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If India Wants To Become A Global Power, It Should Address The Rohingya Crisis

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The greatest nations are defined by how they treat their most marginalised inhabitants. Clearly, Myanmar has failed to be a great nation by exterminating and abandoning its Rohingya inhabitants, while Bangladesh displayed their greater spirit by refuging the displaced. However, India seems to be squandering their chance to be the greatest regional power away by pretending to unhear the silent cries of Rohingya Muslims.  India’s polite distance with the Rohingya crisis has raised questions about their approach towards refugees, the Rohingyas in particular.

India’s Ambivalence In Addressing The Crisis

India’s stance on the Rohingya crisis has raised questions about its democratic credentials as its response to the crisis has evolved swiftly. India announced the violent conflicts between the Buddhists and the Muslim minorities in Rakhine state as Myanmar’s ‘internal affair’ and gave cold shoulders to the fleeing refugees. India even voted in favour of Myanmar on the Resolution taken by the 74th United Nations General Assembly.

The Government of India was planning to deport the Rohingyas from India as they were “illegal immigrants”, but the plan had failed to firm up because of the Supreme Court’s intervention. Contrariwise, India considers the Rohingyas in Bangladesh as “displaced people” and extended their relief assistance through ‘Operation Insaniyat’ at Bangladesh’s request. While Delhi was recalibrating, the West Bengal government has expressed its support for Rohingya refugees though it didn’t change the tune of the Central government. Then again, the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reassured Dhaka of Delhi’s support in 2017.

rohingya refugee child
Representational image

 India’s Fear From Radical Rohingyas

In the case of Rohingyas, the Indian government shut its door to them as it sees them as a terror threat with greater radicalisation having a serious ‘spill over’ effect in India. However, shutting the door will not immunise India from this threat as the concentration of thousands of desperate people in the neighbourhood can create a fertile breeding ground for radicalisation and India may become their favourite target.

India’s Adaptation Of Silent Diplomacy

India always discourages permanent settlement of refugees and conventionally provides a disincentive for discouragement. India remained abstained from voting in both the resolutions of “Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” in the 75th UNGA and UNGA resolution on “The situation in Myanmar” after the February 1 coup in Myanmar this year. This indicates India has opted for silent diplomacy over megaphone diplomacy. But the Rohingya crisis calls on for action, instead of remaining silent.

Trade Benefits Of India

Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are major trade partners of India. India had made a huge investment in the Kaladan project, which is facing hindrance due to the political instability of Myanmar. But Bangladesh offers India the cheapest and easiest connectivity with the North-Eastern part of India through trans-shipment and transit. Bangladesh is a natural gateway to growing markets in Southeast Asia and could become a transportation hub for all of South Asia.

Being the largest economy of South Asia, India might gain more than 8% trade growth if they establish seamless connectivity with Bangladesh. More importantly, Bangladesh offers a stable and favourable political and economic environment for trade, unlike Myanmar.

India’s Opportunity To Exert Power

Myanmar is home to Rohingyas and the solution for this crisis must be found in Myanmar, and nowhere else. The only solution to this crisis is sending the Rohingyas to their home in Myanmar. Delhi’s reservation to initiate any talk through BIMSTEC or any other regional grouping, and its abstention from the voting of UN resolution ‘Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar’ raises a question to India’s ability to become a global power.

Representational image

India’s reservation in stepping up to its role might allow other powers to take over and leverage the situation for geopolitical gains, which China did once by stepping in with its ‘three-step-solution’ to the crisis and the signing of a repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Both Bangladesh and India are bearing the burnt of stateless people, who have every right to return to their place. A bundle of belongings isn’t the only thing a refugee brings to his new country. He brings suffering, agony and newer threats to the security of the hosting country, which the country doesn’t deserve. By nudging the Myanmar government to find a long-lasting solution to the crisis, India may carve out space for itself in taking a leadership role. The upcoming session of UNGA where proposals and resolutions on the Rohingya crisis will certainly be discussed may provide India with the opportunity to initiate the process and exhibit its leadership role.

With the latest Afghanistan refugee crisis, Asia is becoming unstable and risk-prone. India, despite its ‘Wait and watch’ policy on the Afghanistan crisis is expected to be active in solving the problem. But silence does not match the passion of global dominance. India must fine-tune its approach to achieve its proclaimed desire for global dominance, and the first step would be to address the crisis as it is. India must raise its voice.

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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 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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