Dangerous little things: how I learned the importance of protest at an Indian university
The two doctors from the Ministry of Public Health with whom he was traveling sat in the car cabin. With his easy-going demeanor, he could easily be talking about an unfortunate misunderstanding. He speaks on behalf of Afghans who do not feel safe disclosing their HIV status. The Global Fund, which was set up by the United Nations, describes itself as an organization dedicated to fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, all of which are present in Afghanistan. To ensure that people directly impacted by these diseases have a say in how resources are used within their countries, the Fund set up the Country Coordinating Mechanism CCM , with an oversight committee made up of community members, like Azizi, as well as technical experts, such as the doctors who shunned him.
Afghanistan struggles with insecurity, ongoing war, poverty and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. People use them to manage stress and physical pain. But visible use can lead to people being pushed from society. Azizi began smoking opiates while he was a migrant worker in Iran. The highest rates are found among injecting drug users, estimated to be as high as 4.
Antiretroviral treatment in became available in Afghanistan in April The first cohort of methadone treatment started in Azizi was in that cohort, and says harm reduction changed his life. Now he has a wife and five-year-old son, and works as a peer educator in Kabul, a job that he loves.
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As harm reduction advocate, he can now educate others on the importance of clean needles. But the stigma he has faced even from health professionals sheds a harsh light on the obstacles to harm reduction in this country. Raheem Rejaey was also in that first cohort of methadone treatment — a pilot project for 71 patients facilitated by Medicine du Monde, or MdM. I n fact, he was the very first participant. He now represents civil society on the CCM.
In he founded Bridge Better Hope Health Organization , a national non-governmental organization registered with the Ministry of Economy. Launched initially as a volunteer-based program in Kabul, Bridge received its first international grant in to train a cohort of peer educators, including Azizi, in first aid care, human rights support and how to help Afghan drug users access harm reduction.
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After communications with Global Fund leadership, apologies were issued in private and both Rejaey and Azizi were invited back this year to attend meetings. The two doctors involved were removed from the oversight committee. But change has been slow. Previously, naxolone was not available to Bridge, and the NGOs that did have access did not conduct outreach visits to people using in homeless encampments. They wore badges and were occasionally assigned minding duties, keeping order and so on. Still, we talked about candidates as if it mattered. That one is suddenly friendly.
Perhaps to give us a taste of future participation in democracy, the secrecy of the ballot was maintained. The year I was up for class rep, my heart went boom boom boom once counting began. Surely it is better to declare that even you have no faith in yourself, if nobody else does?
But I got my badge after all. They wanted us to pass exams, pick up a bit of culture or sports. Suspicious as they were of politics, the middle and upper classes have a horror of collective action. It was our pop culture too. Movies in the s and s showed aggressive students forcing others to boycott classes, preventing teachers from teaching, threatening violence.
Some stories were rooted in reality. News reports informed us about vice-chancellors needing guns to ward off mobs. A depoliticised campus was the safest bet. Yet, it was in a thoroughly depoliticised environment that I had my first brush with collective action.
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Then, one Sunday, a discreet meeting was held. A bunch of girls wanted to do something about the quality of the food, the way it was served someone was insulted when she went back for second helpings. Perhaps there were other grievances, though none were mine. The chosen method of protest was skipping a meal. In the corridor outside the mess, we sat on the floor in a neat row, each girl doing something appropriate: reading, sewing, embroidering.
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The warden walked past, asked what was up. We said nothing. I have no clear memory of how we dispersed. Perhaps the warden asked us to go back to our rooms and we did.
Later we were summoned and asked to explain that little piece of drama. I remember quailing under the unfamiliar glare of disapproval: You too, Annie? But that one hour — sitting there, refusing to eat, quietly reading a book — achieved something. It introduced me to a tool called non-cooperation.
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I was reluctant to upload photos initially. Why put my face out there for strangers to look at? I still struggled to talk to people who wore their political affiliations on their sleeves. But a lot had changed between me being an undergraduate at a safe campus in and being a reporter at a news magazine in The protest was against the Dow Chemical Company, the American corporation that had not taken full responsibility for the toxic gas leak in Bhopal.
Hundreds of thousands were sick and over16, died as a result of the leak. Warren Anderson, the American who headed Union Carbide, the international corporation that controlled the Indian subsidiary Union Carbide India Limited , never saw the inside of an Indian jail. This was the twentieth anniversary protest, and it took me less than five minutes to stop watching and join in. One of the activists held a placard that said: Dow, take your shit back. Union Carbide sold its stake and was eventually acquired by Dow Chemical Company in Conveniently, Dow acquired the business but not its toxic tail.
There remained hundreds of tonnes of hazardous waste in Bhopal. People were struggling with disability. Babies were still being born with birth defects. The 20th anniversary was followed by the 25th, then the 30th. Dow never felt compelled to take its shit back.
In , some students of Jawaharlal Nehru University were protesting the execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri accused of conspiring towards the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. The protest was organised by left-leaning students. Soon the event snowballed into a national debate.
Journalists were either provided doctored videos or certain newsrooms doctored videos in a manner that presented leftist student leaders as anti-India.
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The president of the student council, Kanhaiya Kumar, was arrested for sedition. Warrants were issued against five others. After her network was betrayed by a particularly loathsome traitor, a priest who gave anti-Nazi sermons in order to ingratiate himself with the Resistance before selling their details to the Germans for large payments, Hall eventually had to flee across the Pyrenees — an agonising experience for a woman with a prosthetic leg.
Undaunted, she insisted on returning to the field. Eventually she was given the opportunity to properly organise a serious fighting force. Her intelligence work played an important role in enabling the Allies to advance after D-Day. And in doing so, she paints a rounded portrait of a complicated, resourceful, determined and above all brave woman. Her clients included many German officers, providing Germaine and her girls with opportunities for both spying and sabotage. While Purnell pays rightful homage to the deeply moving bravery of Hall and her comrades, she is at pains not to romanticise their often murky, gruelling world.
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