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From Media Circus, Police Brutality To Hathras: Is This The Fall Of Indian Democracy?

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A few months to go and this decade will be over, and in India, it would end on a sad note. The decade began with protests and huge allegations of multi-million corruption scandals that rocked the nation—only for the people to take to the streets in 2011. They would take to the streets once again, just a year later, in the cold winters of Delhi in 2012 to protest against the gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student.

A few years later, people would again take to the streets, but this time, against a new government and against a law which would result in complete dismay and unbecoming of a democracy—a law that would sow the seeds of an authoritarian state in the making in the name of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.

Photo: @samrudhshegde/Twitter

Later in 2020, people would yet again take to the streets over the rape of a Dalit girl in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras village—just three hours away from the National Capital. The protests between 2012–2019 were looked down upon, protesting students across the nation were beaten up, locked down, called terrorists and whatnot. People demanding jobs, protesting farmers were completely ignored too. And this seems to have become the new normal.

So, what has changed? We are the same people—the same Indians we were in 2011, a few have died, and many new have been born. These are the same parties contesting elections. Then why are we in this pathetic situation now?

The most striking difference between the protests of 2011–12 and 2019–20 would be the way the governments dealt with the citizens. It would be the tag of anti-national put on protestors and the forceful police action on peaceful protestors that makes the difference between then and now. This was preceded by mass polarisation of the public based on religious, ideological and political lines over the years by the ruling political party from 2014–2020.

Protests back then (2011–2013) didn’t involve an instigation of riots and slogans by members of a ruling political party saying “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro…”. What we have been witnessing is unbecoming of a great nation.

In 2011-12, when you protested and wished to seek the Prime Minister’s resignation, you weren’t trolled; you weren’t shamed and attacked on social media. Words like sickular, libtard, khangressi, bhakt, etc., were not used. The ruling government never used words like anti-national and urban Naxal. What we thought was a revolution at the beginning of the decade came to be the worst steep in public discourse, which is shameful, to say the least, and downright undemocratic. A once-booming economy is dying now as people struggle to access basic healthcare, among other things.

The End Of The Decade

Today, the head of the ruling party’s IT cell has the guts to come out and challenge the credibility of the rape victim’s parents. He would cite the delay in the registering of FIR. He would happily ignore that to get an FIR registered for rape in India, especially for a Dalit family, is a huge deal and if the perpetrators are upper castes, the Police will kick you out! This is the reality of the society we live in.

And if you live in Uttar Pradesh, every political party has screwed you and has made you a part of their loyal vote bank through casteist and communal politics. So next time an incident of rape happens, maybe Mr Social Media Head would like to ensure personally that the FIR is registered the moment the victim says to the police that she was raped, instead of finding proof that there was a delay by the police in registering the FIR and trying to give it a favorable spin, belittling the victim(s)?

Instead, Mr Social Media Head loves to talk about the suicide case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, and the drugs and Bollywood. He uses his army of trolls to suppress dissent to anything and everything. This obsession led to a media circus we’d never seen before. News anchors (read not journalists) kept talking about this to divert public attention. Even after the victim of Hathras died, a certain anchor kept talking about the SSR case until it seemed that his TRPs were at risk.

How hard is it to understand that a man can go into depression and die by suicide, really? How hard is it to understand that we, in India, have never taken mental health seriously? Similarly, how hard is it to imagine that upper caste men can rape a Dalit girl? Maybe just like it’s hard to believe that a man could die by suicide owing to mental health issues, it is hard to accept that an upper caste man can commit a heinous act of rape, right? So to protect that image of upper caste men and to refrain from talking about mental health, you lie. You lie, you lie, and you lie. And what is the cost of those lies? Death.

Image via Getty

Would you dare to protest against the financial and moral corruption of the government? The answer would be yes, but maybe we need to channelise the spirit of protests that kickstarted this decade. Can you expect the media to ask serious questions to the Prime Minister in a press conference?

Can you expect the Prime Minister to accept more transparency in the government and repeal the amendment to the RTI? Can the government be transparent about election funding and stop the use of electoral bonds? And if I brush aside the fact that it is a contempt of court, can the supreme court at least hold a hearing of the case of the electoral bonds?

Can the opposition become more democratic internally and reconnect with the public? Can the media start showing unbiased, real news instead of news forwarded via WhatsApp? Can news anchors become journalists again? Can we, the public, start behaving like adults and improve the decency of the language used in debates? Can they return to dialogue instead of monologues?

Can our issues move on from the failures of the past generations, the issues of the ’90s to the issues of today and the victims of today? Can the Prime Minister stop giving a monologue-cum-lecture every Sunday and start taking real questions at universities and across the nation?

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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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