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Gau Mata’s ‘Powers’ To ‘Vaccine Nationalism’: Hindutva’s Troubling Tryst With Science

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This article was prompted by the ruling government’s (BJP) push to hold a nation-wide online exam on *drumrolls*: cows.

The Kamdhenu Gau-Vigyan Prachar-Prasar Examination, conducted by the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA), a government body set up for cow welfare, is to be held from February 25, 2021 and is supposed to become an annual affair. “Cow is full of science that needs to be explored. It plays an important role in 5 trillion economies of the country,” said RKA Chairman, Vallabhbhai Kathiria, at a press conference, as reported by the Hindustan Times.

There is much to unpack here. The RKA-prescribed ‘syllabus’ would be hilarious if not for the sobering reality that people do lap up (pun unintended) everything it has to say. The savarna ecosphere, that ‘prides’ itself on dominating premier academic institutes, peddles and consume ‘facts’ like “Whenever any unknown person comes near desi cow, she will immediately stand(sic).”

From the inability to solve actual problems that cattle rearers and animal activists have to face, to the obliviousness to people’s problems, (Umm anyone remembers we’re still in the midst of a pandemic?) this nation-wide ‘exam’ is absurd, to say the least. Not to mention the ease with which lynch mob-led murders of alleged ‘cow smugglers’ and ‘beef eaters’ have been felicitated or forgotten.

At a time when the science behind vaccines is having to contend with nationalism and pride in India, the BJP and the Hindutva ecosphere’s track record with science is questionable at best.

An image from the prescribed syllabus on the comparison between a ‘Desi cow’ and the ‘foreign’ Jersey cow.

Can’t say we didn’t see this coming. PM Modi, in 2014, at the inauguration of a hospital no less, claimed the existence of test-tube babies in the Mahabharata epic and of plastic surgeries and Hindu gods. Coming back to the cow leitmotif, in 2017, then Rajasthan education minister, Vasudev Devnani, said “Gai ekmatra prani hai jo oxygen grahan karta hai, aur oxygen hi chodta hai (the cow is the only animal that takes in oxygen and also releases oxygen).” Science, under the BJP’s regime, has taken a hit. Science and Technology Minister, Harsh Vardhan, in 2018 claimed that cosmologist Stephen Hawking had said the Vedas have a theory that is superior to Albert Einstein’s equation e=mc^2 (He didn’t).

Institutions and professions that are, to put it very simply, supposed to work for the benefit of society, seem to have abandoned all sense of duty. At the 106th Indian Science Congress held in 2019, “A vice-chancellor claimed that the Kauravas were test-tube babies and that the ancient Indians not only had guided missile technology but Ravana had 24 types of aircraft.”

They first questioned the valour of our soldiers & are now unhappy that the two vaccines to get DCGI nod are made in India,” tweeted Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. Isn’t this line of reasoning unnecessary at a time when we’re all scared and desperately waiting for a medicine that will help us end the pandemic? With ‘vaccine nationalism’ having (unfortunately,) entered our vocabulary, it’s all the more important that we push back in the face of misinformation and disinformation, and not conflate demanding transparency with convoluted ideals of patriotism.

The pandemic has taken an unimaginable toll on all of us, and work on the vaccines have come a long way in a very short period of time. But, this progress was possible today because decades of research by scientists helped nudge us closer to a possible cure. Not patriotism, not unquestioning and misplaced faith. The adage, “Half-baked knowledge is worse than ignorance” could not be more true today. Whatsapp and the proud propagators of such untruths have done a lot more damage than nay-sayers who have only ever called for transparency.

This Kamdhenu Gau-Vigyan Prachar-Prasar Examination is only one manifestation of everything wrong with where ‘scientific temper’ and rationality stands today. It’s all the more important that we connect the BJP (and our own) attitudes towards ‘scientific temper’ with the danger of misinformation in a country that desperately needs science and rational thinking.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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