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Divided By Religion: Taking Lessons From History During The Lockdown

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One of the shocks that the great mutiny of 1857 gave to the British Government was the unprecedented unity shown by Hindus and Muslims. After the mutiny, the British worked heavily to puncture this harmonious spirit. All the communal riots after 1857 in the words of Markandey Katju were “artificially engineered by British authorities”.

Every policy after the revolt, be it 1909 Morley Minto reforms which introduced separate electorate for Muslims or the 1932 communal award, also known as MacDonald award, which extended separate electorates to depressed classes (now known as SC) and other minorities, displayed division.

The British knew that as long as the two communities are cemented, their state is highly precarious, hanging by a thread. Thus, to robust their roots, they played the card of divide and rule. History stands testimony that how this card proved as an antidote in demolishing the long-established unity between the two communities.

Further, how Indians were made to look at almost everything through the prism of religion, thus, diversifying them from the lynchpin which included issues like unemployment, heavy taxation, the shattered structure of cottage and small industries, low level of investment and the like.

The current happenings in new India are in many ways akin to the times of the British Raj, albeit the enemy this time is not in foreign attire. The times are terrible for people across the world, but the scenario of the world’s largest diversity hub is deplorable. The country is plagued, on the one hand, by cunning COVID-19 and on the other hand by the communal virus which is incontrovertibly more engulfing than the former. Let us elucidate this:

At a time of distress, when the country needs solidarity to fight a macabre microbe, some black sheep are nurturing hate both on the social media and on the ground by painting the virus with communal colours. For instance, a tweet which has around 2,000 retweets before it was removed for violating Twitter norms featured a cartoon of caricatured Muslim man labelled “corona jihad” trying to push a Hindu off a cliff. Another video shared on both Facebook and Twitter purporting to show Muslims intentionally sneezing on each other was debunked by the fact-checking organisation alt news.

Then came the reaction in the form of an attack on a team of health workers in Indore’s Talpatti Bakhal area by some Muslims. Although the attack is highly reprehensible and should be unequivocally condemned, at the same time, it can be linked to the growing stigma against Muslims. As Bhikhu Parekh, an Indian born British political theorist, says, “When a cultural community has a low prestige in the public arena, individuals belonging to them develop a sense of low esteem. They become nervous and diffident and are unable to perform successfully in society.”

News coverage blaming Muslims for the spread of Covid.

The precursor to all this was a positive case linked to Nizamuddin where an international seminar of a sect known as Tablighi Jamaat was held in mid-march. What was more gut-wrenching was the role of Government and the fourth estate.

Firstly, the Government wittingly or unwittingly instead of pacifying the chaos exacerbated it. The Modi government’s letter to Mamata Banerjee administration in West Bengal reiterating the need to strictly enforce the lockdown in the state. It could not be a coincidence that five of the seven places mentioned in the letter were Muslim dominated regions.

Secondly, the Government reacted late. The tweet by PM Modi that “COVID-19 has no religion” may be considered a substantial step in the direction of dousing the divisive flames. However, its timing is suspicious as it corresponded more to the international pressure, especially from the gulf than to developing internal circumstances or empathising with the minorities. The fourth estate too fanned the flames by carrying everyday news briefing of cases linked to the Nizamuddin centre, which was indeed ridiculous.

These are, thus, the tough times. The two communities missed the trick during the British Raj and the rest is history. History can’t be unlived, but it can’t be forgotten either, lest we forget. It is the best time to take lessons from history by locating the enemy who is trying to sow the seed of discord, who is benefiting from the violence, who is misleading us in the name of religion, who is deflecting us from cardinal issues like job crisis, economic slowdown and so on.

The lockdown allows us to contemplate the scenario afresh. Prejudice will sink us and cooperation will save us. The choice is ours, we have to choose one.

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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, 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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