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Jammu And Kashmir Has Been Under A Never-Ending Lockdown

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Representational image. Indian doctors wait in an area set aside for possible COVID-19 patients at a free screening camp at a government-run homoeopathic hospital in New Delhi, India, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Today, the entire world is suffering and collapsing, owing to our biggest enemy — COVID-19.

Residents of most countries, including India, are now stuck in their homes and confined to restricted areas and limits. Although we were compelled legally to do so, we didn’t even care to question or oppose it since COVID-19 has left us all alarmed and petrified.

Thus, we tend to curse the circumstances that led to this, keep on blaming the country that paved the path to this pandemic. We loathe our fellow beings for the smallest things possible; for instance, reprimanding them for going abroad at the wrong time.

We’re exaggerating a lot, talking about the inconvenience of being stuck at home, where we sleep, surf, eat, watch Netflix, and repeat. A real struggle, isn’t it? Most of us are dying to be granted freedom, to roam, enjoy the outside world, and just gadabout.

What if we were trapped inside our houses, treated with hostility, devoid of all services like the internet, and even calling services? Sounds inadmissible, doesn’t it? Being quarantined for some months sounds like a very tedious and long task, but is rather a ‘penny ante’ when compared to the plight of the people in Jammu and Kashmir.

Newspapers, with headlines about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to revoke special status for the disputed Kashmir region, are displayed for sale at a pavement in Ahmedabad, India, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Have we been so consumed by ourselves that we don’t care about their condition and never-ending misery? The attack on May 2, in Jammu and Kashmir, in which a Colonel, Major and 5 other soldiers were martyred, drew my attention to the area and the people’s constant affliction, and I want to shed some light on it.

I came across some podcasts on social media earlier this year, of local residents who shared their experiences. A tax consultant said that in order to get a couple of minutes of the internet, he had to cover a journey of several hours from Kashmir to Banihal. To add to one’s trouble, after a tedious journey for the internet, the speed offered is maddening.

An accountant adds that it takes half an hour for a webpage to load, and all this at the cost of ₹250–300 per hour by almost every cyber café. A student from Kupwara district said that he had to travel 500 kms to Banihal for two consecutive days and his work was still pending.

The local café owner in Banihal said that around 1,000–2,000 students appear daily from distant locations for different purposes, like scholarship forms, NEET, license applications, and more. But, only 200–300 students manage to fill the forms, and the rest leave disappointed.

Journalists in Kashmir protest the internet shutdown.

Such instances are suggestive of the common vexation faced by the people. This piece of news had moved me ever since, but I forgot about it amidst my life’s daily chores. Now that I am being subjected to restrictions myself, I empathize with Jammu and Kashmir and longed to record personal experiences of residents over there, to gather first-hand information.

Luckily, a friend of mine has an acquaintance/relative in Jammu. I had a little chat with him over the phone regarding the same. Prateek (name changed), a boy of 12th standard, revealed that high-speed internet data service has been denied since August 2019. It’s been a year. Sometimes he requests and pays a neighbour of his to avail their Wi-Fi for a few minutes when in need since he cannot afford extensively high rates of broadband services in Jammu and Kashmir.

He said that over there, multiple strikes happen too often on various accounts (like Section 144, Pulwama attack, 2019), and whenever there’s a strike, a curfew is imposed. They are forbidden from stepping out, calling services are suspended, and the internet is cut off too, time and again.

When any sort of militant attack takes place, such curfews are put in place, leaving no source of communication and basic services. All this is then justified in the name of shielding confidential details, and to keep the information of the state from spreading.

Students suffer the most. Prateek said that online classes are on, but it is just for show because even when there’s no curfew, the speed of the internet offered is less than 2G and completely useless.

I’m not speaking for or against any particular state, community, or government. I’m speaking for people like you and me, and against the denial of their basic human rights. A nation is like a parent to its citizens. So tell me, is dissent against one’s parents wrong?

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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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