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“The Very Language Of The Right-Wing Regime Is Oppressive And Unidimensional”

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Violent rape and death threats have become almost normal for everyone who chooses to oppose or critique the current right-wing regime. Whether through the written word, stand-up comedy, art, comics, or any form that they best express in. Ideas of intimidation, that start with vitriolic tweets, unsolicited photos of male genitalia, to profiles that you can see where they come from, to videos that don’t hide the identity of the threat giver, to actual final action, are normalized now, more than ever before.

They are ends of the same spectrum, ending with the shooting of Gauri Lankesh, the lynching of oppressed Muslims, and castes considered lower, by brahmins, steadily looking for ways to reinforce their supremacy. While the ideas of supremacy have always existed, where does the violence they now exercise, find its legitimacy, and impunity from? And what is the language of the right?

A potential answer to the impunity of threats is visible. The trio of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Ajay Singh Bisht (Yogi Adityanath), their rise to power and the ability to wield it, and to proliferate hate unchecked, almost glorifies their toxicity in the fast-accepted ideas of a ‘hero’. The veritable un-dynastic ‘leaders’ who have risen, carefully marketed, and who continue to work their image to drive home their ideas of a singular identity for a country that has traditionally been marked by its diversity, eclipsing other communities- almost delegitimizing their existence, and flourishing all the while, doing so.

Ajay Singh Bisht, after he became Chief Minister for the largest state in the country, ended cases of hate speech filed against him. He has on record spoken, that if Muslims ‘take’ one Hindu girl, they will forcibly convert 100 Muslim women . While his supporters have spoken of digging out bodies of dead Muslim women and raping them. Hate speech has been a tool used against minorities, with little checks.

Narendra Modi in his speeches during the lockdown has repeatedly missed mentioning ‘Eid’ as a festival. His insistence of not recognizing this minority population has received ire but to no avail. Amit Shah’s speeches before the 2019 elections, where he referred to illegal Muslim immigrants as ‘termites’ who needed to be ‘thrown into the Bay of Bengal’, is just one testimony to the vitriolic language used by these men in power.

When one adds the lens of gender while evaluating hate speeches, the realities are rife with misogyny and Brahmanical patriarchy. Women are often used as pawns in larger narratives of ‘cleansing’ or ‘punishing’ an oppressed minority, or if they are at the forefront of a conversation, are at the receiving end of vitriolic rape threats. The recent incident of the man from Vadodara, abusing comedian Agrima Joshua, is a testimony.

The threats aren’t just violent- they are descriptive. Most of those standing true to the founding principles of this country, secularism, togetherness, and fraternity, are at the receiving end of this hate, almost daily. Whether it is seasoned journalists like Rana Ayyub, Neha Dixit or Arfa Khanum, or Swara Bhasker (one of the few voices in mainstream Hindi cinema) and several others face this hate each day.

What the language used also signifies, is that for those giving these threats, women are nothing more than vaginas, and that to have a mind that they speak is an aberration. Rape and rape threats are about power and intimidation, and to ‘show a woman her place’. In that context, for these men, raised in an environment of strong patriarchy and toxic masculinity being legitimized as the only way to be a man, giving these rape threats exposes the very place they still see women deserve. To be mutilated easily when they articulate something, and specifically so when they contest accepted ideas of supremacy, by powerful men. Women, in their identities, are not recognized, persistently.

Narendra Modi’s often repeated refrain, of how he ‘abandoned his wife’ in the servitude of the ‘motherland’, brings forth this idea. A woman, is a veritable ‘distraction’, can be discarded for the greater good and this becoming a value to celebrated and emulated in the definition of the hero. At the same time, glorifying the idea of duty as service to the ‘mother’ land brings forth the age-old patriarchal idea of pedestalizing a woman, as a giver, and one to be protected.

This language of the right isn’t merely limited to India alone. Donald Trump, the single most powerful man in the world, drunk on the idea of white supremacy brings alive the same ideas each day and has done so historically. With tweets that are investigatory (and often factually incorrect), his speeches rife with racism- targeting minorities living in the United States, and often reducing women to props, and more often than not, objectifying them to general applause. With the rising and long overdue Black Lives Matter movement, one only hopes that America will wake up to the hate not choosing it again.

In India, still, the idea of hate and its language is conjoined with the idea of patriotism. The jingoistic nationalism unleashed by this regime relies strongly on this language of the right, which is embedded in supremacy and intolerance. The BJP IT Cell, often uses this tool, to intimidate and curtail free speech, and break down the most essential part of a democracy- disagreeing with the government in power, for the good of the country.

Language goes beyond what is said. It also moves to what is taught. It induces us to reason and question, shaping our ideas more than we admit. With steady pruning of syllabi across subjects, omissions of chapters by writers of minorities, removal of chapters that outline the potential impact of the current government’s decisions, we are allowing the government to rob us of our abilities to reason and to question for generations that are to come. And insisting we view the world and speak to it through saffron-coloured masks.

The very language of the right is oppressive and unidimensional. And it must be questioned in a language opposite to it- one of relentless kindness, empathy, inclusivity, and rationality. And consistently dismantling the hate and misogyny that comes with 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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