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Here’s Why Electoral Reforms Are A Must

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By Ankit Jain:

The so-called 2nd war of Indian Independence has seen much unveiling and revealing, yet continues to stay in the headlines. Starting with the India against Corruption movement to advocating the Jan Lokpal Bill, this fight had taken Land Bill Reforms and now the Electoral System Reform under itself. Here is an analysis of our present electoral system, and why the reform is much needed.

150 MPs out of the 541 elected MPs in the 2009 general elections have criminal records (past or present; cases undergoing hearings in different courts), 72 of which have been charged of serious crimes including murder, rape, etc. The breakup involves members from all parties in almost the same proportion as the number of seats of that party. Thus, it shows that this trend spreads across all states, and in all political parties. Then why do we elect them? The answer to this lies in the fact that more than half the population votes for the party, and not the candidate. Those are the people who have no other option but to select the criminal failing which their business, their family or they themselves would be under threat. So, the problem comes to why political parties field such candidates in the elections? Can’t there be any law to prevent this? Yes, there can be! But how will the bill get passed with 1/3rd of our lawmakers being criminals?

Corruption is a word that has blown away the country for the past few months. 4 MPs are in jails, while there are many others who have simply used their powers to avoid jail. Cases in courts are prolonging, public money being wasted on investigations which are compelled to yield decisions in favor of the corrupt. Why is it allowed? Can’t we ask them to resign till they get themselves a clean chit?

Another reason why our electoral system is in jeopardy  is the provision for contesting another election while holding the post of an MP/MLA. The present rules allow a sitting MLA to contest the election for Lok Sabha while still clinging to his MLA seat. In case he gets elected as an MP, he can empty the MLA seat for which there should be re-election within 6 months of the date of resignation. This causes heavy disruption in the governance & development of the constituency. Why should someone be allowed to contest for another seat whilst sitting on one?

Another addition to this is the provision to contest elections from more than 1 constituency simultaneously, the way Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav did in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections (he contested from Saran and Patliputra). He eventually won only from Saran. Had he emerged as the winning candidate in both the constituencies, he would have the option to choose the one constituency which he would like to represent; thus calling for a re-election in the other. Does this system not give political leaders a chance to play with the citizens’ time and money? Why should a candidate be allowed to contest from 2 different places, and later on decide which one he wants?

One provision is that of being made a minister even when a leader is not a sitting MP/MLA. The person, then, has to find himself a seat in the assembly 6 months from the day he takes the oath to the office of minister. This again causes a long series of by-elections which does no good to the people. Recent examples are those of Mr. Arjun Munda and Ms. Mamata Banerjee becoming the Chief Ministers of Jharkhand and West Bengal respectively. Both of them were MPs when they took oath as the CM. They resigned from their respective Lok Sabha seats. Sitting MLAs (one each from both states; obviously from their own political parties) resigned as well so that they could contest from their constituencies. Thus there have been by-elections in 4 different constituencies, 2 of LokSabha and 2 of VidhanSabhas. In Mamata Banerjee’s case, she did not contest for any seat in the State Assembly Elections held in May but fielded her close confidante Subrata Bakshi. If her party won, which it eventually did, Subrata Bakshi would step down to vacate the seat for Mamata Banerjee. A by-election held recently in that constituency ensured that Mamata Banerjee made her place in the State Legislative Assembly and Subrata Bakshi was fielded for the Lok Sabha seat which was emptied by Mamata Banerjee. He won it by a huge margin. However, if Mamata had failed to find herself a seat in the state assembly (the case that happened with previous Jharkhand CM Mr. Shibu Soren), she doesn’t lose her MP seat, because it is the state assembly by-election which happens first and then the Lok Sabha by-election. Why should this merry-go-round be allowed when it causes such situations as the assembly seat lying vacant for 6 months and that of other by-elections to arise? The overall losses that the country incurs from these repeated by-polls has been discussed here.

Thus, it is now up to us if we want a good robust electoral system, or are we happily waiting for yet another by-election.

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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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