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Story Of Two India’s: Where Criticism Leads To Arrest And Hatred Leads To Power

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While article 19(1)(a) does not provide absolute freedom of speech and expression to the citizens of the country (with restrictions regarding sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, contempt of court, etc.), the restrictions have historically been used against voices of dissent (primarily left-wing activists) by the State.

CAA and Farmers Protest
India has been home to two of the biggest citizen-led movements in recent years.

In the last 2 years, India has been home to various citizen-led movements; the big ones being the anti-CAA-NRC and farmers’ protest. The government in power has tried its utmost to counter dissent. The crackdowns on these protests have led to activists being jailed under the UAPA and other draconian laws.

The government’s crackdown on free speech and expression started with the arrest of peaceful anti-CAA-NRC protesters. With protesters undeterred, various student-led protests sprang up around the country. The Jamia Millia Islamia incident led to protests on campuses around India.

Sharjeel Imam was one of the protesters arrested. Since the aftermath of the North Delhi riots, he has been in judicial custody and is charged with criminal conspiracy. Umar Khalid has also been charged under the same case. Their judicial custody has been extended yet again. Many other activists like Safoora Zargar and people who have voiced their opinions against these laws have been jailed.

The government took similar exception to the Dilli Chalo movement by farmers. Farmers were initially stopped from entering Delhi and were subjected to lathis and tear gas. The farm union leaders decided to stage a sit-in protest at Delhi’s borders.

nodeep kaur
Members from the Sikh community hold placards during a protest against the arrest of rights activist Nodeep Kaur. (Photo by Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Nodeep Kour, a 23-year-old Dalit labour activist, was arrested near the Singhu border where she was participating in a protest held by unpaid labourers. Nodeep, along with 1,500 labourers, had been a part of the Singhu border protests since December. Small farmers and labourers fear the laws will cripple their livelihoods. 

Nodeep was raising her voice for the rights and livelihood of the most vulnerable. She was arrested in connection with three cases and has been in jail since 12 January. She has allegedly been tortured and beaten in custody. 

farmer protest red fort
During the tractor rally, some protesters made their way to the Red Fort.

After talks with the government came to a standstill, the farm union leaders decided to march to the Capital on Republic Day. Violence ensued during the tractor rally on 26 January and the government planned to have the protest sites on Delhi’s borders vacated. Internet services were blocked for a couple of days. But the farmers have decided to stay put.

Several FIRs were filed against farm union leaders and other activists and protesters. Shashi Tharoor, Rajdeep Sardesai and others were charged for tweeting about the death of a protester. While police officials claim he died after losing control of his tractor, family members alleged that post-mortem revealed he was shot.

Many journalists covering the protests have been abused and arrested. Mandeep Punia was beaten, intimidated and taken into police custody on 30 January while filming the police abusing migrants at the Singhu border. The police initially did not reveal where they took him, and Punia could not call his lawyers or wife. He was eventually granted bail on 2 February.

On the Centre’s request on 30 January, more than 250 accounts tweeting in favour of the farmers’ protest were blocked by Twitter. The major accounts included that of the Caravan Magazine and Kisan Ekta Morcha. The orders were issued under Section 69A of the IT Act.

Although Twitter later restored the accounts, under pressure from the Centre, they have now permanently blocked over 500 accounts that have been critical of Modi and the BJP government.

rihanna greta tweet
Rihanna and Greta tweeted in support of the farmers’ protest.

Any major protest anywhere in the world will garner international attention. The same happened with the farmers’ protest. And after Rihanna and other influential activists and people tweeted their support for the protest, the MHA and other Indian celebrities went into damage control mode to protect India’s “sovereignty”. It led to threats and harassment of those who supported the farmers’ protest on Twitter.

The major talking point has been the tweet by Greta Thunberg. She shared a protest “toolkit” on Twitter, which was deemed the reason by the police for the Republic Day violence. The public document she shared talked about organising and executing peaceful agitations. The document did not promote or support violence.

And in connection with the toolkit a 21-year-old climate activist from Bengaluru, Disha Ravi, was arrested by the Delhi Police. Along with her, arrest warrants were issued against lawyer Nikita Jacobs and environmentalist Shantanu Muluk. They are accused of editing and creating the toolkit and organising a Twitter movement to spread awareness about the protest. The police allege it led to the 26 January violence.

They have been charged with sedition, incitement of violence and incitement of hatred between communities for editing and sharing the document. A Zoom meeting with Poetic Justice Foundation, which police allege is pro-Khalistani, is also one reason for their arrest.

Search warrants were issued prior and the police searched Jacobs’ house and seized her gadgets. The police also searched through Ravi’s phone and revealed she had conversations with Thunberg where she shared the toolkit with her.

While Jacobs and Muluk have filed for anticipatory bail, Disha Ravi was arrested in Bengaluru and taken to Delhi without a transit remand. She has been arrested on weak charges as there is no connection between the violence on 26 January and the Google document (toolkit) with information and resources of the farmers’ protest. She wasn’t able to have legal representation of her own choice and was sent to 5 days of police custody.

In 2018, Dalit and Tribal activists were targetted and accused of plotting the Prime Minister’s assassination in the Bhima-Koregaon case. Rona Wilson and 15 other people were arrested in connection to the case. But an independent report by a digital forensic analyst, Arsenal Consultancy, concluded that the documents used to convict the activists were planted on Wilson’s laptop. It also suggested that a government agency might have been involved in the conspiracy.

Comedian Munawar Faruqui was recently arrested along with four others and kept in jail for 37 days while their bail proceedings were being postponed and dismissed. They were arrested from a cafe in Indore where he was performing after a complaint was filed against him by the son of a BJP MP. He was accused of hurting religious sentiments for a joke he made in April 2020. Some of his colleagues have still not been granted bail.

Protest against a new citizenship law in Delhi
Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against a new citizenship law in Seelampur area of Delhi, India, on December 17, 2019. (Photo by Imtiyaz Khan /Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Those in power have long targeted activists and protesters who have gone against the wishes of the status-quo. Any statement the government doesn’t like is labelled sedition. The BJP government’s supporters have taken it upon themselves to label anyone against their views as anti-nationals.

This clampdown on reasonable voices and normalisation of certain views has led to the current state of affairs. Misinformed rhetoric has led to an increase in attacks on vulnerable and minority communities.

In the current scenario, various aspects of freedom of speech and expression are being violated. Freedom of Press, Right to Broadcast, Right to Information and Right to Criticise are all under threat. Flimsy grounds are being used as justification for the restrictions.

Are there two India’s? Newslaundry recently revealed in a report how Kapil Mishra has been spreading hatred and mobilising hate groups via the Telegram app. The Telegram groups are used to circulate resource materials and organise Twitter campaigns. Unlike the document shared by Thunberg (which is non-violent), these groups are used to manifest Islamophobic, anti-Sikh and other problematic rhetoric. 

Kapil Mishra was also one of the catalysts of the North Delhi riots. He threatened violence against anti-CAA protesters who had blocked roads. He had warned the police that he would take matters into his own hands if the protesters didn’t vacate the area. A couple of days later, communal riots in North Delhi led to the death of 53 people, predominantly Muslim. Countless homes were destroyed and several people were displaced.

While those who oppose the government’s decisions and ideology are arrested for merely speaking up, “leaders” like Kapil Mishra are given a free hand to incite violence and mobilise and brainwash crowds into believing problematic ideas.

While “free speech warriors” in India, like Tejasvi Surya, were mad at Twitter and other social media platforms for blocking Donald Trump’s account after he incited the violence at the Capitol, the same people justify and celebrate the arbitrary arrests of those who criticise the present government and its policies.

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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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