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“In Kashmir, Trauma Is Present, Continuous, And Despairingly Perpetual”

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There are stages of grief, when the wound is new and the loss is raw, a state of denial comes first. A state of mind that is not able to comprehend the change in reality. Denial is followed by sorrow, melancholy, mourning. There is an unusual silence in this sorrow and mourning, and yet, the state of rebellious uproars can emerge once the dust of grief somehow settles.

On August 15, 2020, when the Prime Minister will hoist the flag of free and independent India, Kashmiris will continue to remain caged in the second stage of grief. When the tricolour kites will fill up the Delhi skies, the cloud of uncertainty will cover the hills. When the air of Delhi will vibrate with sounds of Kai Po Che, thousands of miles apart, Kashmiris will ask each other if their cellular network is working. This is a paradox that Indian democracy is sustaining itself in, and has become a living nightmare for Kashmiris, especially after last year when their ‘autonomy’ was unilaterally snatched.

It has been more than a year since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. A year of living under siege, a siege which threatens to last forever. From August 5 last year, Kashmiris have been put behind bars upon the discretion of the state, as and when required. More than 600 individuals were booked under the draconian PSA (Public Safety Act) which allows persons to be detained without a trial for up to two years, on the ‘presumption; that they’might’ pose danger.

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

With mainstream political leaders being detained, some booked under PSA, other Kashmiris detained in far-off states where even the nearest of the kin can’t approach them, the courts have also seemingly shrugged off their responsibility of hearing the Habeas Corpus Petitions of the detained people.

Yet, as though this was not enough, the government is also keen on silencing anyone who speaks of the reality, other than the one it likes to portray, by detaining people for the thought crime committed by sharing their feelings online about the current situation of their home. The Media Policy, 2020, issued by the J&K Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR), threatens to put jail journalists, editors, and writers who don’t speak the language wished by the Government.

Therefore, the Central Government only allows a select few people to visit the state while disallowing the democratically-elected parliamentarians to do so and for ‘carefully chosen’ news to go out of state, while scrapping any account that it doesn’t like. When I was in school I remember reading that the media was the ‘watchdog’ of the government. The little me didn’t know that the roles could be reversed in an Orwellian State like ours, where the State watches and approves everything, including thoughts.

The new protocol of the union has sent shivering waves across to the people of Kashmir. This remains especially true for the new domicile laws introduced by the Centre, during a time when the entire world has been under the grip of a pandemic and the former state was and continues to be under President’s rule.

A scene from Srinagar. Civilian life has been dotted with the presence of armed forces for decades in the valley, serving as a pressing reminder that the state is under constant siege. (Photo: Kashmir Global/Flickr)

According to these new domicile laws, in addition of those who already are the permanent residents, anyone who may have resided in the state for 15 years, or whose wards may have studied in Jammu and Kashmir for seven years and taken a class 10 or 12 examinations, will be eligible to be a state subject. They will thereby be eligible for jobs, scholarships, and land rights in the state.

These new domicile laws along with the planned redrawing of the constituent boundaries have instigated the fear of a demographic change in Kashmir. Though this demographic change doesn’t seem so immediate, in the long run, it is potentially a possibility that none can negate. Not to mention, the demographic change that took place in the Jammu region during the gruesome killings pertaining to partition and hence changing from a Muslim Majority to a Hindu majority state. So, the fear for Kashmiris doesn’t come from nowhere.

These new domicile laws have lowered down the bar of political narratives within Kashmir. If it was about ‘gaining autonomy’ earlier, now it seems to ask for ‘sustaining and living as Kashmiris’. It seems to ask to not have to fight for identity or to not be treated as a guest in their own homes or to be cornered in the place they have a right to exist with dignity. Kashmir, which happens to be the only Muslim-majority state in secular India, is on the verge of being eroded. Is this the way political demands and dissent is answered in the biggest democracy of the world?

The Indian State seems to work on the policy of ‘starving’ people in the first place and then being benevolent, as it gives little bread crumbs to its citizens, not subjects, to munch on.

The ongoing lockdown has led to much mental stress among people across the world. Experts claim that some people may even suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the pandemic gets over. Yet, Kashmiris live with a different kind of PTSD every day, in which they suffer from trauma, anxiety, fear, insecurity, yet it is never ‘POST’. It’s always present, continuous, and seems despairingly perpetual.

I remember this one incident from my childhood, which took place during an encounter outside my home. My family was inside my home, except my father who was out in his shop when the ‘encounter’ started. As soon as I heard the bullet shots, my 4-year-old self screamed for my father. I couldn’t see him anywhere. I had thought he was trapped amidst the clashes. I cried out and screamed for him to come home, and suddenly I saw him climbing in on our sidewalls. I had never felt more alive than in those moments when I touched him after I thought I couldn’t see him anymore.

Kashmir is not just conflicted land, it has conflicted souls, troubled people, anxiety-ridden minds, and scarred childhoods.  Representational image.

After that incident, I have always prayed elaborately, asking for the protection of Allah before anyone leaves home. With time I had started to feel a bit stronger and prayed a little less when I saw anyone leaving home. But, after I saw the news of a 3-year-old child sitting on the chest of his dead grandfather, that childhood fear came back.

The family of the 3-year-old claim that their kid gets up in the middle of the night only to say “Thak-Thak”, the sound of bullets. His entire childhood remains scarred, sadly. But, in Kashmir, we have less happy faces and even less happy childhood. Kashmir is not just conflicted land, it has conflicted souls, troubled people, anxiety-ridden minds, and scarred childhoods. We have half-mothers and half-widows, half-living and half-dead people.

While writing this article I had to gather courage and hope because even writing symbolizes aspiration. I have forgotten, we have forgotten, what to aspire for. Encounters, deaths, burned houses, and ruined lives are what symbolize us. We are a population who don’t know what peace means in the real sense of the word.

Vaeni ti cha roozmut keh parri

The line above roughly translates to “Is there anything else that remains to be done?”, that’s what my Abu told my Mumma yesterday. And, probably that’s what you will hear in every home of Kashmir. A Saga! Melancholy!

We seem to only wait for the foreseen, yet uncertain, future. The abrogation of 370 and 35A might have given a boost to the superficial territorial integrity of India and won the Kashmiri land, yet it important to mention that it was accompanied by much losses suffered by businesses, thus debunking the myth of ‘development’ finally coming to the valley.

Once during the violent happenings of the Partition Gandhi said, “I look at hills and my help comes from there“. If Gandhi was alive today, he might have wanted to re-phrase, and would have said, “I look at hills and a cry for help comes from there.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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