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From Cow Lynching To Anti-CAA Arrests: Is India’s Multiculturalism Fading Into Intolerance?

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India has always been known for its multicultural fabric across the world. India is home to numerous distinct cultures, religions, castes and languages. But now, the scenario has changed. The multicultural fabric of India is slowly fading away. Especially in the last few years, there has been a hike in intolerance against religious minorities, lower castes and even people holding different opinions. From rising discrimination against Dalits, religious minorities such as Muslims, Sikhs and Christians to attacking physically or verbally on people with varying food habits or opinions, India is facing it all.

On February 16, 2015, Govind Pansare, a communist leader and an anti-superstitions activist was shot. A few days later, he succumbed to his injuries. The incident sparked protests, but nothing reversed. On September 5, 2017, the same story was recited again when Gauri Lankesh, a Bangalore-based journalist-cum-activist, was shot dead. She was an open detractor of the BJP government and also wrote an article called, Darodegilada BJP Galu, which criticised the BJP. People came out on roads to protest again. Many organisations, including the BJP, condemned the protests. These two cases show the height of intolerance in India against people with unparalleled views.

But this is not it. While the world is facing a new pandemic since early 2020, India has been facing an epidemic of mob lynchings since years. According to the Quint, there have been as many as 113 lynching cases between 2015 and 2018. These lynchings have specifically increased against those who consume beef.

According to a Reuters report, there have been as many as 63 cow vigilante attacks in India between 2010 and mid-2017. On September 28, 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri was accused of consuming and slaughtering a calf. An announcement was also allegedly made in a local temple to gather the mob. The mob dragged Akhlaq and Danish (Akhlaq’s son) and hit them with bricks and a rod. While Danish managed to live with several injuries, Akhlaq died.

Representational image

Lynchings against Muslims have not just impeded to the consumption of beef, Tabrez Ansari’s case proves so. Tabrez Ansari, on June 17, 2019, was ambushed by a mob in Jharkhand. He was tied to a tree and beaten up for “suspicion of theft”. Not only was he beaten brutally, but he was also compelled to chant “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram) and “Jai Hanuman” (Hail Hanuman). On June 22, 2019, he died too.

A report by Indiaspend.com suggests that 84% of the people who have been killed in cow-related violence since 2010 are Muslims. Intolerance against religious minorities has become the new normal in India. In 2017, a Pew Research Centre Analysis ranked India amongst the worst countries for religious discrimination.

The country has also become more reckless towards lower castes including Dalits. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded 2,008 cases between 2016 and 2019 against minorities, including Dalits, being harassed. In 2016-17, the NHRC recorded 505 cases of harassment against Dalits. These cases rose to 672 in 2018-19. These alarming numbers and examples show the fact that India is becoming more and more intolerant with each passing day.

Last year, Dr Payal Tadvi died due to suicide because she was persecuted and harassed in her institute and the reason was her caste. On June 6, 2020, Vikas Kumar Jatav was shot by four upper-caste men because he visited a temple.

Apart from religious and caste-based intolerance, India has also been encountering bigotry against people holding contrasting views. Poets, activists and professors have been thrown in jail for speaking their minds out. Dr Kafeel Khan is a perfect example of the same. He was jailed. Why? Because he dared to speak against the ruling government regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act. His bail hearing was shelved and he was also smacked with NSA (National Security Act).

Dr. Kafeel Khan
Dr Kafeel Khan’s family said that he was targeted because of his activism, and even though he was granted bail by CJM court in Aligarh, he was kept in jail.

However, the Allahabad High Court termed his confinement under NSA against the doctor as “illegal”. Dr Kafeel Khan was jailed because of his speech on December 12, 2019, at Aligarh Muslim University. However, the court marked, “complete reading of the speech prima facie does not disclose any effort to promote hatred or violence.” Dr Khan’s family said that he was targeted because of his activism, and even though he was granted bail by CJM court in Aligarh, he was kept in jail. There are cases where prominent faces of the widespread anti-CAA-NRC protests have been thrown in prison.

Akhil Gogoi, a peasant leader, RTI and Anti CAA activist was booked under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), and sedition for alleged link with the Communist Party of India. He is also accused of inciting violence during the anti-CAA-NRC protests. He has been behind bars since December 2019.

Another case linked to the massive anti-CAA-NRC protests is Sharjeel Usmani’s arrest. Usmani is an ex-AMU student who was arrested on July 29, 2020, in relation to the anti-CAA-NRC protests held at AMU. His bail was approved after almost two months of his arrest. In his bail order, Judge Narendra Singh noted, “The academic records of the accused manifest that he has been a bright student. He has written many articles which are also available on records.”

The fire of intolerance is burning, and it’s burning so rapidly that it has also not spared the prisons. Sharjeel Usmani, in an interview with the Quint, asserted that he was called a terrorist from Shaheen Bagh. Shaheen Bagh became a notable site of protest in Delhi against the CAA-NRC movement. Many Sharjeels are still lying in prison for raising their voices. Even a Sikh who was distributing langar at the anti-CAA-NRC protests was not spared. The United Nations have also called to release the political prisoners awaiting trial under anti-terrorism laws (report by Aljazeera).

Intolerance in India is promptly increasing, and it must be deterred at any cost. India has always been a land of varied cultures, languages and religions; it has been a symbol of brotherhood. This is how India should be recognised, and not as an intolerant country.

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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.

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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.

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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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