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Opinion: We Need A Global Debate On Majoritarianism

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One complaint I often get from friends is that I say very “offensive” things online. My Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they accuse, are filled with the same sad and angry words against Islamophobia. Although despite my repetitive rants, they continue to ignore the agony of these words.

On July 10, 2020, the Turkish president announced that Hagia Sophia would be a mosque again.

Amongst other things, I am accused of being biased. Also, I am accused to be writing for a vested agenda. Usually, my Hindu friends make these allegations since I write a lot about the persecution of Indian Muslims. However, recently I noticed Muslim friends on social media making the same kind of accusations against those who expressed displeasure at the conversion of Hagia Sofia into a mosque.

A few days back, some of them were irked after being questioned for running a homophobic WhySoProud trend on Twitter. This time the allegation against those Muslims who opposed this conversion is that they are doing this to please “Hindu liberals”.

Those who make these charges are undermining our agency and reason. It is insulting for me to think that what I and several other Muslims write, is not out of our individual agency and free will. When someone as outspoken as Umar Khalid is accused of doing that by several Muslims, I feel that we need to introspect.

The attackers are overlooking Umar’s incisive critique of Islamophobia in the Indian left. Muslims who are opposed to this are being called apologetic. I never pledged allegiance to the new sultan of Turkey. Not calling out Erdogan’s vile actions or political gimmicks does not fill any Muslims with a sense of vicarious guilt, at least in front of people we are allegedly supposed to be pleasing. But to say that those who dislike Erdogan are apologetic is quite irresponsible.

I will any day stand with someone like Umar Khalid who has been a constant ally in the fight against Islamophobia, rather than choosing a faraway ‘Sultan’ who is hardly bothered about the existence of Indian Muslims. It is people like Umar whose strong and sharp words have made young Muslims more unapologetic and bothered about their rights than their predecessors.

The other charge was against those liberals who wanted schools and hospitals on that disputed land, some congress leaders and “practising Hindu atheist” liberals like Dhruv Rathee who had strongly supported the Ayodhya verdict but are now opposed to Erdogan’s move. To many people’s shock, they had claimed that the Ayodhya verdict was respectable to all sides and that it will put a halt to the hate against Muslims. It did not halt. It actually increased.

I agree that this hypocrisy should be called out but when you also support either of the two majoritarian displays of power, are you not a hypocrite too? Also, what about those who have been vehemently opposed to the demolition and protested the SC verdict on Ayodhya? Do they have the right to comment on this?

Some found the comparison of Hagia Sofia with Babri Masjid as problematic. They said that it is not as bad in Turkey as it is in India. Umar rightly asks, ‘are we waiting for it to be that bad?’ Babri was illegally demolished and mobs killed hundreds. The history of these two events is different but what makes the comparison fair is how the Indian and Turkish governments and judiciary ignored the sentiment of the Muslim and Christian minorities. That the majoritarian will become the conscience of the state is starkly similar in both these cases.

As per media reports, Christians were blamed for spreading Coronavirus in Turkey. Consequently, some churches were attacked. The Christian community has faced mysterious disappearances and deaths, attacks and propaganda in recent years.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recently, a group of Erdogan backed lawyers published an article to “redo” what happened in Armenia. As somebody who often hears Hindutva extremists warning to repeat 2002, which they eventually did in North East Delhi earlier this year, I understand the consequences of these hateful words. The increasing murderous hate attacks on Kurds in Erdogan’s Turkey are known to everybody except those who deny the Armenian genocide.

Erdogan supporters see him as the emperor of the neo-Ottoman empire. The majority rallies behind his brand of Islamic nationalism. Through a constitutional referendum, he has vested immense new authority in himself. Institutions look timid. Rogue opposition is either tamed or jailed. Rivals have been pushed into a tunnel of silence.

The pandemic was used to target the feeble opposition while political prisoners languishing in jails were given no relief. Amnesty International observed that rivals have been targeted using anti-terror laws during the pandemic.

Apart from the political opposition, universities, intellectuals, writers and journalists have invited the severe wrath of the Sultan. Many “Anti-national” academics have lost their jobs in recent years. Many renowned Human rights defenders and lawyers are behind bars.

Ever since the failed coup, suspicion and divisions amongst the Turks has reached new heights. The recent losses in elections, a growing economic crisis and waning popularity of the ruling party are being seen as the reasons behind these desperate populist decisions.

(Goosebumps? Déjà vu?)

Many wrote that the mosque was “bought” by the Ottomans centuries ago. I did not want to argue about that since copies of the receipt in modern digital font and scanned PDFs of the transaction are easily available on WhatsApp! Several individuals shared stories of Israel, Greece and Spain converting mosques into other structures. This was followed by “where were you then” and whataboutery. Ironically, if you are opposed to what the aforesaid nations did, then you should be opposed to what Turkey did as well.

At the same, I also acknowledge that the western media and academia in the post-cold war world villainised Islam and Muslims. The “Muslim victim” did not fit into the “war on terror” narrative pushed by the west.

The attack on Islam and Muslims did not receive the same kind of recognition or outrage, and was side-lined. Writers like Chomsky and Edward Said have noted the West’s white-washing of its crimes in that part of the world and its malicious contempt for Islam. This has increased anti-West hostility in that region.

A few months ago, I read a blog post while casually scrolling on social media. A young Erdogan critic made a very significant point which I think should be thought about more in the above-mentioned context. He said that as long as the western standards of Human rights will be limited to the people living on the American soil, as long as the west hates on ordinary refugees and working-class innocent Muslims, as long as the occupation and Persecution of Palestine are seen as Israel’s sovereign right, as long as people deny what the US did to ordinary Iraqis, people in the Middle East will continue to invest in defenders who eventually oppress.

In December, while protesting the CAA at Jantar Mantar, I spoke to the Wire and NDTV. That video went viral on social media. It was shared by hundreds of Muslims in Pakistan including actress Mehwish Hayat.

On that thread, many Pakistanis had expressed solidarity with Indian Muslims. I replied to one of the comments, “The best Pakistani Muslims can do in the interest of Indian Muslims is to set a good example for India’s Hindus by treating their minorities well.”

It angered a lot of people. They replied with “Thank you Jinnah” taunts. Many users made the same comments on Indian Muslim handles after the Delhi violence.

What were they actually mocking? They were mocking the fact that Indian Muslims refused to go to Pakistan to be a majority and instead chose to live as a minority in India. This also suggests that they believe minority persecution is natural and that Indian Muslims missed an opportunity to be a persecuting majority. The recent demolition of a Hindu religious structure in Islamabad or the post-Babri demolitions and attack on Hindu religious sites in Pakistan and Bangladesh describe majoritarian solidarity aptly.

On the recent Krishna temple debate, I saw an interesting thread on Twitter where a Pakistani Muslim was explaining it to a Pakistani Hindu that Temples are not essential to the faith20 of Hinduism while mosques are essential to the faith of Islam.

Babri Masjid
People demolishing the Babri Masjid.

In India, the judiciary applied the same principle to say that mosques are not necessary for prayers. This opens a door to another important debate: Are laws merely a manifestation of the majoritarian interpretation of morality and righteousness?

Even in the West, the so-called cradle of secularism, minorities face rampant discrimination and attacks. The recent murder of George Floyd in broad daylight attests to that. The need of the hour is strong debate around majoritarianism. It must gain global momentum.

As long as we are afraid of losing friends and being unpopular, such a debate is not possible. Right now, our only “agenda” is to rattle our people’s numbed conscience. We need to be courageous to be truthful. Sometimes, we have to offend those who like us when we offend others.

When violence becomes an everyday character of society, when irrationality overpowers reasons, when cruelty is seen defence, when injustice flows in a people’s vein, when malice rules their heads, oppression pleases their hearts and vulgarity embeds itself in their “proud” nation’s soul, writers are bound to protest, annoy, and be repetitive in what they write.

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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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