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Beginning Of The End For Left Front In West Bengal?

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By Amrita Paul:

“Let (the) Election Commission do whatever it likes, but we are going to win this time also.” -Jyoti Basu.

Such was the conviction of the Left front government after heading the state of West Bengal for a period of 30 years. Formed during the Indo-china war of 1962, the Left Front Government was a culmination of decades of struggles made by students, teachers, refugees, peasants and workers. Born at the time when Congress was hostile towards any political competitions, the new wave of CPI(M) cadets fought for the rights of the general masses without any fear for confrontations of arrest or death. Although it won only 19 seats in the Lok Sabha elections CPI(M) emerged as a winner in the West Bengal state elections. The party stood at crossroads when the naxalbari movement started by the party radicals was violently oppressed by the Government. On gaining power in 1969, Ajoy Mukherjee returned as the minister of state but he resigned after the state was put under the president’s rule. The party again rose to power in 1977, punishing the Congress for its harsh authoritarian treatments and anti democratic actions during the time of emergency. Jyoti Basu became the Chief Minister and held the position till his retirement in the 2000. During these years he had clearly proven that-

“It is man and man alone, who creates history. Despite many crest and thrust people will finally emerge victorious and go in freedom in a classless society free from exploitation of any form.”

With the major responsibility of delivering services to the people, the new government embarked on its journey to provide relief and implement alternate policies in places where the state government had some say. It was initially difficult to make a difference in the existing constitutional set up because the financial sources were in the hands of the centre but once they had started there was no looking back, for the people or for the left front government. They started carrying out extensive land reforms and established Panchayati raj throughout the state. These reforms broke the barriers of landlordism and empowered the peasants and agricultural workers to a great extent. Initiatives were also taken to improve the workplace conditions of factory workers, teachers, and government employees. The youth were motivated and the people started identifying with the government as a fighter for their cause and a custodian of their rights. In spite of being met with a cold shoulder by the Congress run central government industrialization flourished in West Bengal on coping with stagnation caused due to lack of support from the centre. The focus of the state is to concentrate on employment generation and not just on the big companies alone. This further gained impetus after the sixth consecutive victory of the left front when comrade Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya was elected as the chief minister. From education to health services, public toilets to the provision of safe drinking water the state government worked hand in hand with the local bodies for the implementation of such programmes. The West Bengal Minority Development Finance Corporation (WBMFDC) was established in 1996 to provide employment and scholarships for meritorious students among Muslims and today it clearly emerges as one of the best in the country. There is no doubt that the government has to be clearly more concerned about people’s welfare, especially about socio-economic disadvantaged groups but their efforts till date have not got unappreciated or unnoticed.

After creating history for the last three decades it seems that the Left Front has lost its track. The greed and corruption of the party leaders, their indifference to the people’s sufferings and nepotism has led the party to the verge of extinction. At this point of time no effort to amend its previous mistakes would be enough to bring them out of the critical situation. People have died on election days , the hunger rate in West Bengal still remains the highest among all the states. Fourteen out of eighteen districts continue to remain among the poorest districts of the nation as blunder and decadence take a better hold of the party. Deviation from the ideologies that formed the basis of the party, the Left Front rule lost in the panchayat election last to last year only to be meted out with a bigger blow where Trinamool Congress won more than half the seats in the Lok sabha elections. This is clearly the party’s worst performance ever. On analysing the issue further we can ascertain that this is but a role reversal between two major parties. The left front had come to power with the support of the peasant and working classes. Now they are being haunted by similar situations except for the fact that the tables have turned. As far as this year’s elections are concerned Mamata has already won the people over with her “Ma-Mati-Manush” catchphrase. If CPM comes back to power (at all!) they need to try and amend situations like poverty, roads, health, education instead of just en-cashing on the people’s sentiments to build up a state which is anything but what our forefathers had dreamt of. Quoting Abraham Lincoln –“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew”

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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.

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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.

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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