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December 2019 To 2020: How Delhi’s Winters Saw India’s Strongest Struggles

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Two consecutive winters in India have been warmed by protests. December 2019 saw widespread agitation across the country, in retaliation of the repressive Citizenship Amendment Act brought by the current government. 

The Act amended citizenship laws to extend it to illegal migrants who were Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan prior to 2014, following religious persecution. The act failed to mention Muslims and other communities who fled for the same reason. This religious discrimination brought the Act under considerable criticism, owing to the secular make of the country and the constitutional claim of the same.

Representational image.

The protests started in Assam soon after the bill was passed in parliament and the agitation travelled from there to the rest of the country.

Delhi’s Coldest Winter Saw The Warmest And Strongest Protests By Indians

In the coldest winter that it had experienced in many years, the national capital of New Delhi, saw protests being initiated by students of Central Universities like Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University. The government’s way of dealing with these protests sparked even further outrage. The police force was deployed which entered campuses of these universities, beating students black and blue and using tear gas on them. This act of violence enraged the student community and had many across the nation rise to the cause and in solidarity. 

It was during this time that many prominent leaders of the BJP came out to express how students had been misled and that these were purely anti-social and anti-national elements that were trying to bring down the country’s unity. Often known as the tukde-tukde gang, JNU students were blamed to have misled the entire nation’s students to believe against the supposed welfare policy of the BJP. 

On another foggy morning of last December, women gathered in large numbers to hold a protest in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. These women were particularly housewives, mothers and grandmothers, sitting in a peaceful protest against the Act. These women started to sit in protest through day and night and soon enough caught local and global media’s attention.

Despite Delhi witnessing it’s second coldest day in over 100 years, at the end of December, these women with their children sat through an indefinite protest, reciting verses of Inqilaab and making sure each of them was warm and well-fed. They opened arms to anyone who came in support and made sure they didn’t leave hungry.

India had not seen a protest like this, ever before. So warm and led by the strength of women. 

They demanded the repeal of the Act or at least amendments made to it. To retract its religious discrimination. But, yet again, the protests were demeaned and called out as means of Muslims being misled and that they must have nothing to fear of their citizenships if they could produce papers of citizenship from 70 years back during Partition when they chose to come into the county.

Well, it was funny for the common man to keep hearing that anyone who was against the laws by the government was firstly misled, and secondly an anti-national.

Cut to December 2020, that has barely stepped in and millions of farmers are marching unto Delhi to demand that the Indian government repeal three new farm laws that would entail mass jeopardization of farmers’ livelihood. These laws would leave the farmers even more vulnerable to big hungry corporates, who would exploit the farmers into selling their produces for far too cheap.

Farmers from across the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh travelled to  Delhi, with “Dilli Chalo” slogans resonating as they move. 

At the Haryana-Delhi border, these farmers were met with police force deployed by the central government and are subjected to tear gas and water cannons in chilling cold, for demanding a protest and the government of a democratic nation to listen to them.  And, as if that was not enough, they were lathicharged at. Old men, trying to hold a peaceful protest and talk to the government and rework on a law. 

Image source: Twitter

Of course, the BJP and its leaders claimed that these farmers had been misled by the opposition and by those in favour of the creation of Khalistan. That these laws are in the favour of the farmers and for their betterment. 

Now, this must raise a question in your head, as to what law is this that none of the farmers of the country can see their benefit and happen to be misled about but almost everyone in the BJP can see the welfare scheme?

And while all of this misleading is happening, certain BJP-led states, bring on an ordinance against “Love-Jihad”. Because of course, while everyone is being misled, how could the naive Hindu girl be left far behind for the ever endangered patriarchal minds?

Despite there already being a Special Marriages Act presiding over inter-faith marriages, one must obviously place jurisdiction and question the intellect and choosing the capacity of a consenting adult woman, if, ‘god forbid, she chooses to marry a Muslim boy.

Now, you must have thought that during a pandemic of this nature, the government of one of the most populous countries in the world would be forced to pay utmost attention to healthcare and taking control of the situation, but I guarantee you, everything but that has happened. 

People have consistently been misled with manipulated numbers of cases and deaths via the Covid-19. Election campaigns have tried to mislead the general public with false promises of vaccines and misleading narratives regarding anyone who speaks against the government have made their way into the world. 

So my curiosity is piqued now, as I try to determine who really is misled and who’s misleading, for the largest democracy has bits of almost all sections of society ‘misled’ against a single political party. And each attempt to fact-check leads me to find this particular party instigating the misleading of people, via agendas, pogrom hate and wrongful data. 

I rest my case with a few questions for you to ponder over. 

Are we really misled when we question authority or are we being misled in the name of being a true nationalist by being submissive citizens?

Why and when does someone in power want to mislead, manipulate and instigate people against people? Until we find those answers, let us be misled and ask our questions. To the government. For a better nation. 

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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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