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Making India the Great Nation that It Is

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By Ashish Kumar:

Abstract: Every opportunity comes with an inherent danger of squandering it. India, buoyed by its humongous young population and sustainable growth rates of economy, is well poised to be baptized the next economic superpower. To tap the potential of our young population they need to be trained in a diverse set of skills so that they can contribute to improve the manufacturing and service sector. Lucrative incentive to lure these young brains to do cutting-edge research is another need of the hour. A network of high-quality schools, colleges and training centres is needed, which can be addressed by devising strategies to convince the Private sector to invest in education. Also, in order to ensure that the problems of the future India are addressed, the involvement and participation of youth in politics and bureaucracy can be a panacea to the chronic disease of corruption.

In the process of development, what usually get left out are the villages — which are still the places where the bulk of India resides, whose main sustenance is agriculture. And in order to improve their socio-economic conditions, better infrastructure for agriculture like irrigation, cold-storage and transportation logistics is required. Equally important is good governance in Panchayats, which would ensure a vibrant democracy. The e-governance and computerization of public-offices is a must. And, in order for growth to be sustainable, green and alternative sources of energy must be explored. The law of the land should be made tenable to entrepreneurs of any scale or field — an environment to foster new ideas and innovations must be maintained.

India is diverse in its culture and people. So are its problems. Thus, a multi-pronged approach is needed to create a healthy, vibrant nation of India. My vision for a vibrant would encompass the following:

Demographic dividend and tapping it: India, with its majorly young population stands out as an energetic, juvenile, fresh-faced nation in a greying world. When globally more people than ever are retiring, India, with an average age of 29 years is the future talent pool of the world. To harness the demographic dividend, the advantage that comes due to a relatively-young population, these young people must be properly educated and trained. We need to create world-class professionals not only in field of IT but also in Biotechnology, Defence, Sports, Public-policy and Economics. This requires unveiling of Kafkaesque proportions of new colleges and vocational-training centres. The corporate giants can be roped in to sponsor this infrastructure by assuring them of quality workforce in graduates of these institutions. A talented pool of workers, along with abundant capital investment would provide us with opportunities for creativity and innovation, which in turn can lead to rapid growth in productivity and GDP. These skilled workers can do wonders with the presently-ailing manufacturing sector and services sector, the engines of our economy.

Instilling nationalism in young minds is also important. Young people must understand that cursing politicians and bureaucrats for corrupt systems and bad roads wouldn’t change it, but joining politics and bureaucracy would. They just can’t shirk their duties writing codes for their American clients sitting in the comforts of a luxury room and complain about everything else doing nothing about it. It is unfortunate that the average age of Parliament of a country so young is more than 60. The involvement of youth in policy and law making is important for nation building. The notion that politics is an evil profession needs to be changed. Politics is the best opportunity to serve the country. We should take cues from our history and inculcate the culture of clean, competitive politics in our colleges. The reduction in average age of our governance mechanism may prove a panacea to ailing state of polity in country. Sporting infrastructure needs to be developed as achievements in sports are essential ingredients of national pride.

Challenges of urbanization and rural upliftment: Lack of employment and better living opportunities in villages have attracted a swarm of rural population to cities and over-burdened them. The need for more and more land for housing and industries has resulted in massive deforestation, causing environmental degradation. These challenges have substantiated the need of moving back to villages. The Gandhian vision of self-sustaining villages must be made the torchbearer. Basic infrastructure like connecting roads, schools, hospitals, electricity, shops and employment opportunities should be developed to avoid flocking of masses in cities. The development surges up, it doesn’t trickle down! Proper functioning of institutions of Panchayats and local bodies are a must for a vibrant democracy. The tag of IT (Information Technology) should be put to indigenous needs to create initiatives like e-Choupal, Live Price monitoring and weather forecasts.

Agriculture: Agriculture has been the mainstay of our economy. Besides providing food to the masses, it brings employment to millions of farmers. Thanks to the Green revolution, the production is no more a problem in our country. But, in spite of all this progress, we haven’t been able to provide two meals to each citizen of country. The farmers continue to commit suicide because they can’t recover their cost, despite a bumper crop that season. The grim scenario points towards cobweb in our policies. Cold-storage facilities to avoid rotting of grains by rainwater are needed. A better working Public Distribution System (PDS) taking into consideration the context of regional issues and devising strategies accordingly would ensure that grains reach to deserving. Depending on the regional context, variations like coupons, cash transfers, digitization of records or ID (or Aadhar) cards can be used for betterment of PDS. Development of roads and availability of vehicles would eliminate the middleman who does the meagre work of carrying the grains to market but eats the major chunk of the profit. Opening up of our retail sector for FDI is a risk worth taking as it has potential to tame the demon of inflation.
Better governance: Indian public policy planning has huge imprints of West. But time has come to realize that those norms needn’t work in India always. Our country needs professionals who could innovate and bring in new ideas considering the context of Indian demographics and cultural variations. In the coming years, the penetration of computer and internet is bound to increase, so adopting E-governance, due to its ease of access and promise of transparency in government working, can be a paradigm shift.  Participation from youth, minorities, tribals and civil societies would augur well for the country. India, due to its sheer size and diversity, can’t afford to become a bi-party system which is what Indian politics seems to be moving towards. The role of Constitutional bodies like Election Commission and Comptroller and Auditor General needs bolstering as they have the authority keep a check or bring to the notice of all and sundry the irregularities and corruption prevailing in the system.

Green energy and Climate: Our dependence on the Middle East countries for energy requirements is having enormous repercussions on fuel prices in country. Anyway, this consumption is not sustainable and we need to look for alternative sources of energy. Government-sponsored research in alternative sources of energy — be it biofuels, solar, wind or nuclear energy, must be done. Mechanical filtering devices to filter out the emissions from vehicles and industries need to be devised. Introduction of Carbon Credit would work as an incentive to keep in check the reckless industrialization and emission by developed countries. Environment-and-forest ministry should ensure that no luxurious edifice stands on the mortal remains of flora and fauna of that area. Reckless and illegal mining needs to be checked.

Entrepreneurships and innovations: The bustling of new companies would create jobs and attract foreign capital. The number of IT start-ups has rocketed in last 15 years. Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises are the places where the future lies. The government needs to incubate and foster start-ups from diverse areas. A network of Micro-Financing institutions would be a much-needed boon for the rural economy.

International relations and defence: India has maintained cordial relationships with almost all its neighbours and the superpowers. This atmosphere of peace needs to be maintained as it is conducive to flow of foreign investment and tourism. We need to shed the non-alignment-skin and take a stand. We can’t abstain from voting at every International forum. We should speak for what is best for our national interest. If we envision ourselves as a superpower, we have to start behaving like one. Once again, for defence, our thrust should be on Research and Development in this field to develop indigenous world-class technology rather than being dependent on other countries.

Sustainable development: Mechanisms to provide adequate compensation for land acquisition must be in place, if at all the acquisition is indispensable. The plantation of same amount of vegetation at some other place must be practiced when a forest is deforested. Our constructions and infrastructure has to be properly planned not to harm the environment. We have to learn to reuse our resources.

Because, in the end, we want our development to sustain. We don’t want a steroid-shot in the arm, kiss the sky for a jiffy and bite dusts another moment.

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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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