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This Ramadan, My Understanding Of The Word ‘Muslim’ Has Expanded

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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.
Migrant labourers walking home during the lockdown.
Millions of unregistered migrant workers walking hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an abrupt and complete nation-wide lockdown was announced in India on March 23 with a notice of less than four hours. Millions of unregistered migrant workers were stuck in cities hundreds of kilometres away from their families.

Nearly 90% of India’s workforce is employed by the informal sector. This is the workforce that makes our comfortable lives possible by growing our food, building our cities, stitching our clothes, and cleaning our homes, streets and drains. Yet, the sector doesn’t offer them any welfare benefits.

Most of these people are dailywage earners, which means they only get paid the days that they turn up for work. For all these people, hunger and starvation became their reality over-night.

My Experience In Relief Work During The Pandemic

Over the last 50 days, civil society organisations all over the country have come forward to help the vulnerable tide over this calamity. Mutual aid networks were set-up and many of us have been volunteering for helplines distributing food and hygiene supplies.

One week into the lockdown, I was not only volunteering with one such helpline but also working with a grassroot organisation for water and sanitation access in slums of the city of Mumbai.

As the days passed, the voices on the other end of the phone lines became more and more desperate. With the beginning of Ramadan, our work expanded to north-east Delhi where victims of the recent communal riots are living in burnt down homes and suffering from destroyed livelihoods.

In the midst of all this suffering, there has been a rise in Islamophobic sentiment, fueled by divisive mainstream media narratives. Hungry and desperate workers trying to take the trains home have been depicted as Muslims violating lockdown. There is an increase in number of hate crimes against Muslims in different parts of India.

Yet, the Jain family trust that set-up a helpline I volunteer for continued to distribute relief to all people in need, irrespective of identity. Through the work on water and sanitation access, I came to see that issues faced by the poor in my city did not differ with religious identity. Sharda Shinde from Lower Parel faced the same difficulties as Muhammad Umar Shaikh in Mankhurd, and we fight for their rights with the same vigor.

Civil society initiatives in India have exhibited exceptional sentiments of unity and harmony in the face of ugly xenophobia. As an Indian Muslim, I am at once acutely aware of the growing divide in the country, but also deeply touched by the show of solidarity with those who are most vulnerable.

This Ramadan, my understanding of fasting has expanded as I speak with mothers who haven’t been able to feed their children for days at a stretch. Mothers who have told me “We are fasting, but what about the children?“; mothers who have said, “Our refrigerator was burnt in the riots but it’s my little girl’s first year of fasting, and I wish she could have some cold water at iftar.

This Ramadan, my understanding of the word ‘Muslim’ has expanded. What does it truly mean to be Muslim? What does it mean to ensure that families living in 40 houses to my left and 40 houses to my right don’t go to sleep hungry, when the cities we now live in are divided into ghettos planned carefully so we never have to see the poor?

As Ramadan comes to an end, I am also compelled to think about what Eid means to me. How can we create an occasion to celebrate in the midst of this situation?

Migrant worker receiving food relief in Mumbai
Migrant workers from Bihar receives food relief from Center For Promoting Democracy in Mumbai.

Perhaps by remembering the beautiful displays of faith so many people have expressed in the Almighty that He will take care of them somehow. Perhaps in the compassion shown by the sanitation worker who received food from us but gave it away to someone he felt was even more hungry in hope that he will be paid his salary soon.

Perhaps in the display of humanity on the highways of India where people (irrespective of religion) are putting their own health at risk to offer water and food to migrants (irrespective of religion) walking home in the heat of May with children on their arms. Perhaps in believing that every single person we are able to feed, even for a day, is a moment in which all of humanity is saved.

This Eid, instead of buying ourselves a new outfit, let’s find our joy in giving to those in desperate need and wear the sawaab as the most precious jewels.

This Eid, I pledge to divert my time and money toward relief efforts. I pledge to commit to causes that strengthen our governance systems so that we can save more people from the humiliation that comes from starvation. And most importantly, I give thanks for not only the blessings that Ar-Raheem, the Most Merciful, has showered on me, my friends and family, but also the difficult lessons that Al-Haqq, the Absolute Truth, is teaching me about life, death and beyond.

May Al-Haadi, the Guide, guide us to the blessed path.
Aameen.

If you are looking for trusted hands on the ground, consider contributing to Center for Promoting Democracy.

Center for Promoting Democracy is a Mumbai-based organization working with slum-dwellers and homeless. They have been offering food relief but more importantly, work on improving water and sanitation access, an effort with long-lasting benefits for the community.

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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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