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Can We Afford Another Unquestionable Mahatma?

More from Sukant Khurana

By Dr. Sukant Khurana:

Most people are predisposed to consuming news, views and analysis that fits their own world-view. To save you the effort of reading a critique of Anna and then being disappointed that it was not from the perspective of saying he is on the wrong side, I will state upfront that I stand strongly with the anticorruption drive. In fact, I am for expanding the revolution to a progressive holistic drive with bigger goals of sustainable development and socioeconomic level playing field for everyone in the country. This is a criticism of the unquestioning wide-eyed support and personality cult resulting in both deification and vilification of heroes instead of the focus being on policies. An unquestioning support during our independence struggle to those who made money on the name of the saint of Sabarmati or those who came to power by stoking religious fervor, gave us broken, fractured and chaotic countries instead of a possible modern, secular, progressive and united Indic region. I do not wish to see a repeat of our past mistakes of having too much reverence and faith in leaders. The personality cult of leaders, Gandhi, Jinnah and others at the time of independence and now of Anna or Nehru-Gandhi royalty is a manifestation of an infantile weak spot of our culture. Just as Gandhi played an important role in the fight against British, so have Anna and his team, in what is essentially a revolution of our generation but if we put blind faith in anyone, instead of harbingering a real change in Indian life, we could be cheering for exit of one corrupt politician in New Delhi, only to make way for another. If we let political opportunists ride people’s genuine discontentment against corruption, then only the masks in Delhi would change but not the corrupt culture. The goal for a common man is not to replace a crook that comes with a label of UPA, with another crook having a label of NDA or communist or regional party but a genuine transformation of the system.

Personality cult and following should not be confused with a questioning admiration of leaders and their veiws. Let me make it clear too that I admire Anna as a person and more importantly the movement he symbolizes on many but not all the issues. I do not want to make a great hero into a scapegoat just as I would not see him made into a sacred cow. I am also not interested in driving the catalyst of this anticorruption campaign into ditch by promoting questioning of personal conduct and beliefs too much. Beliefs and personal conducts of leaders are important but vastly less than the policies they guide, hence my admiration and criticism is mainly about the policies of the team Anna. Just as we question the direction of anticorruption movement, it is far more important to question a government that has been arrogant, incompetent, unjust, corrupt and dictatorial. In the same breath of questioning Anna, we also need to ask ourselves if we should buy into the demonization of Anna, the person, as well as the phenomenon. This demonization of Anna by the bulldogs of Congress would not have been much different by any other party in power. Support and opposition to this bill is based on shear political equations and not because of principles. So my criticism is of the whole opportunistic political class in general and not specifically of the chamchas yes men of Sonia memsahib and Yuvraj Rahul, the heir apparent. We need heroes to be the Sutradhars between chapters of history (those who connect one episode of the play to another, providing continuity and transition) but not be the Margdarshaks (spiritual guides). We all need to be our own margadarshaks for a vibrant democracy. Heroes are required as catalysts of struggles but they should never be made bigger than issues. We need our Irom Sharmilas, Medha Patkars and Anna Hazares to lead in fights to make a better India. We need to stand by our heroes when they make sense and we need to pack them home when they don’t. The dangers of personality cult, irrespective of the current portrayal in popular history, of Gandhi, Nehru, Subhas, Patel, Jinnah, Hitler, Roosevelt, Mandela, Stalin, Mao and Churchill etcetera are all too evident to me at least, to do the mistake of putting anyone above questioning.

While I was very active in my humble internet activism ways in recruiting people for the campaign, I never said that “I am Anna”, wore his cap or will ever do such a thing but I never miss any opportunity to land a right hook or a straight jab at the corrupt political class within the confines of currently popular and pragmatic ahimsa sentiment. I was not yelling in unison along with the drunk on patriotism crowd that was at times (not always) rather poorly informed, unquestioning and wide-eyed, looking for a miracle cure to corruption. Yet, despite my serious differences, I was not throwing the kitchen sink at Anna when the political class had let its hounds free to tarnish his image. My resurgent support and criticism comes at this crucial juncture now when we need to unite again for a next big round of fight with the ruling elite so that we can have a better-informed campaign. This opinion piece in essence is an appeal to have an independent and critical thinking. I believe such an approach would increase participation in social campaigns, including the ongoing anticorruption struggle rather that decrease ones enthusiasm. I believe this questioning would help us to steer this campaign away from becoming a tool of selfish politicians back to the original intent of being a vehicle of people’s voice. This questioning would also make us realize that lokpall (citizens’ ombudsman bill), if successfully implemented, can only take out some corruption but not the whole of it. It is not a panacea but just a step in the right direction. Questioning will lead us to desire a bigger cultural and educational shift, judicial reform, executive reform, and checks on corruption-infested media, armed forces and corporate houses, while in parallel laying foundations for construction of an alternative system based on evidence and not ideology. This questioning spirit will also dissuade genuinely and justifiably angry people from supporting reactionary ideologies that advocate overthrowing a rotten system without presenting viable better alternatives.

During this campaign I was also not sure if the Bharat Mata that was being invoked every time by my neighboring shopkeeper, few of my corrupt-to-core relatives, a poor rickshaw wallah, an idealist retired teacher, poor homeless kids, a hideously corrupt local MLA, a military widow of a shaheed sipahi, all those were the same Bharat Matas. I am not sure whether my Bharat Mata would even be able to stand the reeking presence of Bharat Matas of one my corrupt relatives, policemen, the local MLA, the kind of criminals whose day starts with corruption laden ritual of bribing a some God with a ‘chadhawa’ (bribe), with a hope that in their whole day they can in return get enough chadhawa from lesser mortals than themselves. I am in the struggle not because of emotional appeal on the name of mother India but because I see hope in eyes of people for whom this fight is not just a vain vent to their middle class anger but a fight for a better tomorrow. I see with such an involvement, a chance for our nation to reach its full potential. No, I am not completely immune to sentimentality myself, though I prefer not to leave my objectivity glasses at home. I fell in tragic love with the sentiment too, when as a bystander, I heard in a solidarity march that erupted spontaneously, poor street kids and some handicapped old women sing Vande Matram. For all my cold-blooded intellectual analysis, it was difficult for me to stop my tears from trickling. It was impossible not to feel overwhelmed with joy to see such hope and I could also not stay untouched by a deep sense of sorrow and shame to see that the banner of hope is held high by the ones with the most hopeless predicament. How much I wanted to tell them that it would not be all right for them even after an effective lokpall bill is enacted, that it will take a bigger transformation but I could not be heartless enough to break their transient hope bubble.

On the other hand, at times, I found the crowd quite unbearable, especially when I saw someone with enough gold on them, guaranteed from black money, to feed at least hundred people for a month. One could find both a well-fed fat man and a skeleton of a human marching together with fist up against the dysfunctional and non-representative but supposedly elected government, with slogans of “inqalaab zindabad” (long live revolution). This imagery reminded compatriots involved in the anticorruption campaign of the struggle of Chadrashekhar Azaad, Gandhi and Bose while the same imagery was portrayed by the government sympathizers as similar to one during the rise of the Third Reich. Undoubtedly this push towards increased transparency and democracy is an ongoing revolution of our generation, with Anna’s galvanization of public outpour a chapter worth writing with golden letters but is there a genuine parallel with the Fascist and the Nazi rise? Yes for sure, in terms of imagery, but not because that is the overwhelming character of the anticorruption revolution at least up till now but because all revolutions whether good or hideous in consequence, are all born of social crises and these occasions give hope to the needy and are grossly capitalized by the greedy. So the fat cat who wants bigger profit than what he can get from the current system will also march with the skeleton of a human- who has nothing but a hope to live on, only chains to free from. It is for a vibrant democracy to make sure that the outcomes of such social upheaval are good and not disastrous. Whenever people stop questioning their leaders, revolutions start to rot and produce fat cat politicians. Were participants bending and breaking the constitution? Absolutely and unapologetically yes, just as Gandhi was during his salt march. In fact the break from constitution was a lot less radical than the actions of our heroes of yesteryears like Batukeshwar Dutt and Bhagat Singh who had to make noise loud enough to make the deaf hear. Were they democratic? Yes and no, it depends on the aspects and consequences of this campaign. Let us talk about it in a little bit after we have looked at whose campaign it is, as of today.

For a complete understanding of what precipitated this mass movement, we need to look back at the oppression and failure of the conglomerate of the political, bureaucratic and ruling corporate class over these years, along with the various short and long-lived violent and non-violent responses to the shortcomings of this constantly evolving Indian story. We need to look at the sources, the catalysts and the vehicles of mass struggles including the different colors of this Anna carnival, as it is proceeding under the full media glare of 24-7 television. A look at faces of people involved, can tell you who started the fire and who provides the fuel. This struggle in the beginning of its first round, acted as a safety valve for the middle class anger, releasing the pressure and hence preventing an Arab Spring like uprising. By the end of the first round, the idea reached out to almost all sections of our society. The message now resonates with street hawkers and rickshaw pullers who have to pay the policemen a bribe to do their business, it resonates with farmers suffering from local and state corruption and it resonates with youth who have to frequently pay bribes to get decent education and jobs. Now looking at the faces of this campaign one sees politicians on stage trying to cash in, when the fruit of public discontentment is ripe for harvest. One has already seen the drama of Advani’s anti corruption yatra where press reporters were given envelopes with cash so they cover his anticorruption drive and how Modi spent money from state budget on his anticorruption fast while refusing to accept a lokayukta to enquire 17 serious charges of multimillion embezzlement and corruption against himself. Who can forget Yedurappa of Karnata in cahoots of mining mafia either? Does one have to travel much deep into UP to see the corrupt fangs of Maya madam? I think just a trip to Noida can be enough. It is not just Lalu but almost everyone who ends up eating chara. Only in India can an uneducated coolie rise to be a multibillionaire, no, not through innovation or entrepreneurship, certainly not through hard physical labor but by whoring out the state resources in position of a chief minister to the mining mafia. The corruption of politicians does not fail to leave a mark even on national defense, whether it is purchase of guns like Bofors or coffins for our martyrs. Corruption and incompetence does not come with the slap of congress alone, it comes in form of trident of RSS up an aam admi’s rear and it also comes in the form of a hammer and sickele of CPM. Some abhineta may apologize to the neta log for the fear of consequences of telling that the king is naked but does an aam admi have any doubt of how someone’s fortunes change when they get elected or marry someone in power, say a rise from a small time scrap dealer to a billionaire for marrying into royal political dynasty? While the middle class started this fire, the whole Indian population continues to provide the fuel and now the political vultures are already eyeing the carcass of the current government, getting ready for a cannibalistic orgy of sorts.

The protest to this point has been mostly about reforming the current economic road that India has taken, with even the central architects of this campaign not thinking in terms of bigger socioeconomic structures responsible for corruption and bigger issue of underdevelopment, ecological rape, socioeconomic inequity and ethnic strife. The movement at present does not have any realistic ideas of dealing with the pillage of globalization, either of changing the course or of staying on course but making modifications to maximize the benefits for a common man while minimizing the losses. In some senses, this campaign is not that different than our freedom struggle in the very beginning of 20th century where ideas, ideologies and plans for long term combat are still in utero but what is clear is the dire need of reduced corruption. What is a common unifier for people with very different views of India, ideologies and objectives, is currently a common enemy and this time it is the Bhura sahibs sitting tight on kursi instead of the Gora sahibs. It is also not that different than our freedom struggle in the sense that literate and well to do sections first took fancy to the idea but the movement really took its wings with a mass appeal galvanized by Anna. It is also not that different in character from our Independence struggle that the butchers, both in power and opposition, with shear personal ambitions are already sharpening their knives in anticipation of the innocent lamb of Indian aspirations to become fat enough for slaughter.

Let us return to the question of the democratic impact and long run imprint of this campaign. This movement marked for the first time in the history of independent India a successful bending down of representative democracy for the sake of a participatory democracy. It may sound all good and definitely has great positive potential that attracted me to it but it is a gamble with the future, a real tryst with our destiny, unlike a mere transition in the skin color of the rulers of India. The reason it is a great gamble is that with over 1.2 billion people in India, in its current form, it is impossible to have a participatory democracy for all issues or on regular basis. If people need to stop their work and fight against the system for making changes every time, we will eventually descend into anarchy. Can better ways be evolved with technology to have more participation? The use of technology for better participation is certainly possible but I will keep that analysis for some other place. There is a big question in minds of many that if unelected people can speak on behalf of majority of the country. At this moment that is not the biggest concern, at least to me, as most of India stands behind this anticorruption drive. That does not mean that such questions could not be a valid at other times but as of today there are other more valid concerns on the lines of chaos of participatory democracy. Let us evaluate these concerns in some detail.

What happened to the voice of voiceless? What happens to questions that matter to a small group but not everyone: questions like AFSPA that affect Indians in Kashmir and North-East? What happens to rape and harassment of poor villagers by the men in uniform, done to advance interests of the mining mafia and other business interests in collusion with politicians on the pretext of containing naxalites? What happens to people displaced due to so-called developmental projects of national importance, some agreeably real projects with positive impact, while others farcical schemes designed for land grab? Who will come to protest in the capital for this silent scattered voiceless humanity? Will these not so catchy and primetime-worthy protests in the far-flung regions of interior India matter to the media and hence to the public of India in general?

Can this way of Indian politic result in a hooligan culture? Is India strictly a country where one with bigger voice due to majority or vocal minority, ends up having their say? Are we forgetting the fear of a majority dictatorship, some real threat due to intolerant and bigoted actions of Hindu right wing at that time and some due to fictional concerns of a Hindu raj stoked by the selfish separatist leaders to create our militarily strong yet culturally and economically stillborn sibling of Pakistan? If resolution of issues will depend on a show of strength in few metropolitans, will this way of political life become a means of suppressing minority viewpoints? Aren’t we are all minorities on some issue? Only conformists with no brain of their own, seek comfort in being part of a sizable group to feel they are on the right side. Any freethinker is bound to be a minority at more than one occasion. Will the Indian story, a sublime and subtle failure in many dimensions but also one with great accomplishment of having some semblance of a democracy be thrown to dogs, with such a change in political culture? There were traces of fascist tendencies in crowd with youngsters of clearly affluent family having a picnic, yelling vande matram without understanding the meaning of it. Near zero understanding of problems facing India in some of the blind hero worshipping followers of this campaign, beyond empty sloganeering at high decibels could make anyone afraid of this crowd’s destructive potential. For some of the upper-middle privileged class, in the gym I went to while staying in Delhi, the protests were just cool, a place for socialization and meeting other single people. While this hooligan and picnic culture has been a lopsided picture portrayed by the pro government critiques, this aspect is almost completely ignored by those razzled-dazzled by Anna mania. This picture is undeniably true to a small extent but it is only one small dimension of the participation. This image ignores a significant informed activist section and an overwhelming majority that was seeking to be increasingly more informed. Anna’s team has not failed to inform people but when information has to come from the mouth of campaign alone, instead of proactive information gathering by the public from multiple sources, it can hardly be called an overwhelming success of informed democracy. If we are going to enter a much-needed era of increased participatory democracy, our struggle needs to meet the challenge of finding better mechanisms to counter and discourage hooligan culture soon.

Is majority always right? Most villagers in villages with honor killings done due to the rotten taboo of inter-cast relationships of Hinduism agree with their Panchayats. Has one forgotten the story of a poor Muslim woman ordered by Islamist panchayat of her village to marry her father in law who raped her? Are we not aware of sectarian feudal stone aged judgments anchored in stupid religious and cultural bigotry of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism alike that is passed by local majority in many regions of India on an everyday basis? Are dumb people in street more dangerous than their voices filtered through structures of so called democratic apparatus? This mass movement if gone awry can set a precedence for people to go against the constitutional framework that provides options of standing against popular sentiments to preserve modernity. No, I am not saying that the dysfunctional and corrupt judiciary often has any guts or conscience to stand up for the best national interests but there are few examples where progressive decisions have been made despite largely unpopular sentiments. Let me also make it clear the flip side of the coin, an argument for an elitist approach that some people have more wisdom than others is an equal recipe for dictatorship. The solution lies in balancing the two forces. Current constitutional fix of balancing safeguards and popular vote is not an optimal one but it is better than nothing. We soon need to find novel solutions to protect from the dangers of herd dictatorship without stifling the immense productive and transformational potential of participatory democracy.

While these questions remain in my mind and so does my support and criticism of the movement but I believe staying on the sidelines will not result in a better future for our country. I urge you to hop on this wagon of struggle. The journey is not going to be easy but it will be worthwhile. Express your views and question everything if you want to shape this revolution. We already had one Mahatma; one too many. We frankly cannot afford another one. We need more questionable and life like heroes like Gandhi (not Mahatma), Maulana Azaad, Ghaffar Khan, Bose, Ashfaqulla Khan, Bhagat Singh of yesteryears and leaders of today who hold no ambition of a political position like Irom Sharmila, Medha Patkar and Anna Hazare but most importantly we need politically active, everyday common man, woman and child to fight for India. With a questioning and healthy irreverent spirit, my dear compatriots may long live our revolution – Inqalaab Zindabad!

Dr. Sukant Khurana is a New York based scientist and author of Indian origin. He is also a columnist for Youth Ki Awaaz. Some of his social commentary can be read at: https://sites.google.com/site/sukantkhurana2/

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  1. Shiva Doshi

    This is simply the most objective commentary on Indian political life I have read in ages. Absolutely spot on!

  2. praveen

    I agree with Shiva ,Yep spot on — Filled with Questions which needs to be asked.

  3. Harinder

    awesome! Nice to hear real youth ki awaaz. Great insight into how we can change instead of expecting leaders to help in that. It is very important for the citizens to be well informed about the intricacies of the policy change protocols instead of just believing in leaders to change them for us.

  4. sami qureshi

    I shall go through it and certainly comment. I ‘ve saved it. Thanks.

  5. Narendra

    You are very right. I had expressed the very same in a write up titled icons of the Indian middle class on http://www.nirmkta.com about six months back when he was just about to launch his Delhi tamasha. We do need a movement against corruption but should it be in this form is the question!

  6. JaY

    We beg to differ with the author. This is an Awakening movement and not an Individual’s movement. The Successof the movmetn should be judged ny charecteristics like (a) did it succeed in awakening a nation (b) non-violent (c) democratic means (d) how far did it go with the goal. It should not be judged with whether the jewellered rich or the hungry poor supported it adn the whimsical fancies of the supporters. A movement or Leadr will have a wide range of supporters. For instance Gandhiji had rich and poor supporting him. The physically present mass in the maidan is lesser than the virtually present millons that support by heart or internet or in daily life by practising anti-corruption. The author probably watche don a comfortable lounge the televisions and has writien based on who the supporters at Maidan were. The actual intensity of the movemtn, which still lies in corner of a commonman’s heart, waiting to exhibit and burst is the success of this movement. From admin of ”I was alive during ANNA’s movement’ FB page.

  7. Sukant Khurana

    Dear Jay,
    Please read the article again. It stately amply clearly what you just said but it also warns against the dangers of it becoming centered around leaders. It is a call for informed democracy and for a support to Anna’s movement, just not from near sighted and hero worshipping perspective. I would love to hear genuine disagreements. It is very likely you will end up informing me about facets that I have overlooked. So please read it again and either post at the forum or email me about your differences. By the way, I was alive and recruiting support for anti-corruption campaign during the movement too.

  8. Purushottam Das Mishra

    This is an eye opening article. It strengthens my support to Anna but also makes me ask more questions. I love the historical perspective. What is the use of history if we do not learn from it? This article forces us to think about not repeating mistakes of Indian freedom struggle. We need more intellectuals like this author. Thank you for this work Dr. Khurana.

  9. Ravil Aravil

    I this is a great read for secular, modern and forward looking people who want a corruption free country. Good warning so that this struggle does not fall in hands of RSS.

  10. Yogesh Kumar

    The article is well written..but the truth is not what you read. When Anna started this movement every newspaper, magazines and most most websites was writing in favor of Anna but now in the time of election and some little mistakes by Anna is leading some conflicts about Anna. Newspapers, magazines and websites writes what people want to read..it doesn’t mean what they write is correct or true…it is up to you how you interpret it. ………………………………………………………………………….Voice tone and body language of Rahul clearly show that he clearly lying and all he want is prime minister ship and respect with money…He never clearly showed his plans or any other information about why he can be good for our country. Contradicting or blaming other parties doesn’t mean that he is good for our country… The decisions of Anna can never be influenced by other supporting members. I say Anna should never campaign against any individual or party because people usually forget what someone did but blame for what he is doing today…Just like people start dirty commenting when Indian team loose match, they forget that they also win a lot of matches..Media and online communication plays a vital role in what people believe and see.. and media is not supporting Anna that is it…And one more fact is that some people are paid heavily for writing and speaking in favor of someone…so you can guess who is in position to pay…I wrote same on a Facebook comment..

  11. Sukant Khurana

    Yogesh, I think you have made a great point about paid and corrupt media. That is why it is important for citizens to spare some time for their country and voice their input. Congress is clearly at the highest epitome of corruption. We just need to be smart in not replacing one crook with another but think of ra evolutionary, informed, pragmatic and complete change in the whole system. More focus is clearly needed on the conduct of this government. We also need a honest self evaluation. Governments at times reflect the culture of people they represent. If we are corrupt but we just want our neighbor to be honest then no lokpall is going to fix the problem. It is a shame that journalists with incriminating evidence of corruption keep working with virtual impunity and loss of audience. Bigger force than the direct corruption, is power of advertizement money. What if the government decides to force private sector (quite easy task in the current model of economy) to not advertize with a news show or a newspaper? Have you noticed that some of the fire brand journalists have recently toned down their criticism of Yuvraj Rahul? I must mention a drunk confession of a senior bureaucrat in home ministry at a party right before I was again returning to US, where the chap was talking of using this strategy to take the edge of Arnab Goswami. I no longer watch Arnab’s show from US, so I do not know whether such strategy conducted atthe behest of 10 Janpath was implemented and if implemented whether it worked or not. Journalism, like judiciary, executive and legislature will rot when people start putting too much unquestioning faith in these structures.

  12. Aishvarya

    Well,i agree with what you wrote .Yes,we should not give the god status to our leaders because they are NOT gods,and we cannot afford majority of our population to follow whatever the so called “god” states,because they are humans and may not always be correct.But,this is not to say that we do not need leaders ,because leaders bevome a central unifying,binding frce,a central point for the population to rally about.Leadership which is devoid of hero-worshipping and allows for free thought and ideas instead of blinding theminds of people is rewarding for the country as a whole,because in the long run , it is the cause that matters and not the leader. Also there have been many cases in histry,ehere the masses were blinded into believing their leaders,and ended in devastating results,the holocaust being one of them……….

  13. Yogesh Kumar

    My writing skills stands nowhere around you..but you are right. The problem here is not about that people are not educated the problem is that..people don’t educate for the sake of knowledge or betterment of country but for money..I’m sure that no bill no matter what its name is can alter how people think. But this kind of issues usually attract the attention of most people because it is entertaining. That is what people want, and if there is something that is beneficial then why not… I super liked( “What if the government decides to force private sector (quite easy task in the current model of economy) to not advertize with a news show or a newspaper?” ).. I believe democracy in India is not democracy, if democracy is removed from the system then I’m sure billions of rupees can be saved(because more money is spend in promotion and campaign of parties and in race to win election than in development) that can be used to stimulate the economy. Like maintaining the USD/INR value just like value of swiss franc has certain limits due to SNB announcement. One more reason of political problem is that most people are not educated and don’t have access to real information.

  14. vbramanamurthy

    hi from hyderabad

  15. Deepak Agarwal

    First of all Gandhi was not a great person but hyped by the media (by Nehru dynasty to keep making fool of people and it is as simple as that getting the freedom ‘bina khadak bina dhaal’ which in itself insult the patriots those gave their lives). Second, ask yourself, we all wanted someone to come forward and stand for us and that person is Anna Hazare today. It’s not him but us who is leading the movement. So, I would rather suggest that stop playing divideNrule game and help India to reach its pinnacle.
    Your title itself is misleading.
    Thank You.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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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