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“Stand Up” for Democracy

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Sampa Kundu:

What affects my neighbor today is bound to affect my own future…

From the year 1962 our neighbors have been suffering and, yet, we remain reluctant. We, the so-called advocates of ‘democracy’, are not at all worried about our neighbors – Burma or present day Myanmar.

The government of India may have its own policy of not wanting to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country. But the civil society can do a lot. In 2006, 432 leading intellectuals and public figures of Bangladesh signed a memorandum demanding the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (the pro-democratic leader of Myanmar). Similar actions from every corner of the world must be taken up to campaign for restoration of democracy in Myanmar.

In 1962, Ne Win seized power through a military coup in Burma and declared himself as the Head of the State. In 1988, another coup took place in the country and a more rigid military regime came into power in the name of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1997, SLORC was restructured as State Peace and Development Board (SPDC). Throughout this long period of time, all the democratic rights of the citizens have been restricted and the major pro-democratic opposition party, namely National League for Democracy (NLD), has been absolutely pulled down. In 1990, an election was held in the country and NLD won with maximum majority under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But, the military junta did not accept the election result and secured their own regime. Besides that, they put most of the democratic leaders including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi either under house arrest or in jail so that no opposition to their rule could be made.

India was initially in favor of the democratic movements in Myanmar. It didn’t even take a harsh step against Soe Myint , a Burmese student, who hijacked a flight on its way to Kolkata from Thailand as a protest against the anti-democratic situation in his own country. Many anti-junta actions taken by the Burmese students and refugees were encouraged by the government of India. But India changed its policy very swiftly. As a part of its Look East Policy, India started to view Myanmar from a different angle. Now, India needs to have a stable friend in its east which will work as a link between India and Southeast Asia. So, India adopted the policy of ‘engagement’ i.e. building a good relationship with Myanmar irrespective of whatever government it has within its territory and not to interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar. India’s objective was to make the ruling military junta happy with its own government.

As far as foreign policy is concerned, one can argue that the stance of India is just and right. But, the civil society has the liberty to support the fight for democracy. After 20 years, Myanmar is going to have an election in 2010. But SPDC has declared that no political prisoner would be allowed to stand in the election. It implies that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and many of her party leaders would not be able to fight the election. Such an election would again bring the country under the mercy of the military.

We should not forget that what affects my neighbor today is bound to affect my own future. The political instability and other related problems including poverty, unemployment, corruption, trafficking of women and children, smuggling etc.which are prevalent in Myanmar will also have a deep and adverse impact on India’s future. In fact, the game has already started. The northeastern region of India has been suffering from this same syndrome for a long time now and the Myanmar connection to it can not be ignored.

So the time has come to react and to act for democracy simultaneously.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

You must be to comment.
  1. Alok Bansal

    I always thought that my government is a pro-democratic one and wasn’t aware of the fact that Indian government close her eye on the problem of our own neighbour. I thank Sampa Kundu to make me aware of this fact. I will love to start signing petition through facebook and other medium in order to gain some support.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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