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With Different Ideas Of “Freedom”, It’s Our Unity We Should Celebrate This Independence Day

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By Prathit Singh

“Each nation is Shakti or power of the evolving spirit in humanity and lives by the principles which it embodies.

“India is the Bharat shakti, the living energy of a great spiritual conception, and fidelity to it is the very principle to her existence…even as the individual has a soul which is its true self, governing more or less openly its destiny, each nation too has its own soul which is its true self moulding its destiny from behind the veil: it is the soul of the country, the national genius, the spirit of the people.” – Sri Aurobindo.

Portrait of Bharat Mata by Abanindranath Tagore.

15 August, 1947 was a milestone in the life of a nation that survived through endless exploitation, divisions, invasions and wars. The modernist status of a “nation-state” was attached to India following its independence from British colonialism, but the natal conception of the country had already begun centuries ago.

The spiritual soul of India took its conception from the varied religions that sprawled across this diverse land. Even though Bharat was a conjugation of different nationalistic sentiments manifested in diverse languages and cultures, its spiritual unity was ever prevalent. This unity showed itself in the unison of diverse cultures and landscapes.

Temples, rivers, hills and landscapes situated across regions of the subcontinent held varying relevance but were supposed to convey common values and symbols. This common essence is best conveyed through symbolic stories and is manifest in religious practices and rituals.

For instance, if one uptakes the Char Dham Yatra (the pious sojourn of the four Hindu temples), the Dwadasha Joyotirlinga Yatra (the pious sojourn to the 12 holy sites associated with Lord Shiva), one has to tour across the north and the south through Haridwar, Praygraj, etc. in the north to Dwarka in the west, Puri in the east to Rameswaram and Konkanam in the South.

These temples and their location scattered through the corners of the subcontinent served the purpose of cultural unison. Another symbolic manifestation was in the perception of rivers and mountains. Even today, the religious root of this form can be seen in the shloka:

“Gangecha Jamunechava, Godavari; Saraswatee Narmada Sindhu Kaveri Jalsemi Sannidhim Karu (May the water from the Ganges, Saraswatee, Narmada, Sindu and Kaveri enter into this vessel).”

While the spiritual soul of the nation was in unison, the political soul was always divided. Centripetal and centrifugal forces kept recurring and conflicting in various parts of the nation. In fact, the attempt to subside the united spiritual soul with a united political force was the precise weakness by virtue of which colonialism found its way in India.

The Dutch, Portuguese, French and, more intensely, the British, all the western forces used the division of the political landscape to overpower the Indian populace.

secularism
Representative Image.

As Sri Aurobindo put it, “India’s history throughout has been marked by a tendency, a constant effort to unite all these diversity of elements into a single political whole under a central imperial rule so that India might be politically and culturally one.”

With time, however, as the Indian populace realised the importance of a diverse union, the sentiment of nationalism and patriotic fervour swept across the country with the necessity of becoming fraternal beings with the ability to take the trajectories of their destinies into their own hands.

Gradually, this nationalistic fervour was embedded in the spiritual values of the nation. The idol of Bharat Mata was recognised as an idol that attempted to break the shackles of imperialism to celebrate the nation’s soul. Vande Mataram became the slogan that invoked the spiritual values of the country and appealed to everyone to realise this spiritual value.

Thousands Of Farmers Protest Centre's New Farm Laws
Representative Image. (Photo by Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Like always, the political aspect of encapsulating this spiritual value of “nationhood” remained divided in distinct perceptions and thoughts. Mahatma Gandhi’s way of realising this spiritual value in the political sphere was Satyagraha (the path of the truth) and Ahimsa (non-violence), while Bhagat Singh’s way of this realisation was radical action.

Although divided these ways were, it is important to note that there wasn’t any “right” way to attain freedom. Some ways were widely accepted by some sections, while others were embraced by a different section, depending purely on their perception of freedom and the means to attain it.

If we are to attach a particularistic and absolute value to freedom, wouldn’t that be a constraint of thought and, thus, a constraint on the idea of freedom in itself? This is a fact that we yet need to inspect when we celebrate Aazadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

The idea of “Aazadi” transcends the boundaries of perception. This transcendence was captured in the value attached to the idea of Bharat Mata and the slogan of “Vande Mataram”. However, freedom is never an absolute value and this couldn’t be more evident by the way in which it evolved in India.

The nationalist movement in India in its neonatal stage never aimed at absolute freedom. Leaders like Gopalkrishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Pherozeshah Mehta, etc., who led the nationalist movement in its conception, advocated for self-rule under the British aegis and a responsive government that was ready to respond to their concern. The word “swaraj” for them meant self-rule unconcerned with the question of absolute freedom.

For the later nationalists, however, “swaraj” meant absolute freedom from British rule. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that India’s “tryst with destiny” is perhaps the moderate development of this idea of “swaraj”. The united soul with divided ways of attaining freedom is something we need to celebrate on the 75th year of independence.

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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.

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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.”

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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