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India’s Relations With Its Neighbours: Conundrums To Contend With

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By Anjora Sarangi:

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” a phrase, even more pertinent when it comes to a nation’s relationship with its neighbours. To have an inimical neighbourhood is to be in constant fear of tension and conflict. It means suspension of important activities and diversion of economic military and political forces towards the resolution of disputes. Such tensions not only remain localised and regional, but have international repercussions as well which can be disastrous for the nation’s foreign policy. Therefore, for most countries, the management of political relations with its neighbours becomes of utmost importance.

India as a geographical entity has a unique disposition. The region houses nations with varied characters in terms of their size, resources and strength which are juxtaposed with each other. These nations include China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

India has had a long and troubled history with Pakistan and it remains so, even today. The Kashmir question is at the heart of animosity. Pakistan exports terrorism to India which has been a huge roadblock, the recent example being the Mumbai blasts in 2008. There is great instability, political volatility and internal violence in the nation. Economic cooperation between the neighbours is minimum; disputes exist over illegal immigration, human trafficking and trading routes. Nevertheless, large scale hostilities have mostly been avoided since 1971 and the current nuclear capability of the two nations has almost ruled out an all-out war.

Though there is booming trade between India and China, there is also a lingering mistrust. China’s increasingly assertive rise has challenged India’s own regional dominance. China has been seen to continuously counterbalance India by lending military and political support to Pakistan. Though the Indo-China border war of 1962, security dilemma, economic and political rivalries have been a major setback, relations have gradually improved after 1988 with a series of high level visits to each other’s capitals.

Indo-Sri Lankan relations have been fluctuating through the years. India’s intervention in the Lankan Civil War for peacekeeping efforts through the IPKF (Indian Peace keeping Force) in1987 proved to be costly when it culminated in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE prompting India to adopt a non-interventionist role in the nation. Now focus has shifted to economic cooperation. Though the internal civil war in Sri Lanka seems to have abated, events have led it to move a stride closer to China, Pakistan and Israel for military and political support.

The troubled state of Afghanistan shares a congenial relationship with India as on today. Though relations had weakened during the Afghan Civil Wars and rule by Taliban in the 1990s, the Indian government’s efforts in assisting the overthrow of Taliban and providing humanitarian and reconstruction aid has paved a way for renewed friendly ties.

India had signed separate Treaties of Friendship with both Bhutan and Nepal emphasising non-interference in one another’s internal affairs, but unlike with Bhutan, Indo-Nepalese relations have been fraught with difficulties. Today, Bhutan enjoys preferential aid, transit facilities, benefits and generous aid from India. Nepal, however, often feels economically disempowered. India has intervened in the political process of Nepal on several occasions. Maoist politics has been a vital bone of contention. Nepal often complains about Indian nosiness.

India was instrumental in the Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan in 1971. However, the two countries do not share very cordial relations. Among the major issues of conflicts are of border management, problems of water sharing, trade, illegal migration and terrorism.

India was one of the largest supporters of Burmese Independence and Indo-Burmese relations were strong after 1948 until the overthrow of the democratic government by the military. In the recent years India has renewed ties due to geopolitical concerns and is snuggling up to the military junta. India and Maldives share amiable, close and multidimensional relations. India was among the 1st to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965.

It can be seen that unlike the US, India is not a convincing hegemonic force in its region. The most amicable relationship of India is with the two smallest nations of Bhutan and Maldives. No big country is liked by its neighbours and though most countries are dwarfed by India’s size, population, economic strength, they are reluctant to bow down to Indian predominance. India’s efforts in SAARC are feeble. India’s policy in South Asia has improved in tone and quality in the past few years. This is the neighbourhood conundrum that the nation must address in fighting this uphill battle to become a global power.

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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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