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Opinion: Hate Crimes, Censorship, And Intolerance Is India’s ‘New Normal’

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As we try to access how tolerant India is today, we first need to decipher the meaning of tolerance. According to the Oxford dictionary, tolerance is “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with”.

Socrates, Plato, and Locke: Understanding Tolerance

While Socrates developed the idea of ignorance which can be understood when linked to the virtues of self-control, modesty, and tolerance. Socrates’ main goal was to discover truth through open-minded debate which could not be achieved without tolerance. This can be closely viewed in Plato’s dialogue, where Socrates restrains himself deliberately and claims ignorance, and allows the others to develop their own position.

On the other hand the philosopher and political theorist John Locke in his two texts “An Essay on Toleration” and “A Letter Concerning Toleration” talks about the separation of Church and State that is presented more or less explicitly and directly as a precondition for religious tolerance. Although for the purpose of social peace and public order, regulation of religious practices can remain a responsibility of government, the respect of the individual in terms of doctrines and rituals must be total, and the sovereign should have no part to play in this area. He emphasised on individual autonomy and freedom; he promoted an exclusively secular view of the creation and exercise of political institutions.

While if we look at countries like Great Britain we find that the political and religious tolerance was a result of an accumulation of concessions made by State. Whereas the founding fathers of American constitution included tolerance as a right in their Bill of Rights as part of their first ten amendments of their original text adopted, which made it illegal of the Congress to adopt any law that might lead to the establishment of a state religion or that limited the individual’s freedom of worship and expression.

Ahimsa: Of Buddhism, Jainism, and Gandhi

Now when we view the meaning of tolerance and how it evolved as an idea in India, we come across the Buddhist and Jain philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) in ancient India. In the fifteen century, Bhakti movement gave birth to great bards by great poet Kabir who denounced the idea of intolerance among Hindu and Islamic scholars.

While in modern times Gandhi stood as a torchbearer of non-violence and tolerance to be used in the political arena through Satyagraha. The very notion of tolerance and non-violence is evident in the heated debates of the Indian Constitution Assembly between its members who came from various walk of life and ideologies from left to right, and very structure and language of the Indian Constitution.

In short, we can say that tolerance as an idea is an important pillar of a democratic nation-state, be it political, social or religious tolerance of expression, thought, identity. These are very values that our great forefathers had laid the foundation of India. 

Indian Constitution
The very notion of tolerance and non-violence is evident in the heated debates of the Indian Constitution Assembly between its members who came from various walk of life and ideologies and formed the structure and language of the Indian Constitution.

Tolerance in ‘New India’

As we examine how we as citizens have fared on these values in the current scenario, we increasingly find tolerance for intolerance in our society becoming a normal phenomenon in the “New India” which has contributed to the decay of the socio-political fabric of this country.

This is well evident in the way the journalists, activists, academicians, students, peaceful protesters, and anyone who questions the establishment and dogmas of the society has become a target. Be it India’s well-known academicians like Sudha Bharadwaj, Anand Teltumbde and Professor Hany Babu, or the students of JNU and Jamia who had peacefully protested against the policies of the government. Or farmers protesting against the Farmers Bill or even the environment activists from Friday for Future who were booked under UAPA for opposing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 draft; have been labelled as ‘anti-nationals’ and have been assaulted badly by the powers of the State, be it through sedition laws or under UAPA and NIA.

These very instances send a chilling-effect to society at large. Social media has successfully contributed to this hate culture, be it through fake news, photos and videos or through the propaganda that is circulated, vilifying a particular community.

The Rise In  Hate Crimes 

Since the past few years, the rising rate of hate crimes in India present quite an alarming situation in the country, be it in the form of mob-lynching which by these so-called ‘gau rakshaks’ who have specifically targeted and attacked people from the minority community; they have been forced to chant slogans such as ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’ and are ruthlessly beaten to death. Often these crimes have the support of the people in power, this can be well understood by the inciteful and communal language used by our MPs and MLAs applauding for such crimes; and the local administration, which rather than taking account of the culprits has garlanded them.

This is perhaps one of the main reasons; as the IndiaSpend data suggests, Muslims were the target of 52% of violence centred on bovine issues between 2010-17 and the 84% of Muslims were killed in this mob-violence. As many as 97% of these attacks were reported only after May 2014. It is not as if only Muslims have been attacked by these vigilante groups, but Dalits have also faced the brunt of this mob culture.

Rumours and fake messages have played a very crucial role in these crimes against Dalits and minorities as 52% of these attacks were due to rumours (according to the IndiaSpend data). The rise in frequency of these hate crimes, convey how this normalisation of mob culture has negatively impacted the communal harmony of the society.

The brutalities faced by the people in the name of ‘love jihad’,— a term launched by the extremist right-wing groups to berate individual’s right to choose their life partner, as in this case these mob groups have branded Hindu men marrying Muslim girl as a case of ‘love jihad’; these conservative mob groups have picked out such couples and have attacked them, and at times beaten to death. Well, if we define this term in true senses we find that it is an Islamophobic conspiracy theory alleging that Muslim men target women belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love.

Arbitrary Use Of Laws At The Hands Of The State

Laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and National Register of Citizens (NRC) perform no less of a dangerous job than to ostracise the minorities (not only Muslims but also Dalits, Bahujans, and disadvantaged communities). The arbitrary amendments made to the already existing black laws such as the National Security Act (NSA), Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, have only made these laws more draconian and they have been specifically used to cherry-pick the minorities and anyone who criticises the government for its action. 

Laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and National Register of Citizens (NRC) perform no less of a dangerous job than to ostracise minorities.

How Have We Faired Globally?

The present temperament in the country can be well compared to the fascism of Hitler; this is well evident in the report released by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which has categorised India as Country of Particular Concern and have clubbed with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Myanmar and China. This is only the second time that India got this shameful tag after the Gujarat riots (2002).

Not only this India has also slid to the lowest ranks in the United Nations Democratic Index and Global Press Freedom in the past six years, well portrays how we as a country have faired badly to protect the civil liberties and the independence of media and journalists.

 Hour Of Introspection 

We as a nation had adopted an institutional structure which is quite similar to what the political theorist Locke had described, but it seems as if, this wall of separation between State and Church (religion) is decaying at a high rate resulting in withering away of social harmony of the society.

We might argue on this that we as a nation have instances of riots, journalists being jailed, and academicians coming under attack is not a new phenomenon and therefore every time such instances take place we as citizens of a democracy should condemn it. But what is more alarming is the fact how hate crimes, censorship on media and intolerance has become a ‘new normal’ for India and the way it seems to have become a part of the society’s DNA should become a matter of concern for us as a democratic republic, and we as citizens have become ready to surrender our rights and entitlements to these demagogues.

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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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