was spiced up with IT cell and, the biggest enemy of mankind, WhatsApp.

With the increase in internet penetration, the App became the source of news for most of the Middle and Upper class of this country. It became easier for people to share their thoughts, vent out their frustrations, and blame all the problems around one particular religion. A couple of years back, I went to receive my father’s friend and, on the way, back from airport he proudly exclaimed- “Thanks to Yogiji, UP is now safe as he is shooting down all these Muslims goons in encounters.”

What is important for people of my age, the youth, the educated, the privileged is also to look closer to home. Recently, I got to know that a friend of mine, working at a big position in a PSU, is unable to get a flat in our locality because the agent asked her caste and told her that “sorry, this is a Jain society”.

I was perplexed and yet not that surprised as I had seen my casteist friends claiming to be superior to others. She went on to tell me that her boss is unable to get a place either and his case is even worse because he is a Muslim. That reminded me of a funny incident when my uncle had got in a fight with someone from our society and to corner and scare them off, he would jokingly say- “I will leave this society and sell my flat off to a Muslim.” That threat was enough to scare people off as the rate of flats would go down instantly.

Two months back, when the CAA-NRC protests were at the top of our mind, my family WhatsApp group became active on Islamophobia. A Delhi based Businessman cousin started with his vent about all Muslims spreading terror across the country. This was not the first time it was happening but this time, I decided to engage. At first, I started sending neutral love-filled photographs of Sikhs distributing Langar to protestors.

I hypothesized that we are Punjabis and it will be difficult to go against love. He reverted to Khalistan. Yes. I decided to give another shot and share the famous photograph of a girl giving a rose to a soldier. Well, now my Fufa joined in spreading hatred. I called them out and told them- “There are kids in this group and they will be learning this from you for their life.” My father came in support and I could see that my work in slowly making my family aware of subtle discrimination is working. The group decided to not have any religious and political discussions henceforth. A small win.

And Please, The ‘Go To Pakistan’ Needs To Stop

I remember the good old days of dissent and debate in college. Those days are now just a part of nostalgia. The friends on the other side grew up to become part-time businessmen and part-time trolls who are on social media vigilantism to suppress opposite opinions and have “Go to Pakistan” always copied on their screens. Last month, I faced the wrath of the same. My best friend (not anymore) posted- “Support the country you live in or live in the country you support.” As a close friend ready to engage with him on laughs, I promptly asked, what if the government is going against the country? Then die like the ones in Delhi. This time, instead of the cheeky comebacks, an army of trolls came in abusing me and threatening to come to my home while asking me to go to Pakistan right away for always questioning Modi or the government.

Yes, questioning is something they do not want to allow, but their IQ is so low that they think it will be allowed in Pakistan. The scary part is that this entire group, Marwari Jain Businessmen (part-time), were all in my class, and this time, my best friend supported them. The fault is mine though, we had ignored a lot of cues in the past. This was not the first time he was being Islamophobic, the man had a separate account to post such things in which he did not add us. Caring, I know. I solely tried to calmly answer their comments and slowly realized a simple rule of life- “Ghar se logic ki dukaan hai door, chalo kisi troll ko unfriend kar dein”  (These people are far from logic, it’s best to unfriend trolls). I removed all of them from my list and yes, lost a close friend to hatred.

I am an atheist. So, I do not have issues with calling out a religion, I have issues with the discrimination in the same as all the religions are imperfect and will always have a percentage of humans whom you can not control. In studying for MBA, they called it “outliers”. The big question is- are we ready to let outliers define how we want to live in this country? Where are the “Topi Shuklas” beautifully mentioned by Rahi Masoom Raza? Where are the Iqbals who wrote Saare Jahaan Se Achha Hindostan Hamara? Where are the Ram Prasad Bismils and Ashfaqullah Khans?

Well, I do not have a definite solution but we all need to pull our socks on this and use Corona as a time wherein we reach the end of the tunnel as a human and not a troll. Let’s be good teachers not just to the next generation, but to friends and family as well. I do want to go back to my childhood where my Hakeem Bauji passing through the old lanes of Saharanpur was greeted by the Mullahjis and Jain Sahbs alike with “kya haal hakeemji” (how are you doing, Hakeemji?) and he would look up and reply- “bus uski kripa. (Just his blessings)”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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.”

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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