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Is Press Freedom Under Threat In Bengal?

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It has been seven years since I first visited Bengal. I took the subjects of Bengal with utmost vigor and decided to travel—even undermining my end semester examinations that were around the corner. Halfway through my itinerary, the feeling of Bengal stormed my very self, be it for their rustic boulevards, anachronistic buildings, the inimitable cabin culture that offers a web of culinary findings, and the bucolic brace that many other metropolitan cities had no claim to.

Years after my visit, it came back to me—the longing to visit Bengal again. After careful deliberation, we zeroed the date to April 2020, only to be shattered by the pandemic that put the globe on a standstill.

Assessing the present scenario, though I find many abhorrent cases happening around the world amid the pandemic. Bengal has had its share too, but for odd reasons. Even if complying with the rhetoric of Trump that “One day the virus will disappear completely”, I would seriously go for a second thought about visiting Bengal, or probably will think about how did I get here.

Violence is no newfound fame for Bengal. Even going by the standards of its violent political melee throughout the years, the current spree of affairs goes unprecedented.

Debendra Nath Roy, aged 59, was an elected representative from the Uttar Dinajpur Assembly Constituency. His body was found hanging in front of a closed tea shop with his hands tied. For many who understand Bengal’s politics, his ultimate fate was predestined. Cops found out a suspicious suicide note mentioning two people. As per his family, a group of young men had come to escort Roy on their motorcycles on the night before to an unknown location. The opposition is too dangerous a position to own in Bengal.

Anirban Chattopadhyay, a highly revered editor of a 98-year-old daily ABP, resigned post a bitter feud with the CM of West Bengal. For an organization that practiced radical transparency, Anirban accused the Mamata Banerjee government of threatening the media freedom in West Bengal. The government’s checkmate marshaled against the media powerhouse was for their negative coverage of the government’s efforts to handle both the coronavirus and cyclone Amphan.

Representational image.

Sheikh Safiqul Islam, a journalist in West Bengal who runs a web news channel named Arambagh TV, was arrested along with his wife and another journalist by the West Bengal police on June 29, after his web channel exposed the scorned connect of the clubs that received grants from the government. It also invited a set of menacing legal threats. It was a warning.

Moreover, the West Bengal CM tweeted: “voices are being muzzled’ and ‘people unable to speak due to reign of fear. Media is not spared.” It was in the backdrop of the murder of a Ghaziabad-based journalist in UP. Karmic Irony!

For all this while, the national media houses which fancies themselves as truth-tellers, who relish flouting the conventions of good taste and privilege, feigned obliviousness. A lack of humdrum. The drag on the reputable work that the media covets should be connected to the assembly elections of 2021. It reveals the reality beneath.

The latest into the list, a tribal woman from Basirhat subdivision of West Bengal was dragged from her house and physically assaulted, then abandoned beside a pond. The incident was put into light by a BJP observer from the state through his social media account.

The BJP leader who brought up the issue weighed sarcasm by tweeting ‘These crimes against the woman in this State goes to show that the Mamata government has no ‘Mamta”.

The celebutante politicians within the Bengal circle took no notice of the macabre happening within their footholds. Basirhat MP from the state also an ‘entertainer’ preoccupied with her social media status gave no concern even after receiving flak from the public for not responding to people from her consistency who were protesting against the paucity of food and supplies amidst pandemic. She found time to wage war against the central government for banning the social media platform Tik Tok, as she remarked it as an ‘eyewash’ similar to demonetization. Misplaced priorities!

The political wrongdoings in the state purported to the unprecedented ascension of saffron politics within the terrain of Bengal. Initially, the TMC chided away when commenting about the rise of Hindutva politics as a mere political repartee and framed it as outlandishly spurious. It took them 2019 to witness the massive change that happened within the demographics of Bengal bastion. BJPs’ performance in 2019 should not be termed as a victory. It is a statement. Much to TMCs discomfiture.

One does not need any morse code to decipher the intentions of the current Bengal regime. You pour scorn against the luminaries; you scurry under shelter. This modus operandi in Bengal is not showing any sign of dissipating anytime soon. A penchant for radical contrarianism is what a democracy accords for. The only trace of democracy in Bengal lies with the resolute minds of people showing the confidence that they can transform and disrupt anything. Carte Blanche!

As what reverberated from the high altitudes of Galwan weeks before, ‘the age of expansionism is over’ is not just reserved for our cantankerous neighbors, even a ‘City of joy’ can pay heed to it.

 

 

 

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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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