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550 Days Too Late: The Restoration Of 4G Doesn’t Undo The Damage Of The Last 18 Months

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550 days too late. That’s what headlines should read. But I think that’s too much to expect from our esteemed press.

Kashmir CRPF stand guard
Curfews were placed on the anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370.

5 August, 2019 started with the suspension of internet and communication services in the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir. The morning saw PM Modi talk about a “bold” and “historic” move; the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, and the State was divided into two union territories.

Days before this, speculations were rife about something “big” happening in Kashmir. Additional paramilitary forces were being deployed in the valley. On 3 August a security advisory ordering tourists to suspend their stay was issued. On the other hand, the administration kept calling the rumours false, and even on 4 August people were ensured by the administration that nothing would happen.

With communications and cable TV suspended in the night of 4 August, some people took out their dusty radios to get a semblance of what was happening on 5 August. Amit Shah announced in the Rajya Sabha that Article 370 had been “modified” (made redundant), PM Modi said it would “usher in a new dawn” and analysts called it a necessary move that would give people more “freedom”; all while most people were unaware and those who knew had heard it on the radio.

People were unable to reach out to their loved ones and had to flock to a few designated places to contact people out of the State. Internal communication remained impossible with Section 144 imposed and BSF personnel deployed on the streets to curb transportation. 

While cable services resumed in the evening in most places, it was only after a month that landline services (which many people don’t have) were restored. And after more than 2 months, only postpaid mobile calling services were restored. 

Calling and 2G mobile services on all phones were restored after almost 6 months, but that came with its caveat. People were only able to access sites whitelisted by the administration, social media sites were excluded.

Kashmir internet suspension
There have been more than 250 internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir since 2012.

There have been 468 instances of Internet shutdowns in India (the highest in the world) since 2012 and more than 250 of those have occurred in Jammu and Kashmir. The suspension of internet services after 5 August, 2019 is considered the longest in a democracy. Grounds of “national sovereignty” and “public order” are often used by the administration to implement internet restrictions.

Thousands were detained under the PSA after the abrogation of Article 370 and most were released only after over a year (some still remain detained). Widespread allegations of torture and excessive force by security officials were also reported during the blockade. The internet shutdown had a clear aim, to stop information from going outside the valley.

People detained under the PSA were held in jails outside the State and were unable to present their cases for months. Families had no information on where their family members were being taken and for months were unable to speak to them. Other criminal proceedings like those of family disputes and child support were being delayed due to the clampdown on services.

Doctors were unable to contact their patients. Cases of people suffering from mental health issues increased and these people were unable to reach out to anyone.

With schools and colleges closed, students lost their education. College students have had to wait almost a year longer to complete their degrees (a 3-year degree taking 4 years). With the internet being suspended, students could not study online (as has been made normal during the Covid lockdown) or fill out online forms.

Mining rights for minerals were auctioned online in December 2019. Due to internet restrictions, most of the mining rights that locals previously held were auctioned off to non-local contractors. The locals who managed to bid in the auction had to queue outside district headquarters to access the internet.

Some businesses and people were allowed to access the internet but were made to sign personal bonds of “good behaviour” to restore their connections.

Constant curfews have crippled Kashmir’s businesses.

Economic development in the valley was a key talking point of the BJP for abrogating Article 370 and 35A. But Businesses have been hit hard during this period. According to the President of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), the first 3 months after 5 August, 2019 saw businesses lose over 10,000 crores in the Kashmir region due to the restrictions imposed. 

Another report by the KCCI estimated that the Kashmir economy lost more than ₹17,000 crore and 5 lakh jobs in the 4 months after the abrogation of Article 370 due to the lockdown and restrictions.

Many IT businesses that relied on the internet had to shut up shop or relocate after the prolonged internet curb. Most start-ups too were unable to function and had to wind up operations.

Around 90,000 artisans in Kashmir’s famous handicrafts industry lost their livelihood during the initial phase of the 5 August, 2019 lockdown and the industry has lost about ₹1,000 crore. The tourism sector lost more than ₹10,000 crores and more than 1,40,000 people were rendered unemployed. 

On the other hand, companies like BSNL and Reliance have been able to exploit the crisis. There were only 45,000 BSNL landline connections in the valley. When landline services were restored, only BSNL connections were allowed and since then they’ve added around 14,000 connections in the valley. Reliance used the restrictions on high-speed internet to roll out Jio fibre in Jammu and Kashmir and have been able to extensively add to their user base.

Farmers had to sell their produce in local markets at cheaper prices as local Mandi’s were closed and their produce was rotting. Some farmers lost most of their crops due to early snowfall in November and weren’t compensated for it. People in the horticulture sector often use WhatsApp to send photos of their produce to traders outside the State. With the internet being suspended Apple and Saffron farmers had to sell their produce at cut-short prices to traders who couldn’t see what they were buying.

Journalist kashmir
Journalists have had to endure harsh conditions to report in Kashmir.

The media faced many restrictions in terms of rights to freedom of speech and expression and profession. Even after the restoration of internet services, the UAPA has been used to detain several journalists and social media users.

For months journalists had to queue outside a government-designated facility where almost 200 to 400 journalists were given access to the internet on eight laptops to file their stories.

The Covid-19 pandemic added more difficulties for people. Students have been unable to attend online classes. Doctors have had a hard time accessing guidelines by the WHO on curbing the spread of the virus. It has taken them hours to download specific material online.

Even though services have been restored, internet shutdowns are nothing new in the valley and it won’t take long for the next restriction to be imposed.

The government hasn’t done us a favour by restoring high-speed internet. They were the ones that suspended a service that is considered a right and is taken for granted in the rest of the country. We don’t need to thank the government for anything.

Rights abuses continue in Kashmir and the idea that everything is “normal” fails to recognise how the alienation has turned even the most staunch supporters of the Indian State in Kashmir around.

The government can use puppets like Altaf Bukhari and Shah Faesal to paint rose-tinted glasses on the rest of the country regarding Kashmir, but the people who live here, who’ve been forced to walk on those shards, understand the reality; we’re not a democracy.

Refer to report titled Kashmir’s Internet Siege by JKCCS for an in-depth understanding.

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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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