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Can We Define Issues Our Society Needs To Be Tolerant And Intolerant Of?

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In keeping with the turbulent times our country is facing, the words of Nelson Mandela really struck me.

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

Have we forgotten the attack on the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University on December 5, 2019, or the arrests of young student activists?  They were detained for protesting and speaking their mind and asking questions.

While the former is the most unexpected and brutal attack that our country has faced since 26/11, the latter shows how tolerant we have become towards injustices and violent draconian laws being imposed on the youth of the world’s largest democracy. Given the current political situation, the irony of that phrase is laughable. Instead of reducing the caste, gender and religious divide existent in our country, we are encouraging regressive social behavior — by trying to justify our silence on social media.

What I am most concerned about today is the lack of transparency and accountability from our elected representatives. As MP Mohua Moitra pointed out very accurately in the Parliament, “This is a democracy, not an elected autocracy.

We fought our way out of colonialism, economic depression and social divide to crawl right back into it, thanks to a few extremists. When half the world is striving towards clean energy, sustainable environmental practices and preservation of human life and technology, we are turning our backs and walking back to the same chaotic and authoritarian regime that we gained independence from in 1947.

In order to understand what the current government wants, allow me to paint a picture of what I believe are the most important features of a democratic country. The ideal liberal free-thinking government that is being carelessly referred to as anti-nationalist.

The Undemocratic Passing Of Farm Bills

An ideal government would have immediately stopped the implementation of the farm bills that are being passed arbitrarily without any debate and deliberation, the very essence of democracy. They would have recognised the thousands of citizens on the street who are uncomfortable with a policy. More so, because if its implementation is creating inexplicable violence and terror in the minds of people, such a policy should not be carried forward — not without a proper explanation and accountability on behalf of the government.

In this new day and age, if your intentions are clear and pure, it shouldn’t be too hard to provide a reasonable argument or explanation for it. This should ideally be the head of the State, who could articulate the intention of the current government and address the grievance of the masses. Whether it is CAA or the farm bills, the problem does not lie with the policies so much as with the way they are being executed.

Why do politicians forget that while some people trusted and believed in them enough to hand them the position of power they hold today by voting for them, there were others who did not agree and voted otherwise? That unless they are fascists or dictators, they have a responsibility to address each and every section of our society and respect our Constitution, instead of evading it.

Whether it is CAA or the farm bills, the problem does not lie with the policies so much as with the way they are being executed. Representational image.

As long as we continue to be tolerant, the right-wing politics of the government also continues. If the intention of our government is to ensure safety, security and progress, then why is there so much injustice taking place and why are so many criminals walking free?

A few examples of what the government has failed to address or give answers for are:

The Babri Masjid Conspirators And Delhi Riots Criminals, Who Walk Freely Today

Laws being passed that have the potential to widen the gap between the rich and the poor and will have a cross-cultural impact. Freedom of speech and expression being curtailed. Students, teachers, authors and journalists being arrested. Domestic violence is on the rise, in some cases by police officers and judges. Amid this, the government has no data of the thousands of daily-wage workers and migrants who died during the lockdown trying to get back home.

The Distraction Of Media Houses

To add to that, media houses continue to distract people from the real pressing issues such as economic despair, gender-based violence, building of detention centres, floods and environmental degradation in Assam, lack of transparency of the PM Cares Fund, military tension with foreign states, the crumbling public healthcare system etc.

It is important to understand why so many people are rising up against this system today. No one wants to be held responsible for the mistreatment of certain sections of society based on class, caste, gender, race, religion or occupation, yet here we are.

The reason institutions, students, teachers and people are standing up against the government today is because it is hurting the very soul of our nation, the soul of our nation that is free, secular, socialist. That one laathi, that one rod, that one anti-human quote is hurting the very soul of India in a way that it may not ever be able to recover. And after all these cheap political tactics and hate speeches become another chapter of a history book, we will be the ones who have to answer to that Class 6 history enthusiast why and how we let the soul of India to be in danger.

We must acknowledge that there is a thin line between the issues that need our tolerance and the ones that need us to be intolerant. Let us all be aware of that as India enters a new decade.

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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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