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Umar Khalid’s Arrest Is Another Attack On Dissent In A Democracy

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Umar Khalid was arrested by the Delhi Police under UAPA, in relation to the Anti-CAA protests.

Umar Khalid was arrested on September 13, 2020. We might as well add this date to the growing list of attacks on dissent. The problem an authoritarian regime faces in a democracy is dissent—it is difficult to curb it legally and is dangerous if left unintimidated.

No wonder Dr Kafeel Khan was arrested for months when he spoke out against the shortcomings of an Uttar Pradesh government-run hospital before the Allahabad High Court ordered his release after finding insufficient evidence in his arrest.

Prashant Bhushan was dragged to the courtrooms of the highest level of the judiciary when he Tweeted against it. Journalists are being intimidated, arrested, and even killed.

The Press Freedom Index indicates anything but the presence of democracy, and voila! The democratic index has never been lower. Welcome to the largest democracy in 2020.

The National Security Act (NSA) is problematic in its core and has been widely used by the authorities in an overreach of their executive powers. The Act allows for the imprisonment of an individual who can be a ‘threat’, to either national security or public order. The Act suspends important legal rights of the accused, including the right to a lawyer and being informed about the reason of arrest at the time of the arrest.

The Allahabad High Court set aside the National Security Act charges against Dr Khan terming it illegal and directed the Uttar Pradesh government to forthwith release him from jail.

The Allahabad High Court studied Dr Khan’s speech in detail and declared the speech, the primary reason being used by the UP Police to hold Khan in custody, as an insufficient cause for arrest. The police not only refused to release him immediately but subsequently filed for further extensions.

Kangana Ranaut engaged in a public battle as she criticised the Mumbai police and local authorities, and the next thing we hear is of her office being demolished by the BMC. The High Court stalled the destruction by the BMC, and whether it was legal or not is a question that remains to be decided by the court. However, the timing of the destruction cannot leave any doubt as to its purpose.

Rhea Chakraborty was arrested, publicly harassed, her character ‘assassinated’ by national media, her family targeted and the only factual validated charge against her is the possession of weed. Bollywood and Indian youth in general, take note. Needless to say here that just years ago, when an actress left behind a note blaming her celebrity boyfriend for her suicide, media wasn’t as riled up as it is now. His selected photos in scantily-clad clothing weren’t being used to paint him as a characterless man.

They say it’s the 21st century, that sexism and patriarchy don’t exist anymore. I say no need to look for evidence any further. Head over to your news channels and find misogyny at its clearest display. They say the witch-hunt began with the arrest of Khalid, but it began long ago with the arrest of Miss Chakraborty. Our fourth pillar of democracy is falling and threatening to take democracy along with it.

Sharjeel Usmani, an AMU student was arrested for the anti-CAA protests and later granted bail by an Aligarh Sessions Court.

Sharjeel Usmani, an AMU student was arrested for the anti-CAA protests and later granted bail by an Aligarh Sessions Court.

Upon his release, he made a very powerful statement in which he said (about his release), “I don’t see it as a legal victory for myself. Take the example of an innocent man walking on the streets. Somebody comes and puts a knife to his throat. After a while, the knife is removed and the man is asked to celebrate his newly found freedom. I can’t. They should apologise for putting a knife to the throat in the first place.”

Dissent is an important constituent of any democracy. It is what differentiates us from a dictatorship. The freedom to choose to disagree is the founding aspect of any democracy.

Umar Khalid, who was widely proclaimed for advocating for peaceful protests during the anti-CAA struggle, has been put under 10-day remand. Freedom to assemble, form unions and even protest are rights protected by the Constitution. Whether he was actually responsible for the violence at the protests remains to be decided in the ongoing investigation. But, if found innocent, who will apologise for putting the knife to the throat in the first place?

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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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