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SAY NO TO CASTE DISCRIMINATION

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“That wretch has shut her mouth,” said her aunt. “Then pour it down her ears and nose. Do whatever it takes to kill her. Her actions lead to this. She deserves to die,” said her father.

This is not an excerpt from a story. In 2003, a couple, a Dalit youth named S.Murugesan and a Vanniyar girl named D. Kannagi was forcefully fed poison because of inter-caste marriage . When the girl refused to open her mouth, the poison was poured down her ears and nose.

You might have believed that, by now, discrimination based on caste should have been erased from human minds. But that’s just a belief after all . The perceived lower castes – Dalits, Atishudras and OBCs consisting of 70% of the total population in India are still the puppets of powerful positions. They are not just socially, economically, educationally backwards but also in aspects of receiving respect and values from the oppressive society. They face social isolation, ostracism, oppression, untouchability, vituperative behaviour, daily, by the upper castes, often denied rights, lampooned, suffer because of sordid actions of various politicians, leaders, lawmakers and keepers. Honour killing has been prevalent since a very long time and almost 75% of these never-ending heinous crimes against the apparent lower castes go unreported. Honour killing is a collective decision taken by the family and community.

There are ‘Caste Camps’ in Tamil Nadu with the aim of curbing a woman’s activities into respecting the principles of ‘purity and honour’, persuading and dissuading girls of a particular backward community from inter-caste marriages, especially with Dalits. The funds of these camps are dependent on community and family patronage.

The case of Maruthi Rao who killed his pregnant daughter’s husband on the way to the hospital by hiring thugs reminds us of the mentality which still exists . He explained to the police that he loved his daughter but his status in the society mattered more. We live in a country where it is considered to degrade your value and position as a person in the society if there is a relation between two different castes in the family. Not just caste but the economic difference, religious belief, colour of skin, social status, the background of family and the list is endless!

The constitution consists of several laws protecting these oppressed communities but none of them are implemented or administered properly, there is a lack of judiciary initiatives which mars the effectiveness of even a strong act like the Scheduled Castes and Tribes ( Prevention of Atrocities ) Act, 1989. Article 15 and 16 states that there should be no discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, race or place of birth on any grounds. Article 46 shall promote the education and economic interest of weaker sections namely SC and ST. Article 243D, 243T, 330, 335 ensures and reserves seats for higher posts like panchayats, municipalities, Lok Sabha , services in connection with the state. Article 338 establishes the national commission for scheduled caste which monitors and safeguards these laws provided in the constitution.

But are these laws enough to drive out discrimination and the atrocities hurled upon them? According to BR Ambedkar, “Caste is a notion, a state of mind. Destruction of caste does not therefore mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a notional change.” He believed that the destruction of the belief in the sanctity of shastras can bring a change in the betterment of their condition.

Fear of power and fear of losing one’s life is greater than saving another life. It’s human nature. Hence, even the most honest and honourable police officers or activists, found one in a crowd of thousands are forced to switch sides because of threats from the higher authorities. And if they don’t, they are burdened with the fate of death by murder with no justice . The struggles of the Dalit activists are highlighted by the recent incident of Arvind Bansod in Nagpur. The voices of the oppressed are suppressed and no one, out of fear, is able to fight for them.

The community itself is incorporated with the idea of illogical marginalisation of Dalits and OBCs labelling as lower statuses (from the shastras) and a prevalent patriarchal society ruling over women in the community is what leads India to be the only country with caste discrimination.

The service offered by Dalits and OBCs are such an integral part of our daily life that a day without them will turn our world upside down and we will be absolutely helpless. It is our duty as a human being to treat another human being with utmost respect and honour regardless of their profession, economic status in society or caste.

#SayNoToCasteDiscrimination

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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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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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 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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