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Can Rahul Gandhi Be India’s Secular Response To Hindutva Hate?

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Indian democracy and secularism are on the ventilator these days. That’s clear now. It can survive and it has to survive for the betterment of masses which are mostly poor and for the marginalized and minorities. India’s minorities have felt the brunt of the onslaught of the right wing government over the last few years.

People have been and are being lynched and murdered in broad daylight. Journalists and activists have either been killed or jailed. Some have been threatened and some thrashed too. New laws have been enacted to intimidate and threaten minorities. CAA and the contentious farm laws are the cases in point.

The Sikh community has been protesting for a long time now but nobody is listening. The media has become a lapdog of the present regime. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on Indian society as a whole and for the Indian economy, it was a death blow.

Prices of commodities have skyrocketed. It has broken the back of a common man. Indian society is in tatters. Venom is being spewed and spread every night via electronic media. Social media has also played its role in spreading fake news and animosity in Indian society.

Behind this animosity is the right wing regime which is hell-bent to turn India into some medieval society and undo what it has gained over the decades after many sacrifices.

Coming to the recent survey of India Today which showed Modi’s popularity waning and Rahul Gandhi on the third position in the list, it has become clear that Indians are not happy with the present regime especially its leader.

If Not Modi, Then Who?

So, I hope people would have got the answer to the question which right-wing leaning media had fed them up which is. “If not Modi, then who?” The simple and clear answer to this question is Rahul Gandhi. It is so because Rahul Gandhi has that all qualities which the head of the state needs in present times.

Rahul Gandhi has studied in one of the best universities. He has empathy for poor and marginalized people and minorities and he has shown this quality many times. He has shared their grief and concerns and promised to address their issues if given a chance which his opponents lack.

Rather, hypocrisy is the trademark of the right-wing camp, whether on the corruption front or nepotism front. Corruption, which the present regime promised to end and on which platform they gained power, is still rampant and has rather increased in the last seven years with no end in sight.

Atrocities on minorities have risen over the past few years to great proportion and look now beyond repair. Religious extremism is taking an ugly turn with each passing day. Minorities are feeling unsafe in their own country. The democracy and secularism on which the Indian National Congress worked so hard over decades is fading with each passing day.

Rahul Gandhi

We must be clear in understanding that Congress is a party whose core ideology is secularism and that secularism means to give equal space to all religions and their people in social, cultural and political, educational, employment and other fields. It thrives on equality, fraternity and liberty.

The core ideology of Hindutva is hate and destruction. Rahul Gandhi is the only person who has stood against this hate and divisive force and has earned praise from internationally acclaimed scholars and intellectuals. He has been at the forefront in opposing the ideology based on hatred and violence. The modern world doesn’t need a hate-based ideology that has no empathy for others.

The ideology based on hatred doesn’t believe in dialogue. There is no space in it for argument and facts. Facts are mutilated to suit the nefarious ends of rulers. History is being distorted. The West debunked the right-wing ideology a long time ago after the second world war.

Secularism Under Attack

It is still there but there are very few people who believe in this ideology. And their political and cultural and other institutions are so strong that it is unlikely that the right-wing ideology will succeed there for long, nor can anybody win the election on this ideology of hatred.

India, some two decades ago, was on the path to progress and prosperity under a secular and progressive rule. However, that is now under attack. The political system of today’s India resembles autocracy or theocracy dominated by Hindutva forces. This is not a good news for the Indian political system, secularism and democracy.

There are many PM candidates for the upcoming general elections of India to be held in 2024 and Rahul Gandhi tops them all. He is well qualified, ready to accept the challenge, ready to answer the questions of the masses, ready to address the issues of masses. I still remember when Rahul Gandhi visited JNU.

He had some discussion with students in the Jhelum Hostel then went straight to the venue where students were waiting for him to bombard him with questions. He stood there for about three to four hours answering every question of students and scholars.

We may not have agreed with some of his answers or explanation but he didn’t leave the venue till all questions were answered. He left the venue with grace and confidence. India needs Rahul Gandhi more than ever to steer it away from communalism, unemployment, religious extremism, hatred, inflation and poverty which has engulfed it now for the last seven years or so.

India needs a secular and empathic as the head of the state to put it on a progressive and secular and democratic path where every person irrespective of his or her faith, sect, caste is respected and provided a dignified life.

By Ashraf Lone
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

(Ashraf Lone’s deeply personal memoir “ The Red Snowfall” based on Kashmir of 1990s is slated to be released by OM Books International, New Delhi, India)

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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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