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What’s Stopping The Media From Being Inclusive And NOT Xenophobic?

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Sometime in the month of March, a woman suffering from intense abdominal pain from a pre-diagnosed urinal tract infection was denied treatment in a renowned hospital at Kolkata, West Bengal. She then went to another hospital where she received the same response. Finally, she received treatment in the third hospital. Despite having no symptoms, she was denied any sort of treatment due to unavailability of testing kits in the former hospitals.

That night she was coerced to visit the second hospital whose officials had lodged a complaint against her running away. Forcefully admitted into an isolation ward with at least a dozen suspected patients after ignoring her pleas of her having a UTI and a certificate of exemption from screening from the third hospital. The next day the doctor confronted her by questioning her nationality, the doctor asked whether she was from China. The pain and suffering she went through at the hospital were not something she thought she deserved because of having ‘mongoloid’ features.

Picture for representation only. Picture Courtesy – Vox

Although the woman belonged to Sikkim, such behaviour against northeasterners has persisted since this country’s foundation. Anti-Asian racism has taken a toll all over the world. People having mongoloid features are targeted for spreading the virus in the respective countries irrespective of their nationality. Northeast Indians were beaten with sticks, forbidden to enter shops, boycotted for spreading the virus and were also thrown out of their hostels or rented apartments for being someone with similar facial features.

Apart from facing discrimination worldwide, Indians do not feel safe within their own country.

People belonging to North-East India have faced continuous discrimination from mainland Indians as reflected in the narrative written above.

A person holding yellow paper sign contains message printed with capital letters VIRUS HAS NO NATIONALITY, anti-xenophobia concept- Picture Courtesy: The Statesman

However, when the situations are so grave, mainstream media in India as well as worldwide spread misinformation and enforce racial stereotypes thus proselytising fear. During a pandemic, when it is obvious that people will be glued to their television sets, sensationalist media shows what their targeted audience will enjoy watching.

Creation of fear amid any natural disaster is nothing unknown to the world of journalism. Sensational, trivial and irresponsible coverage by media houses has somewhat legitimised xenophobic acts on North East and East Asian communities.

Replacing Corona Virus with Chinese Virus by President Donald Trump and further stating it as “Kung-flu” and further othering of the discriminated through hashtags like “#ChineseVirus” or “#WuhanVirus” does not reflect the inclusivity of news coverage.

In this 21st century when media has been extended to social media, the spread of xenophobia has increased. Unintentionally or intentionally, journalists publish articles with click-bait headlines which provide inaccurate information about those impacted by the disease. Constant coverage of the epicentre of the disease and the fatality rates at the beginning of 2020, created fear and panic among masses. The public, incited by such reports, blamed residents of the epicentre and were stimulated to engage in racial scapegoating.

Global coverage by media houses did only state it as “WuhanVirus” but also as something that was “Made in China”. Many news channels failed to put up the heinous racist crimes meted out in the name of Covid-19. The overt usage of historically racist terminology as a click-bait are examples of predatory journalism which targets the audience against the vulnerable.

Memes created to mock the eating habits of China, East Asia and North East India, exacerbates the othering of immigrants and the vulnerable.

Tablighi Jamat was a religious event that held in March 2020 in New Delhi and was attended by foreigners from South East Asia as well as Indians. Later it was found out that few of them were corona carriers. When the event ended, they went back to their home states, carrying the virus with them. Coverage of this event and its link to an increase in the spread of the infection by the Indian media was highly condemnable. They linked every new case to the religious conglomeration.

While news channels told us the percentage of infections related to the Jamat. they did not notify us about the number of people tested.

Saugato Datta, a behavioural and developmental economist explained to the Scroll that “This is basically sampling bias: since people from this one cluster have been tested at very high rates, and overall testing is low, it is hardly surprising that a large proportion of overall positives is attributed to this cluster”.

Picture for representation only. Picture Courtesy – The Scroll

Several states made it compulsory to take legal action against anyone who attended the Jamat and was not cooperating with the authorities to get tested. Even people without symptoms were tested who attended the event, but the same was not done for other religious or non-religious clusters. Hate memes became a trend on social media and debates over the Tablighi event with derogatory remarks by some journalists, became common in newsrooms.

Lack of medical equipment, testing kits, distribution of food and the large mass movement of migrant workers were pushed behind sensational Islamophobic media content.

Using the deplorable situation due to pandemic by alternative right politicians and media channels as a political agenda continues after decades across the world. Such actions and reactions make the living of the vulnerable questionable. Mainstream media which exists to inform people is a farse and exists to serve the privileged.

A detailed report by Oxfam and Newslaundry states that most of the Indian media is biased. It shows that those working inside the newsrooms stream news which is of great concern for the urban people. About 84% of all leadership positions in digital media houses were acquired mostly by people from the general category. A small representation of marginalised communities and minorities in media has greatly affected the type of information that is streamed.

Coverage of daily-wage workers going out to work to sustain their living amid the lockdown and asking them why they are out of their houses and what will happen if they get infected will insinuate those sitting on the other side of the television. Instead, news coverage should exist to sensitize, spread awareness and help prevent the spread of the virus than xenophobia. News coverage needs to be more inclusive and should serve every individual in a country. Even during a pandemic, the media should work as the fourth pillar of democracy.

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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, 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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