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Opinion: On Secularism And We The People Of India

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Secular has a new definition in India. Over time, being secular is looked at like being morally wrong. “Are you secular?” was an easy question to answer once upon a time. Now when someone asks me, I have to think twice because of all the judgement which comes along with that word. We even hear the word “Sickular” like it is a disease to treat all religions equally.

The Constitution begins with “WE, The People of India…” not Hindus, not Muslims, not Christians. It says “we” as the constitution-makers knew the importance of treating every religion equally. They understood the deep roots of caste, faith, beliefs and cultures of this spiritual land. Secularism had to be one of the five ideas of a strong democratic country like India.

Every religion is human-made; we don’t see this in other species. And I think they are all doing okay, respecting each other’s boundaries (Well, I know their brains did not develop enough to have the capacity to think as much). But, can you even imagine watching NatGeo where animals fight about religion? What a weird world that would be.

We have all been coexisting for thousands of years, and every century has seen religious bonding and differences with various kinds of issues about that time. Well, those were the difference of opinions between groups which led to the creation of new sects in society throughout history.

Secularism is an important part of a democracy.

We did not ask which religion or caste one belonged to while making friends in school or college. Yes, I was born in a Hindu family and followed festivals, rituals, prayers, but that does not mean I do not respect other religions. I have been taught to respect people irrespective of their faith or belief system. And I am sure most of us were brought up that way.

It only becomes toxic when we learn to address that only our religion is correct and there comes a need to prove why our religion is superior to the others. Extreme intolerance towards others beliefs and their faith brings a mind of hatred, resulting in violence.

Bringing history into comparison with the present reality is the biggest fuel which adds to the already existing fire in a country like India. For all I know, we should never judge history with our present-day morals.

Talking about the present times, some of us who believe in the idea of being secular and accept what is right as right and what is wrong as wrong irrespective of which community committed the mistake, have a difficult time standing between two boats — left and right wing right now. The idea of religion has been the favourite topic of our beloved Netas in the election campaigns for many decades now to gain votes.

The Tablighi Jamaat incident was wrong. Clearly. A secular person would post that and condemn the act. But most people who claim to be secular did not voice out anything. But the same people condemned the Gomutra incident.

Also, the Palghar incident where the Sadhus were beaten was enjoyed by some who claim to be secular. If you can laugh and enjoy the pain of someone due to your views, shows the insecurity within you. It has nothing to do with your religion or your community or the God you pray to; it is just you.

Every sane citizen of India widely condemned the Delhi riots and the Bengaluru riots between the two pressure groups. Many innocent people who had no intention to take part in the process were hurt for no reason. The fundamental duty of every citizen to protect public property from any damage was completely ignored. The riots lasted for 2 days, but the damage caused for the families who lost their loved ones is forever.

If you bring religion to these incidents and not the actual stupidity of some humans in society, I’m sorry, you don’t qualify to be secular. Respecting a political party and their ideologies are one thing, being human in times like these is another.

Every religion believes in the central idea of being kind to one another, helping each other in times of need. No religion promotes violence, intolerance or disrespect to other religious practices. 

There can be a Muslim who commits a crime, but that does not make every person following Islam wrong. There can be a Hindu who commits a crime, but that does not make every person following Sanatana Dharma wrong. Blaming an entire religion for the mistake of few cannot be a new way forward for a secular country like India.

It would be such great development in our country if we all just learnt the concept of let’s agree to disagree. And followed what we wanted to without imposing our beliefs on others, without spreading hatred and trying to pull each other down.

We are one nation with such diverse beliefs living under one roof called India. We share such beautiful cultures with so much history to learn from.

When the national anthem is played, we all have goosebumps with the same emotion. When we see the national flag, we all hold our head high with pride. When our country wins cricket, we all celebrate together on the streets. When our country’s forces show it’s valour, we are all extremely proud. When there was a terrorist attack in Mumbai (26/11), we all stood by each other.

The smiles we share with every biryani and laddoo will always be special and the bond grows only stronger. Indian society is considered to be the most tolerant in the world for a reason. We believe in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

I know those who are supposed to read this will not. But think for 2 minutes, why are you outraged? So angry that you are ready to kill someone else and also sacrifice your own life.

Politicians come and go. Media speaks for a week and forgets. Nothing is truly in danger, as portrayed by the media. Your religion nor your belief system are in any threat. The religions have survived thousands of years and will continue to exist even if you don’t.

Ram and Rahim don’t mind sitting next to each other, then why do you?

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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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