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What India Can Learn From The #BlackLivesMatter Movement

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Do you advocate the binary logic of black and white or logic which accommodates the shades of grey? I am and do remain an advocate of the logic of the shades of the grey. Strangely, some of the narratives coming from the innumerable articles I read on racism, #BlackLivesMatter tries to give a very different picture. There are only two options: either you are racist or you are not. Before we make a judgment, we should be willing to listen to some of the voices of black people, especially from the US, and hear their experiences.

“The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of white feelings…. A white person smoking pot is a ‘hippie’ and a black person doing it is a ‘criminal’. It’s evident in the school to prison pipeline and the fact that there are close to 20 people of color in prison for every white person. I’m gonna read that again: Black and Muslim killers are ‘terrorists’ and ‘thugs’. Why are white shooters called ‘mentally ill’?”, says John Metta.

“Another time, when I’d walked back to my best friend’s empty house after a party, I accidentally set off the alarm, bringing the cops buzzing to his door. I wonder if the only reason it went so smoothly is because I quickly identified myself as a member of the military, opening their ears to hear the full story of what was happening. I think of what might’ve happened if they’d mistaken me, holding my military ID in my hand as I walked out the door, for something else”, says Amesh A Nagarajah.

“To be black in America is to be born into the trauma of the constant threat of police violence, conforming, and self-censoring to navigate that unfair sidewalk and avoid the traps, says Michaella Henry.

The question is: Are you a racist? Many whites could say “I am not a racist” because I have many black friends, relatives, employees, and so on. But it is time to see racism as a systemic injustice, where the American system (Americans may not be alone here) favours the white. Thus, by being white, I am the pet of the system; I may or may not be aware of it.

A man holding a poster that says stop killing us during protests over George Floyd's death
Hollywood, CA, Monday, June 1, 2020 – Hundreds of protestors march numerous blocks demonstrating against police brutality and the death of George Floyd. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Thus, racism is no more a question only connected with personal relationships. Despite it being an important component, the crucial demand is to start seeing racism as a societal construct that is systemically unjust.

“Many of the white people I know have no concept of the role they’ve played, passively or actively, in perpetuating these conditions. They have no idea how much we long to hear them speak up for us and to embrace some of the discomfort around these issues with us. Furthermore, the good ones are oblivious to the level of overt racism still out there”, says Ramesh A Nagarajah.

“Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America. White people are in a position of power in this country because of racism. The question is: Are they brave enough to use that power to speak against the system that gave it to them? …. Stand up for what’s right. But first, make sure you look in the mirror long enough to see what’s wrong”, says Elyse Cizek.

Yes, I support the binary logic here. There are only two options, being a racist or not. Much more than personal relationships and choices (though they are important), it is a question of supporting a system that shows preferences based on colour. Accepting reality invites us to start doing remedial actions, which remodels the system instead of doing mere bandage work. Chris Pitre in his challenging piece gives a lot of starting points for the business leaders. Jason Weiland gives some ideas on where an unimportant white dude like him can start. A white mom speaks of the new journey she has started. Melinda Briana Epler speaks of 20 things that could be done as an ally. A quote sums it up,
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” — Ijeoma Oluo

What Is The Message For India?

The #BlackLivesMatter movement is raising pertinent questions issuing a call to fight against all the systemic injustices around the world. It might not be easy in countries with dictators or dictatorial mentalities in the governmental systems, but it’s high time that the so-called liberal countries do take it up seriously. I would like to think from the perspective of the largest democracy in the world, India. I would look into two systemic injustices that are significant in the context of the Indian subcontinent.

One is the age-old question of casteism and the second is the question of religious minorities, especially Muslims. Even Christians experience the same. Some of the poignant questions that can be asked are:

  • Doe Dalits and tribals experience implicit bias at the hands of the system, due to their names, living surroundings, and so on? Don’t try to escape this question saying that they have reservations in government institutions.
  • Does a Muslim person experience bias at the hands of the system, especially for getting an education, job, or buying land? (I think the situation has deteriorated badly in this direction in the last few years of the present government).
  • Why hasn’t reservation for the underprivileged in the government sectors created an egalitarian society? One response from some sections of the society would be to stop the reservation system, but my response is that the reservation system should be a supplement only to the crucial component of the systemic response, which is the radical improvement of opportunities and facilities for the underprivileged.

These are significant questions and I believe that systemic injustice does exist against these two sets of communities, though it is highly dependent on the location where they live. More direct questions that need to be asked is:

  • Are you casteist? Like the American question of racist/not, this is much more than a question on your relationships with people of all castes. It is a question on the equality or the special preference meted at the hands of the system. A response of yes by any higher caste person will call them to fight against the unjust system which favours them.
  • Are you communal? Again, don’t say a ‘No’ just because you have so many Muslim friends, but tell me: does the system favour your community over theirs? Does it make life miserable for Muslims?

A paraphrasing of the quote from Ijeoma Oluo could give us hope for the future, “The beauty of anti- ‘ism’ movements (like casteism, communalism, patriarchy) is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of those viruses to be part of those movements. It is the commitment to fight those viruses wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

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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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