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Have We Always Been Apathetic To Human Rights In India?

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TW: Mentions of rape, caste-based atrocities, murder, Delhi Pogrom

10th December 2020 has long been observed as Human Rights Day by the United Nations, as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on the 10th of December 1948, by the General Assembly in Paris. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a landmark document which laid down certain fundamental human rights that every member state would strive to give to everyone.

The preamble of the document classifies this document as a “common standard of

achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and

every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by 

teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by

progressive measures.”

The document contains 30 articles laying down various fundamental rights for everyone in the world. Here are some of these articles whose existence in India might be debatable to say the least (unless you are a cishet upper-caste Hindu man supportive of the ruling regime).

Article 1 And Article 5

The base of this entire document, Article 1 simply states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

India read this, went Orwellian, and said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Patriarchy and sexism are still deeply entrenched in India. Our country ranks 108th in its performance on gender equality in the Global Gender Gap Index conducted by the World Economic Forum. Keeping the statistics aside, gender equality is a long way from becoming a reality in India, with many atrocities against women still at the forefront.

Caste inequality is another issue that is inherently Indian. Crimes against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have increased by 7& and 26% in 2019 respectively. Crimes against women from these marginalized communities have increased by 7.3% in 2019. What makes these statistics worse is the fact that many such cases are not reported due to social pressure.

Extreme forms of atrocities continue with impunity in India. Individual crimes at these level which are common are stripping of SC/ST women, forcing SC/ST people to drink urine and human excreta, blackening of their face and paraded naked or semi-naked, garlanding them with shoes, verbal abuse, physical assault, murder, sexual assault, and rape.

In a land of Manusmriti, a document espousing caste inequality, these cases persist due to a lack of action or political will by any administration. Anything from using an upper-caste surname, to touching food, to riding a horse is seen as a reason by upper-castes to assert their caste dominance.

Article 6,7, And 8

These articles basically set forward the right to equality before the law, a concept that is becoming increasingly foreign in India.

Perhaps one day, much like India having “too much of democracy”, we will have a BJP spokesperson telling us that Equality of Law is not an Indian concept.

The February Pogrom was a stark reminder that the state apparatus is geared to protect a certain section of society while ignoring and even actively participating in the riots against the Muslim population of North-East Delhi. The victims could not get any justice afterwards as the police ignored complaints from the Muslim victims of the pogrom.

The 2020 Delhi riots. Source: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images

The Hathras gangrape case was another example where the bias of the state machinery was evidently clear. From the time the victim was brought to the police station to the aftermath of the case. The police in Hathras basically surrounded the dead victim’s house when the case received public attention, cremated the body in the dead of night, didn’t allow anti-caste activists or politicians to go to Hathras, threatened the family, while simultaneously allowing the Thakurs in the village to stage protests over the perpetrators’ innocence.

However, it would also be remiss to say that this state apathy and bias are a byproduct of the BJP. It might be given more impunity under BJP rule but it has always been prevalent amongst state machinery throughout the country. The Kilvenmani Massacre of 1968 shows that nothing has changed in decades.

On 25th December 1968, Dalit landless labourers were striking under the red flag against the oppression of upper-caste landlords. That night, around 200 landlords and henchmen came in Police lorries, with guns shooting at the labourers. The old men, women, and children took refuge in a hut against the incoming upper-castes. The landlords burnt down this hut with everyone inside, reports stating that children who were thrown out of the hut in hopes of survival were hacked and thrown back in by the upper-castes. A total of 44 people were killed.

The attackers then went to the Police Station and asked for protection, which they received. Similar to Hathras, the police barricaded the village, didn’t allow journalists or Communist Party of India (Marxist) comrades to enter the village, and cremated the bodies without the families and under police protection. (Read ‘The Gypsy Goddess’ By Meena Kandasamy to learn more about the history of the event and what happened)

India’s history and 2020 are filled with incidents of many not being granted human rights. The current regime is one that looks to be the opposite of fixing these historical injustices. Those that demand human rights for themselves, their communities, and others are jailed under draconian laws or subject to police brutality. The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights is akin to just another piece of paper for many who live in this country.

Happy Human Rights Day, India!

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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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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