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2020: When Dissenting Became A Crime And Polarisation The New Normal

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2020 – The Year Of Arrest And Unrest

2020 – we will all remember this year for many reasons. We will remember this as a year when a mighty virus brought the world’s leading economies to halt, it locked people down into their homes for months at a stretch. But, I will also remember 2020 as a year when, along with the virus, came hatred and restlessness. 

A protester holds a placard during a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in Mumbai on December 27, 2019. – Mobile internet was cut on December 27 in parts of India’s most populous state and thousands of riot police were deployed as authorities readied for fresh protests over a citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP) (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)

I will remember 2020 as a year when hatred was injected in the bloodstream of this country. March was peculiarly blatant for the country for various reasons. On 11th of March, WHO declared that COVID-19 was a pandemic and amusingly, just two days later on 13th March, the health ministry came out only to state that coronavirus “is not a health emergency.”

Only a few days after this bizarre statement, Narendra Modi suddenly imposed a national lockdown that would be in effect merely after 4 hours of the announcement. Within no time, the mainstream media found a ‘scapegoat’ in the form of Tablighi Jamaat – a religious congregation that was organised before the lockdown. And then began 24×7 anti-Muslim campaign by the media, which suggested that Muslims were responsible for the virus and that they were spreading it as a kind of ‘jihad’.

The media did not hesitate in openly campaigning and targeting one particular community. The impact of this toxic campaign is immeasurable, the result of this religious polarization was seen in various parts of the country.

The court later blamed the government for finding a scapegoat in Tablighi Jamaat and it also acquitted all the foreign nationals who attended the congregation. But is it enough? Is it enough for Mehboob Ali of Delhi who was thrashed for ‘spreading the virus’? Is it enough for numerous Muslim street vendors who weren’t allowed to sell? Is it enough for the Jamaat members who spent several months in jail for absolutely nothing? The mainstream media fueled the fire of hatred and it will take a very long time for that fire to extinguish completely. 

When the country was under lockdown and its people were busy consuming the hatred that the media fondly projected, there was something that went unnoticed by many of us. Behind the thick fog of the pandemic surged the arrests of scholars, journalists, activists and even students. 

There is a long list of arrests that happened in the year 2020 starting from Sharjeel Imam, a research scholar at JNU, Meeran Haider, Shifa Ur Rehman, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Gulfisha Fatima- all students or scholars from the leading universities of India- are all lying behind the bars since several months without bail for resisting, for speaking, for protesting

The case with student leaders such as Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Umar Khaled is no different. All of them were prominent faces in the anti CAA protests and now they are all lying in jail and are booked under the controversial UAPA. 

I will also remember this year when speaking and dissenting became a crime while hating and polarisation became the ‘new normal’.

The year 2020 also saw arrests of journalists like Siddique Kappan, who was arrested while he was on his way to do what his job demands. He was on his way to Hathras to report on the brutality on a 19-year-old Dalit woman. 

This surge in the number of arrests that happened in the world’s largest democracy when more than 150,000 people have died due to the deadly virus is concerning. When the topmost priority of the government should be to protect the people from coronavirus it’s busy in filling up the prisons. 

I see the year 2020 as one of the darkest clouds over the country yet, there was a silver lining in the form of the spirit of people like Sharjeel Usmani- a prominent anti CAA activist- who even after spending several weeks in jail is determined and standing strong against all the odds. 

Indeed, we will all remember 2020 for our own reasons but I will always remember it as a year of arrest and unrest both metaphorically and literally. 

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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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