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Music For Harmony 2021: A Weekend Adda To Reunite Against Hate

Do you have a space where you can talk about your cat, the politics of this country, unravel your traumas, and yet, learn something fruitful at the same time?

My leadership journey with Pravah offered me a space like that and taught me how to build one for others too. The words like ‘ownership’, ‘leadership’, and ‘empathy’ had textbook definitions for me, till I learned how to take ownership of spaces because if I would not, who will? Is there going to be a Godot coming? I reckon not. I was of the opinion to treat society and self as two different components, but Pravah told me and taught me otherwise, self and society are two sides of the same coin. Society is merely a reflection of who we are and sometimes, it can be difficult to acknowledge that when the situation is not conducive.

In 2002 when brutal riots broke in Gujarat, a wave of hatred polarised the nation. Distressed by the turn of events, the volunteers of Pravah felt the need to reunite against hate and gathered at Dilli Haat to light up candles and sing songs of harmony. Music for Harmony was born. Since then, this small act of hope subsumed into a festival whose message of harmony remains intact to date. Just like Faiz Sahab, Music for Harmony remains relevant. For the first time in 19 years, we are having this festival virtually.

The first adda for the organisation, vision and plan of the festival was sometime in early January this year. We were asked to decide upon a theme. Some talked about polarisation, some reviewed 2020 and recounted the sorrows, some talked about the people we lost. We all agreed upon one theme, ultimately. We have had our individual share of sorrows and loss, that we are still trying to overcome. Now is the time to celebrate what we are left with, to express gratitude from the deepest nooks of our hearts, and acknowledge our resilience. Resilience. We are celebrating resilience through art this year on February 27, 2021.

A glimpse into a Connection Adda

I joined the team because the idea of a youth-led art and music festival intrigued me, I was only looking for some new connections and a good time, which I undeniably had. What I did not anticipate was learning a lesson so valuable when I was least expecting it. The value of collaboration. What they do not teach in schools is how to collaborate with different people and prioritise teamwork over individual success.

Coming from a place where doing things alone is perceived as empowering, executing a task with polar opposite people was a challenge for me. I loved the comfort of working with similar-minded people, with the same work ethics, same passion, and the same methods. I realised how badly I was trapped in my own echo chamber, and I learned gradually how to break it. We collaborated with the University of Washington, Bothell to organise the festival in India and the US. I wondered how on earth was I going to work with people whose culture dominates the world but have no understanding of my own? I was solemnly proven wrong as we started interacting and planning the festival together. 

A glimpse into a Connection Adda Collaborating with them brought me more joy than I imagined. I would be honest, the idea of a virtual festival did not really sweep me off my feet first, but it was gradually that I realised the merit of one. There was no way we could have had an offline festival on a scale as large. The spirit of the festival is all about harmony and inclusivity. The spaces Music for Harmony created for us helped in cross-cultural exchange so effortlessly. I remember a discussion on the statement ‘Violence for the right causes is justified’. The polarisation in the group was note-worthy.

After heated discussions, rebuttals and defensive unmuting, we experienced what we did not anticipate. We were put into breakout rooms with the one we disagreed with and asked, ‘why do you believe what you believe in’ I felt as if someone asked me, tell me who hurt you so bad? It was an intimate realisation that our opinions are merely the tip of the iceberg.

I am reminded of a quote, “I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience.” We have our own experiences, and no matter how difficult or bizarre it may sound, but there is always a common ground. The trick is to dig deeper and probe with empathy, to understand, to care. That is what the world needs the most right now. That is exactly what the festival endorses, the commonality in the diverse terrain that we are celebrating through art.

What I consider profound is the continuity and the evergreen nature of the message the festival upholds. Remember when Faiz said, 

Jab zulmo sitam ke kohe garaan
Rui ki tarha udd jayenge, Hum dekhenge

(When the mountains of cruelty and oppression
Will float away like carded wool, we will see)

I just wondered, wouldn’t Faiz be grieving if he knew that his poem is still so relevant in the socio-political context of a different culture and nation after more than 70 years? Or maybe the poet knew that the ‘zulmo sitam’ (cruelty and oppression) is universal and transcending and shall hover over us for time immemorial. Perhaps, he knew. I have made peace with the fact that those mountains are still here, and if there is any chance of them floating away, then it is when we decide to break our echo chambers and with a bit of compassion and a bit of hope, join hands.

You know when you find something so good, you feel like sharing it with people, there is a sense of urgency to tell the world and whisper, “Hey, this makes my heart feel at ease, I want the same for you.” It is the same with this festival. I am sharing it with you, do come!  

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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.

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.

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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)’.

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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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