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Indiscriminate Crackdown On Dissent Threatens Individuals’ Right To Freedom

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If a speaker cannot express their views then a listener cannot receive information. Writing empowers people — speech based on data and knowledge and dissent based on constructive criticism for better decisions. Every individual, while growing up, learnt that asking questions helps form a clear image in mind and helps in better understanding of concepts. When you question a thing, you are not disrespectful, but instead, you ask for clarity and a more open discussion for the benefit for everyone. However, the scenario seems to have changed. 

In a democracy of 1,38,00,04,385 people residing in India, we all have the Right to Freedom under Article 19 that guarantees all its citizens six rights: 

  • Right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Right to assemble peaceably and without arms.
  • Right to form associations and unions or cooperative societies.
  • Right to move freely throughout the territory of India.
  • Right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India. 
  • Right to practise any profession or to carry any occupation, trade or business. 

All these six rights provide every individual with the ability to raise their voice and question the government to practice the right to dissent. 

In India, the bitter truth is that the party formation is based on religion, caste, culture, race etc. For example, the Shiv Sena, Hindu Maha Sabha, Muslim League. Requirements of a developing nation such as economic growth, eradication of social stigmas, keeping a check on the political play and so on are not considered. 

Dissent is not anti-national; it instead helps people question the government that comes to power. After all, democracy is what we have learnt from childhood; it is of the people, by the people and for the people. People choose their representatives to reflect upon their demands and not what the government wishes to do on its own. 

Propaganda has become news and abuse is the new form of debate in today’s time. Currently, society is being captivated by fake news and rumours that have always been the preferred weapons of fascists and majoritarian fundamentalists in democracies. A look around at perfect democracies and the World Freedom Index, where India is at the lower end, questions the very integrity of the system and those in power suppressing the voices of citizens. 

Stringent laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the National Security Act (NSA) is slammed on activists nowadays without a thorough investigation. Journalists and a majority of youth have been put behind bars for protecting the morality, sovereignty and integrity of the nation. Our nation was built to uphold the equality and dignity of individuals and have an inclination towards public interest and unity in the country.

Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan was charged under contempt of court for criticising the Chief Justice of India and Supreme Court.

Records show how discrimination has prevailed in society related to arrests as well. Recently, lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan was charged under contempt of court for criticising the Chief Justice of India and Supreme Court. The top court fined him one rupee. But at the same time, the story of Justice C.S Karnan is forgotten. He was put behind bars on allegations of corruption in the judiciary against twenty judges. However, he was sentenced under the Contempt of Courts Act without any proceedings for his impeachment. He raised his voice and claimed his identity, being a Dalit, was the primary reason he was looked down upon and no importance was given to him. 

Jamia students protesting CAA-NRC
Jamia Millia Islamia students protesting against CAA and NRC.
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Such differences and discriminations that prevail in our society make it challenging for people to coexist peacefully. When the anti-CAA law protests took place in India, the nation became a ground of communal hatred and violence spread everywhere. Circulation of fake videos and hate speeches couldn’t stop. According to The Hindu, more than 800 people were arrested for their involvement in the February violence, with 25-30 arrested since the lockdown was announced. Most people arrested belonged to a particular community because of the prejudice against them and the seeds of communal hatred that were sown in society. 

Appreciation for movements led by the youth of India from prestigious universities like the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), Delhi University (DU) poured in. The movements for an Azad Kashmir, the farmers’ march to New Delhi to demand legislation for a guaranteed minimum support price and the formation of the queer movement for decriminalising consensual same-sex relations are some of the powerful movements. The Pinjra Tod and Nirbhaya Movement asking the government for more stringent laws for the protection of women are also important. 

Raising your voice for what belongs to you doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s an expression of empowering everyone around you who face discrimination and are suppressed, be it a trans person or a person from North-East India or a Dalit or a person belonging to any minority group. All of us have the Right to Equality under Article-14 and that right cannot be taken away from anyone. 

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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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