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Into The Theory Of The Great Indian Civil Society

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By Dhruva Mathur:

There has been a debate raging on the Lokpal issue for few months now and every time that the Jan Lokpal is questioned, its supporters start talking about what the civil society is doing against corruption and question the people who have taken a position against theirs. This statement of civil society et al has continued to amaze me for years. Who does the civil society comprise of? Who is allowed in it? What’s the definition of it? Are there societies that are uncivil? If there exist such societies, then how are they surviving when their very existence is frowned upon by the remainder of the people? These are the many questions that have always found an adobe in my mind and however much I try to do, I am unable to shoo them away or to find an answer to them.

Thus some time ago, when I questioned a tweet that asked, what the civil society should do now that the government had sent the Lokpal that it had formulated to the Parliament, I was taken back into that part of my brain which had held this question for years and continues to hold. How is one to come up with an exact definition of the civil society? A fellow twitter user tried to answer that question of mine by tweeting to me that ‘Everybody who works for public interest objectives, not national, not profit, academic, etc’ forms that civil society. I was quite amazed by this answer. For many new questions had arisen in my mind by just looking at that one statement for under a minute and the questions were some that I had never thought needed answers.

One question was, Isn’t public interest also a part of national interest? Another question that surprised me was that then are all the educated businessmen who work for profits and in turn provide employment to people and manufacture goods and services which are provided to millions at affordable rates, generally, part of the uncivil society? And what about the politicians who despite having vested interests at times work for the national well-being? Do they get an entry into this narrow definition of civil society? And what about the people who lack even a very basic education? Are they allowed to be included in this sphere of Civil Society that we have created for ourselves?

What about the people in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and others which have been marked as the world terror hubs? Will they count as being civil? I don’t know for the definition that my friend gave is extremely inadequate to smuggle these people into the boundaries of civil society. What about Anders Breivik, who despite being a product of an advanced and developed society went on to kill over a hundred people in cold blood in Norway a couple of months ago? Will he find a place into civil society? When questioned about this, people tend to label those engaging in activities like Terrorism or killing others as uncivil and criminal. My question to them is, what about the CIA, RAW and other such agencies that at times have to kill people for the greater good? Will one label them as agencies of the Civil Society? Wouldn’t that be hypocrisy?

These questions are difficult to answer but some people define Civil Society as any society that follows a set of rules and regulations. A few questions that I would like to ask are, who makes these laws? And since there are different societies practising their own norms, rules and regulations as such, would one classify a society say for example, a society that is involved in stoning people for say adultery, would one classify them as uncivil? Who gives people the right to make this distinction between societies. Every society has its own culture which allows different practices to be followed. Thus it is not up to an individual to label societies as civil or uncivil.

And even as we talk about culture, I can’t help but mention the culture of cannibalism which as gruesome and as cruel as it may be, it is still practised in some remote regions of the world and quite recently a few serial killers were also caught – who practised it. Thus we may label these individuals as insane but the groups who practised it have been practicing it for generations because that is what their culture is like. Hence would it be right of us to categorise them into a small category?

I personally am of the belief that there are only societies which cannot be further classified into smaller groups for the definition of these smaller groups would need to be absolutely accurate without any room for error for the subject political science of which this is a theory is not an exact science and thus any classification which is exact in nature would oppose the very basic theory of why political science is not regarded as an exact science.

The societies in turn may vary due to the various rules and regulations followed in each of them. However, there is a common link in all of them, for the people in them and not societies themselves can be divided on the basis of different values, fields and areas like professions, religion, level of development etc. Thus, these societies have a certain limit beyond which dividing them would only alter the definition of these various concepts.

Another noteworthy thing while the topic of civil society is being discussed is that though these groups which the people are divided into may be many but they are all inter-linked and at times even overlapping for example a working parent would not only be classified into a category which denotes his/her profession but also in a category which denotes parenthood. Furthermore, the category of parenthood can be further classified into that of mother/father, single parent and even the category of single parent can be further divided into single parent (mothers)/ single parent (fathers). Hence, as stated before, these categories are not absolute in nature and can be divided into as many as possible but within a definition that has some legal acceptance behind it. For example the definition of civil society is not clear like many other concepts in political science but the one issue that differentiates the concept of civil society from all the other concepts is the grey area. This grey area is very big and thus the legality of the definition comes into question. Thus it is no surprise that many political thinkers have refused to accept the concept of civil society.

Thus, the various definitions that are given to each concept in political science needs to have some level of similarity in them and must also discuss a topic that is of common interest. For no concept in political science has only one definition. And if there exists a definition which is absolute in nature then it challenges one of the very basic rules of political science i.e that political science is not an exact science. Hence as for me, I refuse to accept and recognise the concept of civil society due to its vagueness and big pockets of grey areas.

The author is a 17 year old blogger who blogs at An Indian Youngster with a keen interest in politics, economics and Foreign Affairs.

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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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