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Whoever Wins Bengal, There Will Be Dangerous Division In Society

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From repeated use of ‘Didi-O-Didi’ to CM Mamata Banerjee putting her bandaged foot on football, the polling for 43 seats in the Sixth Phase of the West Bengal polls concluded on 22.04.2021.

Amit Shah Bengal Rally
(Photo by Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Political rallies in Bengal were devoid of any masks or social distancing.

Forget about the discussion about Corona cases, action was taken by the election commission only after the sixth phase. Visuals from Bengal show that from Home Minister to ordinary people, leaders and even the police and guards in charge of security were not wearing masks. What we have to remember that when the election campaign began in Bengal earlier in March, the state reported only 171 Corona Cases on March 2 but at this point in time, a fresh spike is yet again in the state capital of Kolkata and the situation is becoming more dangerous in Bengal.

But as the election commission is allowing elections with results on 2nd May, let us concentrate on politics because it appears that for this country, elections and power is more important than anything including the life of an individual.

As far as Bengal is concerned, it is important to recall two important periods. First, when history was created by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, defeating and ending the 34-year reign of the Left in West Bengal in 2011, and second is when
PM Narendra Modi-led party got a massive 18 seats from the state in 2019 elections and BJP made stunning inroads in Trinamool Congress-ruled state, showing a virtual saffron sweep in the state’s northern parts, and also the western tribal heartland. For the very first time, the state saw this kind of result.

Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will get more than 200 seats in the ongoing assembly elections in West Bengal owing to the BJP wave in the state and Home Minister Amit Shah is also claiming that BJP will easily win over 200 seats in West Bengal.

Countering BJP’s claim of winning in more than 200 seats out of 294 in the West Bengal’s Assembly elections, CM Mamata Banerjee challenged the BJP to first win 30 seats in the state and then dream about winning 294.

According to the 2011 Census, West Bengal had over 24.6 million Bengali Muslims, who formed 27.01 percent of the population of the state. There is no doubt that the Muslim vote bank is the bigger and a deciding factor in Bengal polls as for almost three-and-a-half decades, the Muslims were wooed and considered a vote bank by the Left Front, which ruled the state for 34 years running.

After the entrance of the BJP in Bengal, the polarization in Bengal is quite obvious. The BJP has rotated its strike against the TMC on issues like cow smuggling, Durga Puja processions, Saraswati Puja, chants of Jai Shri Ram, etc.! We can see the same from election rallies and the way BJP is setting the agenda for elections. It is not wrong to say that its committed election campaigning gave the desired results in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

On the other side, TMC is also doing Muslim appeasement and the much-publicized appeasement policy includes remunerations to imams and muezzins or prayer callers by the State Auqaf Board (stipends for imams), hosting of allegedly expensive Iftar parties by the government, and extensive temporary residential arrangements for Hajis in the state capital.

Polarization and appeasement is not a new thing in politics but it is becoming a trend and center of attraction nowadays especially after 2014 elections results as politicians are setting their political agenda according to their vote bank. Parties are targeting directly Hindus, Muslims, and other’s voters at the time of elections rather than setting agenda about literacy, unemployment, development, and other relevant issues.

Political parties, for their votes and politics, creating some kind of fear and apprehension in the mind of voters in the name of religion, ideology, and beliefs, and because of this, we can see the division in society. Division of thoughts is appreciable but the way society is getting divided and the way a radical environment is developing, is dangerous for our society. No one will achieve anything the way we are moving and the clear division will increase the bridge and it will become impossible to fill that gap in the future.

As the Muslim voters are deciding factor in Bengal, Two prominent leaders assuring the Muslim identity i.e. Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, the preacher from the influential Furfura Darbar Sharif in Hooghly district, and Asaduddin Owaisi, AIMIM Leader and Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad. In case, Siddiqui and Owaisi manage to snatch away Muslim votes from the TMC, the BJP might just have the last laugh but who will get a majority, for that we have to wait till 2nd May.

But believe me; whoever will Bengal on 2nd May, this division between societies is not welcome and is dangerous for our society so it’s upon us to take responsibility to ask the political parties to change their agenda. We will become strong if we will unite and defeat the principle of Divide and Rule of Political parties, all political parties.

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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.

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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.

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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