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The Government ‘Toolkit’ To Control Media That We Need To Talk About

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The Indian government’s move to censor and regulate media has been termed authoritarian by many but is actually part of a blueprint that was drafted during the middle of the pandemic. A detailed report released by The Caravan outlines a Group Of Ministers (GoM) who made a report on government communication and controlling critical voices in media.

The report speaks about monitoring anti-government fake news in the same breath as seemingly promoting fake news outlets that suit the narrative.

What Is The GOM Report About?

The Union ministers who wrote this report were Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar, and S Jaishankar. It also had ministers of state Kiren Rijiju, Hardeep Singh Puri, Babul Supriyo, and Anurag Thakur.

The report essentially details how the government should push out news about its ‘positive initiatives’ to the media. Referred to in the document as the ‘10 big initiatives, this is still a normal governmental initiative. Many governments have action plans to outline their initiatives to the people.

Where the document seemingly takes a sinister note is when it talks about journalists and media criticism about the government. An observation by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi that also states the core concerns of the report is, “We should have a strategy to neutralize the people who are writing against the Government without facts and set false narratives / spread fake news.”

However, the idea of fake news is not clearly defined in any way, with the only parameter seemingly being that anything critical of the government to be fake news. The same report allegedly had several quotes from journalists who attended the meetings. Nupur Sharma, the editor of Op-India recommended the promotion of online portals like Op-India.

This sentiment was echoed in the report, which stated that to “Promote Online Portals- It is needed to promote and support online portals (like Op India) as most of the existing online portals are critical of Government.”

What is important to note here is that Op India is known for publishing Right-Wing Hindutva propaganda, most of which is often fake or unverified. Therefore, the same document that preaches to battle fake news is promoting fake news that suits its narratives. Therefore, the report only focuses on targeting media portals and organizations that go against the government narrative.

Manufacturing Consent And Attacking Free Press

The report also laid down a set of observations made in these meetings by journalists who attended. The report didn’t attribute any individual journalist to this quote, and the collective observations according to the report were:

“Around 75% of media persons are impressed by the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi and are ideological with the party…. We should form different groups of these persons and communicate with them regularly….Interactions with foreign media should stop as it turning out to be counter-productive.” A lot of the statements attributed to journalists have been denied or debunked in this article by Newslaundry.

With all the talk about toolkits by the Indian government, this report should be seen as the government toolkit to peddle their narrative and punish/shutdown critical voices in the media. The government has already taken steps to control digital and social media through the recent Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 which can now censor OTT and online media platforms.

This report is also allegedly a part of a bigger push to manufacture consent towards the government’s policies and punish critics. It should be viewed along with the trial program launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs where ‘citizen volunteers (read: online vigilantes) can report anything that they find to be anti-national.

The Future Of Media Under This Toolkit

This toolkit and its latest tools on digital media have already claimed victims, with ‘The Frontier Manipur’ being the first to be targetted with a notice. However, the notice was rescinded after nationwide outrage. However, if many organizations are targeted, not all of them will be able to avoid the grasp of what’s being perceived as an authoritarian regime.

Some of the other suggestions in the report included tracking ‘50 positive influencers’ and ‘50 negative influencers.’ The process of tracking and neutralizing critical voices also goes deeper. In the report, Nitin Gokhale, formerly with NDTV suggested colour-coding journalists into white (supportive), green (fence-sitters), and black (against).

Hypothetically and the most probable outcome of the government’s use of this data would be to harass, intimidate, or sabotage journalists who don’t tie the line through overt or covert means. In a covert sense, the government, crony capitalist in nature, can easily ask corporations to not give ad revenue to XYZ media outlets.

With media in the hands of the corporates and subject to the whims of the ruling party, free media in India may soon be a thing of the past. I think that media outlets that will be free and unbiased may have to operate choosing their words carefully, and behind paywalls. These paywalls will make unbiased reporting inaccessible to many, who will only have pro-government sources to rely on, which I feel is problematic because it might pave way for hegemony and furthering of some xenophobic, majoritarian, Hindutva, and capitalist ideas.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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