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5 Times Modi Stayed Silent On Critical Issues In 2020

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Trigger Warning: Mention of rape

“The wise man knows when to keep silent. Only the fool tells what he knows.” –

Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants

It is the year 2013, and there is a “decisive, dynamic and development-oriented” leader climbing the ladder to the most important office of the country. While his speeches seem to be convincing lakhs across India of his invisible competence and visible bigotry, his army of online trolls spews hundreds of memes every day.

These jokes deride Manmohan Singh, the current Prime Minister, on his position as a placeholder for the Gandhi family, and his “quiet” attitude towards a range of critical issues. In contrast, the “dynamic” Modi is portrayed as the loud orchestra, perfectly positioned to lead MMS out of Raisina Hill.

Well, it has been more than six years since his entry into the vacant office, and his voice has seemed to fade off in the background of his party’s extravagant display of Islamophobia, bigotry, and poorly implemented economic decisions.

The PM’s silence on issues, and no, Mann Ki Baat doesn’t count, like the COVID-induced migrant exodus, the harmful nature of the EIA notification, and the Chinese incursion, among other things, has belittled his image from that of a “roaring NaMO” to being compared with MMS himself. Unfortunately, Gaiman’s analysis of Modi’s silence falls flat, because he might be silent, but he definitely does not know when to speak up. Atleast, not if he actually cared about the country’s constitutional values.

Public Outcry Against Bills

Indians, both offline and online, have been rife with outrage against a number of Modi-government “development-oriented” bills and actions. From the uninformed “demonitisation” to the poorly executed “GST,” to the anti-democratic “EIA,” to the Islamophobic “CAA,” and to the problematic farm and labour laws, the Centre has failed to ease public concern over a range of issues.

In case some of you need to be reminded of this, spewing villainizing rhetoric and claiming protestors to be misguided, uninformed, or plain maliced, is not conversing. Conducting a weekly radio-session to reiterate propaganda about the protestors’ misguided approach is not conversing. Ignoring flawed legislation and gaslighting survivors into its benefits is not conversing.

In a real democracy, it is the Press that holds the Centre accountable. Now, ignoring the mess that Indian news media is, it is also the Centre’s responsibility, including its leader, to inform the public of its deeds and its shortcomings. While the BJP and its watchdogs have loved to portray the former Prime Minister as a silent puppet to the Gandhis’ whims, the current PM’s wilful ignorance to ease public paranoia and apprehension seems normal to them. I wonder why.

UAPA
Along with arrests of multiple “terror-inducing” activists like Umar Khalid, Anand Teltumbde and Sudha Bhardwaj, the Modi government has even tried to use the law to scare off citizens from mass-mailing the environment minister.

The Lax Use Of UAPA

In the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, the then UPA government had brought in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Bill, 2008 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill (later, act), 2008. The UAPA is a draconian piece of legislation that was created in 1967 and has taken multiple forms under multiple governments, replacing and building on the likes of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985 (TADA). 

While the BJP and its allies have “warned of the misuse” of the UAPA at multiple instances (like here and here), the current regime’s tendencies towards blatantly misusing the law have somehow escaped the sight of the roaring PM. Along with arrests of multiple “terror-inducing” activists like Umar Khalid, Anand Teltumbde and Sudha Bhardwaj, the Modi government has even tried to use the law to scare off citizens from mass-mailing the environment minister.

Although hypocrisy is not new to the Indian political scene, Modi’s silence on the issue has betrayed (or maybe, revealed?) his concern for the country’s ethos.

Save The Girl Child From Getting Raped
Photo: @samrudhshegde/Twitter

Police Malice In Handling Hathras

In 2019, India recorded over 88 rape cases every day, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). So, before you come at me for accusing the PM of his silence on this particular case, let me highlight a few aspects of the Hathras gang rape.

According to a fact-finding report by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), the police officers’ affiliation with the oppressor castes in Hathras and their inability and lack of willingness to execute an unbiased investigation was not a hidden fact.

For example, Uttar Pradesh ADG’s (Law and Order) public claims about the absence of rape, which have been debunked multiple times, clearly depict either his lack of knowledge about the procedures or his lack of decency regarding the victim’s dying declaration. Add to that the fact that the woman’s dead body was cremated in the dark of night, without proper consent from the family and under the pretence of avoiding “large-scale violence.”

It is this butchered administrative action and mangled investigation that warrants a response, let alone condemnation, from the country’s Commander-In-Chief. Additionally, the UP government did not hesitate booking Siddique Kappan, a journalist from Kerala, who was stopped on his way to Hathras, under UAPA.

Usually a fan of social media, even Modi’s Twitter lacked references to the Hathras rape, letting his audience merely guess the meaning of his silence.

news anchors india
The “elite Lutyens’ media” and its attempts at fitting a farmer into a stereotypical category very obviously plays into the hands of the status quo. Representational image.

India’s Decline In Press Freedom

At this point, it would be too basic of me to paint the sold-out picture of India’s news media. The “elite Lutyens’ media” and its attempts at fitting a farmer into a stereotypical category very obviously plays into the hands of the status quo. In the recent farm bill protests, their depiction of the farmers as “Khalistani,” “uneducated,” “anti-national” or “poor,” highlights the stereotypical lens through which they have reported on this issue. Similarly, the Indian media’s villainization of Muslims, both during the anti-CAA protests and through the portrayal of Tablighi Jamaat brings to the forefront the obvious allegiances of our news media.

While the PM didn’t hesitate to call out Congress as “a threat to free press,” his silence on the country’s performance on the Press Freedom Index, 2020, in which India’s rank fell to 142 out of 180 countries is worth observing. Although the index has faced criticism from multiple parties, it is India’s decline on the same parameters as each year that is a matter of concern. Well, at least for me, which is more than what I can say for the dynamic leader that is at the helm of the growth of our democracy.

Representational image.

The Love-Jihad “Law”

Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh: four BJP-ruled states have recently been in news over their interest over “Love Jihad,” data for which still eludes our RTI offices. Basically a conspiracy theory created by Hindu nationalists, who claim the existence of a concerted effort on the part of Muslim men to mass convert Hindu women by marrying them, Love Jihad is just that: a conspiracy theory.

Expectedly though, as they seek the realisation of their bigoted agendas and more power, BJP has not relented from weaponising this conspiracy theory and even legitimising it in the form of an actual enforceable law. Now, before you ask me: “Why would the PM talk against something that his own party is doing?” let me present to you, exhibit A.

In November of this year, the Kerala government, led by CPI(M), passed an ordinance punishing anyone “making, expressing, publishing or disseminating” through any mode of communication “threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory” matter. Originally created to curb cyber crimes against women, the legislation received strong pushback, including from both CPI and CPI(M) members, because of its anti-freedom of expression tendencies. And guess what? The government, according to CPI(M) general secretary, Yechury, will be scrapping the ordinance.

Say what you may, the “spineless Commies” do seem to listen to the public and to their own “comrades.”

Before I am accused of being an anti-national myself, let me reiterate: I don’t expect the PM to talk about everything. Neither do I expect him to take my advice on what to talk about. But, for a democracy to function, and the world’s largest one at that too, its leaders must talk to its public; and its public must make the leaders listen. If that doesn’t happen, then either this is not a democracy, or they are not the public’s leaders.

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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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