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George Floyd: Can Online Solidarity Be Misleading?

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Social media, above all other things, has made one particular thing especially easy nowadays – extending solidarity. This potentially means that your sense of contribution to the ongoing injustice around the world typically boils down to a gesture of ‘double-tap’. This is not to say that the realm of the virtual world hasn’t resonated or, for that matter, substantially added to the struggles on ground. You could think of many contemporary examples to prove exactly that. However, repeating such instances is not my aim here.

We inhabit a world in which relationships have come to be increasingly mediated by ‘images’. This could come in the form of news reports, live debates, and heavily-curated content. Images are constantly flooding on our social media feed and it is hard to look away, especially when you’re looking at it on a private screen. To say that these images, in all shapes and sizes, do not tweak events as they happened to our convenience is to avoid a very emergent issue in today’s political life in general – the generation of ‘spectacle’.

George Floyd Protests: How to Help, Where to Donate
Racism in the States is ‘institutional’. Nearly 23% of the identified Covid-19 deaths in America is the African-American population, even though records suggest that they make up for barely 13% of the entire population.

Moments after George Floyd’s death, major news corporations inadvertently took up the story, with a varying number of opinions floating around the clock. This means that people like you and I, who aren’t just geographically but also culturally apart from America, can tune in for latest developments. For anyone who’s even remotely aware of the inhumane murder of George Floyd knows that the subsequent outrage that managed to stir the sentiments of African-Americans still reeling from the most subtle forms of racism started from a video.

A more blatant show of racism that might have gone unnoticed on the international forum got recorded on a passerby’s camera. Leaving the dramatic narratives conjured up in the comfortable and privileged seclusion of a newsroom in a competition for TRPs aside, the video of a Black man being suffocated to death by a White police officer, while other officers as shown on camera failed to intervene, hint at an issue that isn’t just individual.

Racism in the States is ‘institutional’. Here’s some food for thought – nearly 23% of the identified Covid-19 deaths in America is the African-American population, even though records suggest that they make up for barely 13% of the entire population. Reasons cited by health professionals hint at an undercurrent of racial prejudice leading to a lack of basic healthcare facilities amongst other things. Treating police brutality as just a symptom avoids deliberation on the (already identified) actual disease.

All four police officers charged in George Floyd killing | The ...
The outrage against George Floyd’s murder managed to stir the sentiments of African-Americans started from a video.

A system that confers privileges on a certain class and race cannot be expected to be inclusive, unless the cultural problem engulfing the main discourse keeps getting pushed to the margins. What clearly requires a systemic overhaul, or at least a discussion that would lead to the same, gets lost in translation, thanks to the antics staged by everybody’s favorite, Mr. Trump. Attention is diverted. Should one not then resist inflammatory remarks from the man who’s apparently in charge of the nation? Yes.

Should it remain restricted to just that? No.

Most of the live debates on air right now should be held complicit in adding to this endless recycling of spectacle where the news has displaced our attention from the very ‘nature’ of the protest to its ‘effects’.

And a certain vocal section (read: online) is busy imitating that same closeted space of a newsroom rather than educating itself on the very issues that involve them.

Rampukar Pandit. Does that name ring a bell? Probably not, because it didn’t particularly make headlines. Or maybe people, and by that I mean the ones active on social media rallying in support of Floyd, did not make the slightest effort to even look at what the nation had wrought when it announced a nationwide lockdown, giving just four hours for people to gather their bearings. It is very simple really.

Claiming to be affected by something has its own trappings in the sense that people seek validation on social media specifically on issues that have somehow managed to grab the attention of one and all. Take the not-so-curious case of Indian celebrities expressing their pain and anguish at the murder of Floyd, but choose to remain tactfully silent on countless migrants who died, not of Covid-19, but of the consequences of the lockdown.

My son, who had not even turned one-year-old, died: Rampukar ...
Indian celebrities expressed their pain and anguish at the murder of Floyd, but chose to remain tactfully silent on countless migrants who died, not of Covid-19, but of the consequences of the lockdown.

Privilege confers a position of responsibility. Denying this position means conformism, which in turn leads to reproduction of relations that go into the maintenance of status quo. To people pledging and celebrating the cause of donations, I ask: what forced millions of migrants to go back to their homes in the first place, what can be possibly done to avoid such an exodus again, and more importantly, why should such conditions be allowed to exist? When the problem is inherently systemic, do we still go around shouting slogans of individual social responsibility?

Jumping onto online bandwagons, protesting for social justice while choosing to remain (willfully) unaware of the suffering of oppressed groups in one’s own nation is the paradox no one’s willing to admit. How does one accept solidarity from a section that has been equally complicit in silencing the voices of the marginalised of their own nation?

We need to take a step back, educate ourselves before jumping the gun. That means unlearning the structurally rewarding ways of looking at the world, being empathetic of one’s own before taking to forums contesting for justice, using your resources, which are of course a privilege, in at least starting a dialogue with people, putting yourself on-ground with the day-to-day realities of life, and stepping out of that bubble in order to make an actual difference that is not just restricted to private chat rooms or the comment sections. ‘Double-tap’ isn’t and shouldn’t be the answer. All of it, the change we insistently vie for, needs to start from somewhere, and we owe this to Floyd, to Rampukar.

About the author: Soham is currently pursuing M.A. in English from Delhi University

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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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