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I’m Hindu By Birth, My Partner A Muslim. The Love Jihad Bill Has No Say In My Relationship

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I, as a citizen of the nation that Dr Ambedkar strove indefatigably to build, understand the Constitution as my Bible. It is the only morality we are called to align with. It is imbued with equality, liberty, secularity and autonomy. This is our India–an ideal meant for all and never just a select few.

But, the new Love Jihad Bill, tabled by the BJP-led UP government yet again threatens the heart of the Constitution.

The Bill attempts to criminalise ‘forceful’ religious conversions of Hindu women, most often upon marriage to Muslim men, with the ‘guilty’ party being sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment. Implicitly, it aims to curb interfaith marriages in the country and enable physical and emotional harm meted out to those who do.

Of course, forced religious conversion is horrendous. Historically, it has been a tool of imposing homogeneity, of stripping an entire people of not just their present reality but also their cultural heritage, land and identity. It is how oppressors attempt to rewrite history and it is pitiable but again, this is not what is happening right now.

The government’s bill has little to do with forced conversion. It is an attack on liberty, on love, on democracy and most importantly, on consent. The authority of consent is simple.

If there isn’t willingness, ability or enthusiasm while proclaiming a ‘yes’, then it’s a no. There is no negotiating with a ‘no’; no persuasion, no waiting till you finally come around to a ‘yes’, no tricky waters.

A ‘no’ is effective in conveying what it has to: an assertion of one’s own assessment of a situation.

But, the authority of consent is systematically abused in traditional Indian marriage. In India where arranged, endogamous marriages are still a massive part of the social fabric, and a sure-shot signifier of social acceptance, the meaning of consent pertaining to individual autonomy and the right to form informed decisions is diluted down to just mean implied consent.

For Indian women, it holds especially true. In many families, if you are 22-years-old it is implied that you must be married off. Most women who are married this way have little to no contact or information about the men they are marrying. There is no discussion on each other’s boundaries and demarcations. Consent to the relationship and each other is expected to ‘blossom’ with time and habit. Marriage itself is understood as consent.

But as more women are increasingly deciding to marry of their own accord to people they have chosen, why the opposition? What really bothers the government?

With access to education, the internet, and diverse, inclusive spaces, young women and men understand the intricacies of making their own decisions and just how futile it is to confine to some frigid custom of absolute endogamy while choosing their life partner. They are encouraged to look beyond the criterion of religion,  caste, and age that ensure implied consent and look for compatibility, and economic stability, that affirm informed consent.

Informed consent is what powerful Hindu fundamentalist groups today like the BJP, RSS, VHP, and the Karni Sena have perennially attempted to squash. And they do so not as a strategic, well thought out ploy but because it is simply what is built into their fabric. It is what they stand for. For a Hindu fundamentalist group, the priority is and perhaps always will be to preserve the ‘purity’ and propagation of their own religion. This is what they know, so why do we even expect any better?

Under the BJP’s reign, human curiosity, propensity for knowledge and the necessity of dissent have unceremoniously become acts of rebellion.

You see, the government is trying to usurp the institution of marriage because their monopoly of the Hindu is one they cannot afford to lose. It happens everywhere. Governments infringe upon citizen’s bodies, minds and autonomies to first, establish clearly the level of control. Second, polarise the people. Third and subsequent, to retain power. It happens in the US with their abortion laws, it happened in Nazi Germany with Hitler banning German-Jew marriages.

For a Hindu fundamentalist group, the priority is and perhaps always will be to preserve the ‘purity’ and propagation of their own religion. This is what they know, so why do we even expect any better?

And so, the implication is clear. For the BJP, Muslims are still foreigners, still uninvited, and still employing savagery to ‘invade’ Hindu women. And Hindu women, on the other hand, are tacit symbols of ancestral honour – still implicitly consenting, still uneducated, still mere instruments of proliferation.

I was born into a Hindu family. Through a decision entirely personal and informed, I have chosen to follow Christianity. My partner, on the other hand, has been Muslim his entire life. Ours is a relationship of communication, respect and absolute trust; one we have nourished from adolescent frivolity and infatuation to a life long companionship. We are one of so many.

We are young people with considerable privilege economically and socially but this Bill triggers the violence our identities have inherently come to cause. They propel us to operate on fear, over aspects of our identities, personalities, actions and behaviours we should not have to apologise for. And this is not new, as LGBTQ+ couples have been dealing with the same for decades.

But, what the government fails to understand is that cracking down on interfaith couples, on dissenters, and on journalists – all of which essentially attempts to criminalise personal choice – has not, cannot, and will not deter people from doing it anyway. Because love is an ‘ideal’, just like democracy. In the interiors of India where we do not perhaps find informed consent in the way we have come to understand it here, young men and women are still courageous enough to love. And to find it themselves, regardless of their identities and it’s consequences.

If love truly is a revolution, then the Love Jihad Bill, if anything, will make the right to love and marry of your own accord an elaborate exercise in democracy. And there is absolutely nothing more glorious, more hopeful, and more patriotic than this.

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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.

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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, 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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