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When I Struggle To Introspect My Nationalism

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With each passing year, as I grew up into a concerned citizen, on many occasions, I find myself introspecting to co-relate the various real facets of my great nation India with that of the nationalistic ideals that I had the privilege to learn in school and further down the years.

On many such occasions, I have felt fortunate enough in having my heart filled with pride and honor while expressing that I belong to a land that has shown the world an ideal way of living life, united as one family, embracing the moral principles of tolerance and universal acceptance.

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Students expressing dissent are labelled anti-nationals and arrested under draconian laws.

Nationalistic Beliefs And The Indian Reality

However, at the same time, in many instances, my nationalistic beliefs struggle to coincide with the ongoing Indian realities. And this is when my introspection turns into contemplation. This is when I am compelled to ask questions like; Will India, as a nation as well as a civilization, be able to hold onto its identity and values in the long run?

Does every common Indian, like me, feel a transitional shift undergoing in India within its democratic processes and discourses as far as India’s politics is concerned? Is there any threat, real and worrisome, challenging India’s constitutional credentials and the very idea behind the formation of the Indian republic? Where would the emergence of the cultural nationalists in India’s mainstream politics lead the nation in the years to come?

As, in today’s India, I often get to witness a section of Indians, who believe themselves to be the ‘true’ nationalists, commemorate and popularize the assassinator of Mahatma Gandhi, while at the same time, Indians expressing their dissent against a government bill or policy are labelled as ‘anti-nationals’, I am, hence, compelled to introspect my nationalism.

I find my nationalistic beliefs failing to substantiate the present Indian realities when genuine students, who march in protests demanding their deprived rights, are being beaten and put behind the bars charged with numerous laws, whereas, the ones who take part in violent activities roam freely with impunity because they hold subscriptions to the ruling dispensation.

These apart, I am more concerned now more than ever about myself on what I eat, how I dress, which faith I follow, which language I speak, and even whom I love, when I hear cases like mob-lynching and day-light murders upsurging in today’s India.

Growing Up In Assam

Born in the Northeastern region of India, Assam, I grew up here in such an environment that contrasts present India. When I recall the past, I feel fortunate enough to have grown up in a place that catered to a distinct one-ness that the people of Assam have continued to cherish. You would see people over here celebrating brotherhood irrespective of one’s faith, culture, and belief. One can witness people of both Hindu and Islam faiths as well as others, offering prayers under the same roof in many sacred destinations.

Even though I am a Buddhist by birth, I feel blessed every time while I take part in these distinct cultural syncretisms which the composite Assamese society has upheld for centuries. Gradually, I learned that such a harmonious co-existence is not confined only to this region. This, in fact, prevails in other parts of India as well.

We were taught, in school, about the diversity that Indians enjoy throughout the country. As children, we were given to realize how Indians live unitedly despite the vast differences in culture, tradition, language, ethnicity, faiths, and so on.  I can never feel less proud to recall that Indian-ness but soon, seeing the growing intolerance in the country, I am compelled to introspect if those Indian features are still relevant in today’s India.

Challenges To True Nationalism By India’s Own Lawmakers

Today, I see my country going through severe challenges both on the political front and against its civilizational values. I never fail to concede with the view that India’s civilization encompasses further from being a mere political or a geographical entity. That along, ‘Hinduism’ stands high above the concept of religion. As I mentioned earlier, India has indeed imparted the world indefinite invaluable ideals through its great literature, culture, and practices. It wouldn’t be remiss to say that India, by its civilizational values, has made a huge contribution to the progress of humanity.

However, today, I see these values being diluted and misinterpreted. I fail to see this part of the world, which holds the belief of ‘One World, One Family’, and who imparted the world the principles of tolerance and universal acceptance is suffering its own death in today’s India.

The condition of the protesting farmers makes me introspect and contemplate my nationalism.

Furthermore, as a nation or a geopolitical entity, modern India is facing a tough time today. One can observe a transitional shift undergoing within its democratic procedures and institutions. The clash of ideologies in the political landscape of India has overshadowed the concerns of today’s democracy. The rise of cultural nationalism in India’s political governance has led to constant attempts in homogenising the diversity that the country upholds.

One can observe them being reflected in many actions of the present ruling dispensation. India’s constitutional credentials can be seen coming under threat from India’s own lawmakers of the present time. We can even see some self-proclaimed ‘true’ nationalists attempting to erase the ‘secular’, ‘socialist’ fabric of this constitutional republic. Such divisive attempts run by the ruling ideology are well-perceivable which, in a way, also goes against India’s civilizational values.

Today as my countrymen gear up to celebrate the 72nd Republic Day ahead, I join them in recalling and cherishing the Indianness we share among each other as Indians. However, seeing the distressed farmers on the streets and the borders of the national capital for over months now, I am, yet again, compelled to raise my questions. And it is now, again, when my introspection turns into an inevitable contemplation!

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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