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Of ‘Toolkits’ And ‘Khalistani Conspiracies’: Understanding The Greta Thunberg Controversy

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Greta Thunberg is an 18-year-old Swedish environmental activist with a history of calling out and challenging world leaders about their country’s environmental practices. She has recently been involved in political conversations in India, around the farmer’s protests in the country, after she shared a tweet expressing her support for the farmer’s protesting in India and a ‘protest toolkit.’

The farmer’s protest witnessed widespread support from the international community along with concerns about human rights perpetrated by the government.

The Farmer’s Protest Toolkit

A toolkit is a set of guidelines, ideas, and suggested actions to people without the same level of expertise or on-ground knowledge laid out by an organization to get something done. This can be related to protests or social work in any form. Specifically focussing on protests, ‘protest toolkits’ give details about how to contribute, where to donate, and readings to understand the nature of the protest better. Toolkits can come in the form of simple shared documents, websites, or carrd.co documents, or even simple infographics and Instagram graphics.

The Farmer Protest Toolkit that was shared by Greta Thunberg has seen charges of sedition, criminal conspiracy, and promoting hatred levelled in a Delhi Police FIR against the creators. The contents of the toolkits are similar to many other toolkits made on social justice issues.

The toolkit, now deleted by Greta, contained information about how ‘you could help’, which detailed Twitter storms on February 4th and 5th, and protests near the closest Indian Embassy, media house, or government office on February 13th and 14th. The Toolkit also contained links to further readings on agriculture in India and the reasoning behind the farm laws protests. All in all, it was a pretty standard ‘protest toolkit’.

How Dangerous Are These ‘Toolkits’ Really?

A ‘protest toolkit’, that the government and the police are trying to paint as a most nefarious document, is actually part and parcel of protest mobilization all around the world. It serves many purposes, but the main ones are as follows.

  1. It serves as valuable information to people who might be going to a protest for the first time, by giving them more information about why people are protesting and also what precautions to take during a protest. For example, many toolkits around the Black Lives Matter Protests, Hong Kong protests, and others explained what to do when caught in tear gas, the rights of the detained, and so on.
  2. It also helps mobilize people from other countries, as mentioned above, on how they can find ways to show solidarity with the protesting peoples through Twitter storms, protests, emailing their representatives, etc.
  3. In the age of social media and the Internet, ‘Protest toolkits’ are the best way to mobilize, and are in wide use for a variety of issues and topics.

An example of a toolkit (of the Hong Kong protests): https://standwithhongkong.carrd.co/

Conclusions One Can Draw From Government Actions

Therefore, it appears strange that the Police would lodge an FIR against the makers of a toolkit, as it is standard and legal practice for any dissenting group. Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association explains in a Twitter thread how this FIR, despite its frivolous nature, can be used to curb dissent.

To sum up her argument, she points out how these absurd ideas like a Whatsapp chat in the case of the CAA protests, vague conspiracies in the

case of Elgar Parishad, have been used to jail dissenting voices under the UAPA from which bail is impossible. The same may well be applied to farm and union leaders involved in the farmer’s protests. She also points out how the Far-right Hindu mobs involved in all of the above are scot-free.

One can also draw a damning conclusion about the nature of the ruling power, that is more concerned about its image abroad than the lakhs of protesters sitting in the freezing North Indian cold for months. From personal experience of covering the Anti-CAA protests in Delhi in late 2019 and early 2020, I would draw a comparison to protests which were planned in and around Embassy areas.

Umar Khalid. Photo: BASO

Many activists like Umar Khalid were arrested under the UAPA and are still in jail without trial.

All of these protests were quickly and vigorously shut down, with anyone looking like a student arrested under the pretext of Section 144, even if they were alone or in a group of fewer than 5 people. At times, the Mandir Marg Police Station would be filled to the brim with overflowed detainees, who were just kept in the station till 5 pm and let go. This points simply to the fact that the government does not want foreign ambassadors and diplomats to see civil unrest and dissent because it will tarnish their image.

The question that one has to ask is this, does our government care more about ‘Protest Toolkits’ and frivolous ‘conspiracies’ tarnishing the BJP’s image, or does it care about its constituents who are protesting and dying on Delhi’s borders for their rights?

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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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