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How The Pandemic Became An Instrument Of Targeting Minorities In India

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The pandemic times were arduous not only for India but for the whole of humanity, lives were constantly at risk due to the outbreak of deadly novel Coronavirus which has claimed over 2.4 million deaths worldwide so far. In India, the first case of coronavirus was reported on 30 January 2020. Its epicentre was initially Wuhan, China from which it spread rapidly to other parts of the globe.

The outbreak was declared an epidemic in more than a dozen states and Union Territories, where provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 had been invoked and all educational institutions and many commercial establishments were shut down.

As the majority of cases were linked to foreign countries, in this view, India had suspended all tourist visas and on 24 March. Prime Minister of India imposed a nationwide lockdown and to maintain social distancing in order to curb the fast-spreading cases of Covid-19. But India saw a sudden jump in cases of discrimination and harassment either in the name of racism or religious discrimination.

Racism is deeply rooted in Indian society, everyday news channels and social media platforms are flooded with racial abuse and bullying. Most vulnerable to these incidents are Muslims in India albeit the Constitution of India under Article 14 guarantees its citizens protection from any kind of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. 2019-20 saw a tremendous rise in cases of Muslim lynching, Dalit suicides, rape, harassment etc.

In these trying times of pandemic, discrimination happens to be a new normal in India. Instead of strengthening the human bond, people around are busy setting the new demarcations of discriminatory India which ultimately adds up deteriorating the international image of the nation. It seems that pandemic has become an instrument of targeting minorities in India.

Representational image.

Xenophobia In Times Of COVID-19

India being the diverse nation in terms of culture, language, dialect, region brotherhood and cooperation has always been the essence of India. From the last 40 days of public curfew, India has witnessed numerous cases of discrimination. People from the north-eastern part of the country living in Bengaluru say that discrimination has only increased since the spread of the virus. Racism against northeasterners has always prevailed in India.

On 24 April, a 25-year-old woman from Manipur was spat paan on by a 40-year-old man when she stepped out to buy groceries with her friend in the Delhi University area. The man, who was riding a scooter, called her ‘corona’. This incident took place in nation capital Delhi. This is not the only incident against northeasterners, there are numerous incidents of harassment against them like a similar type of incident took place in Pune, where a young woman from Manipur was teased by men at a mall, who told her “coronavirus aa gaya” which means “here comes coronavirus”.

I have myself been a witness to such an incident when back in 2018 at Delhi International Airport while going through security check-in queue, there was this young girl from north-east part who was been continuously abused by men there. Even pregnant women are not spared. Recently in Jharkhand, a pregnant woman was accused of spreading coronavirus and was reportedly made to clean up her blood by a hospital which eventually led to the loss of her unborn child.

Leaving No Stone Unturned To Marginalise And Target Muslims

A few days ago, a Muslim vendor in Delhi was abused and thrashed while selling vegetables. The video of the same went viral on social media. There are many videos surfacing on social media where Muslims were brutally attacked and made to sing Jai Shri Ram and later told to go back to Pakistan. After India’s Health Ministry repeatedly blamed Islamic seminary Tablighi Jamaat for spreading the coronavirus as people who attended the seminary came from Malaysia and other countries, a spree of anti-Muslim attacks has been broken out across the nation.

Muslims have been beaten up, nearly lynched, attacked in mosques, and branded as virus spreaders and so on. New words like ‘Corona Jihad’ were associated with the Muslim population. A wave of violence always engulfs its special targets; Muslims. Those who participated in the seminary and tested positive for coronavirus later after recovering donated their plasma. It can be seen as an example of kindness and graciousness and people who fan this hatred are always at receiving end. Muslim minority in India fear for their life as Muslims have long faced marginalization in almost every aspect of life.

Lately, more or less, it is being realized that Muslims in India have become scapegoats for the spread of coronavirus. People have long back turned their backs to morality and universal brotherhood. A person belonging to another caste, race, religion, or community is seen as an enemy by a person belonging to the majority population. In this way, the fight against pandemic is making things complicated as a whole.

We have made such structures where we no longer pay heed to such incidents, we often are tone-deaf when we hear about such incidents unless and until we are not the victims.

In all the above incidents, there has been no collective outrage on our part in being the citizens of the world’s largest democracy. Somehow if there is any outrage, even if confined to our social media handles, the outrage is selective.

The world is at its lowest of lows in terms of humanity. Day by day, we as humans live a life of shame, our conscience is dead, and our behaviour towards fellow beings is no less than inhumane. The cruelty and misery which is rampant in the world is our own creation. We have not only destroyed the ecosystem but we have also terribly failed as human civilization.

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” -Arundhati Roy

Samreen Manzoor is pursuing her Masters in Sociology from AMU.
Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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.

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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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