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Opinion: I Don’t Think India Is A Tolerant Nation In The ‘True’ Sense!

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What is tolerance? Open any standard English dictionary and you’ll know what it means: the willingness to accept the existence of differing opinions and behaviours that may oppose your own set of protocols.

However, the concept of ‘tolerance‘ for an Indian seems to be generally restricted to a very ‘theoretical’ and ‘limited’ framework, which often refers to the coexistence of diverse religious ideologies and ethnic roots in the Indian subcontinent.

Unfortunately, this national leitmotif of ‘unity in diversity’ does not translate into our actions and beliefs, since we are riddled with prejudices and stereotypes about individuals who are ‘unlike’ us. Our hostile attitude towards people with dissimilar perceptions and disparate cultures clearly highlights that for us Indians, the true understanding of the idea of ‘tolerance’ is still quite foreign.

We are trapped in a regressive and rigid system that dictates social order, and if, by any chance, anyone dares to oppose this order, we react by using violence as the most justified means to curb this recalcitrance.

A Muslim man being beaten up by a Hindutva mob, in February 2020, Delhi. Representational image. Source: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters.

But, how does intolerance permeate into our society on such a large scale? One can argue that it all starts at the grassroots level, with the authoritarian institution called ‘family’.

JNU Professor Nivedita Menon, who is often labelled as an ‘anti-national’ for her critical opinions on popular perceptions, aptly pointed out in her book Seeing Like A Feminist that the family, as an institution, is based on inequality. She wrote, “If you bring Fundamental Rights into a family, and if every individual in the family is treated as a free and equal citizen, that family will collapse. Because the family, as it exists, is based on clearly-established hierarchies of gender and age.”

It is the family, which sustains social order by strictly policing its members “To ensure the purity and continuation of crucial identities, such as caste, race, and religion.” Therefore, when individuals are brought up in a controlling system where there is no space for open dialogue, questioning of protocols and dissent, they become increasingly frustrated, unhappy, and apathetic. This is one of the reasons why India ranks 144 out of a total of 156 nations, way below our ‘much-hated’ neighbour Pakistan (at rank 66), in the UN World Happiness Index 2020.

Given this context, how can we expect a set of frustrated individuals to be ‘tolerant’ when they are desperately looking for a means to vent their repressed feelings? Therefore, in my opinion, the first step in transforming India into a ‘tolerant’ nation is by standing up against this regressive institution that continually perpetuates hatred against inter-caste and interfaith couples, homosexuals, and gender-fluid individuals, by classifying them as ‘abnormal’ people.

Our ability to hear out opposing voices and actively refrain ourselves from becoming victims of ‘ill-guided politics’ and disinformation will go a long way in ensuring that the Indian society gets rid of the shackles of prejudices

It is our pent-up frustration and fixed prejudices fueled by our indifference and inability to question that allows us to become prey to vote-bank politics. Often, communal politics in India acts as a trigger for us to unleash violence on innocent social groups as we remain blinded by our hunger for retrospective vengeance. What else justifies the evils of mob lynching, cow vigilantism, and honour killing that are extensively prevalent in our society?

Communal politics in India acts as a trigger for us to unleash violence on innocent social groups as we remain blinded by our hunger for retrospective vengeance.  Representational image.

Here’s my question to all the cow vigilantes out there: if you are genuinely the ‘protectors’ of the sacred cow (the mother of all gods, as per the sacrosanct Vedic scriptures) then why do you not care for the thousands of cows who painfully die by choking on single-use plastics that you carelessly throw on the streets?

Has this fact stopped you from using plastic? Obviously not.

It’s high time we introspect on our actions and oppose retrograde conventions that operate within a narrow scope of understanding. Only then will we be able to embrace unconventional viewpoints and dissenting voices, and express our own perspectives without any fear of being ‘attacked’.

American philosopher, psychologist, and reformer John Deweyalso spoke about how everyone in society must have the freedom to convey their views, irrespective of their social or economic status. He said, “An environment in which some are limited will always in reaction create conditions that prevent the full development even of those who fancy they enjoy complete freedom for unhindered growth.

Thus, our ability to hear out opposing voices and actively refrain ourselves from becoming victims of ‘ill-guided politics’ and disinformation will go a long way in ensuring that the Indian society gets rid of the shackles of prejudices and, in turn, become ‘tolerant’ in the true sense.

Featured image credit: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images
Featured image for representation only.
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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.

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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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