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Mamta Banarjee: Benevolent Administrator Underneath the Recalcitrant Steely Cyst

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By Ashish Kumar:

Same time of the year, one year ago, Mamata Banarjee demolished the impregnable and seemingly shatterproof red-citadel of Communists in West Bengal. She conquered the State Assembly Elections with comfortable majority and the media nationwide was in Didi’s awe and was gung-ho about how she was a self-made leader and how she would be a harbinger of change and development. The turbulent one year has passed like whirlwind and she has been in news for all the wrong reasons-coercing the Union Railway minister to follow her diktats and ultimately making him resign when he refused to kowtow, refusing to be a part of Indian delegation to Bangladesh and hence jeopardizing the otherwise cordial mutual relations to mark her protest on the Teesta water sharing dispute, arresting and incarcerating a Jadhavpur University professor for drawing and circulating cartoons which took a dig at loopholes in her administration in the name of it being offensive and anti-woman. Didi has created for herself an image of a dictator and tyrant who curbs right to freedom and has her way by hook or crook.

But, the media as usual has gone with the wind and has never tried to bring to the fore the flip-side of the Mamta Banarjee’s administration. Inside the steely cyst and tyrant mask lies a benevolent, liberal administrator who is toiling hard to undo the harm (read: de-industrialization) done by the ages of Communist rule. She just has indifferent methods to approach the goals and seems nonchalant. Some of the evidences of her praiseworthy work are following:

Resuming negotiations with Maoists: The worst Naxal-hit districts of Medinipur and Jangalmahal in western part of West Bengal has seen spurt of governmental activity after Didi took the reins. She has created and expedited the working of Paschimanchal Unnayan Parishad for focusing on development of these districts. Her government has announced a spree of developmental projects for these regions and indulged in talks with the Maoist leaders to discuss their concerns. There has been an increase in such leaders surrendering to the government and returning to the mainline. Situations are in better control now as compared to 4-5 years ago when even Union ministers where not safe on these turfs. But, now some semblance of peace has return and Didi with her entourage now frequents these rugged terrains in search for sustainable solutions. She has also launched reasonable compensation and rehabilitation packages for victims of Maoist violence. Providing cheap staple food and minority scholarship are also in fray for these regions.

Creation of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration: Unlike the Communist government, Didi was not turning deaf-ears to the concerns of hill people and was instrumental in creation of GTA. This development has almost solved the issue except for the fact that people in Terai-Dooar region don’t want to be a part of this. Still, CM has to be commended for being anchor-point for tripartite discussions between Centre, Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha and State. She has also been meeting-up with tea-estate workers and rooting for their problems. Talks are also on for the deployment of CRPF from the hills.

Impetus to industrialization: Didi, aided by her versatile Finance minister Partha Chatterjee, has been instrumental in exhorting and mobilizing industries and investors to her state by formulating liberal contracts, providing easy access to land and tantalizing them with the prop of untapped market. The emphasis has been equally distributed between foreign giants, domestic tycoons as well as indigenous cottage industries.

Some of the highlights are aforementioned: allocation of 300 Acres of land in Shibtala Math, Bolpur to WBIDC and ITC for proposed industrial development; inauguration of International Financial Hub in New Town, Rajarhat; Zari Hub at Sankrai in Howrah district and goldsmith hub at Ankurhati near Domjur; announcement of 16 major industrial proposals; submission of 128 Detailed Project Reports for starting new industries to the government. Amidst all this industrialization, Didi hasn’t forgotten what she claims is her raison detre — upliftment of downtrodden. The government is mulling amending the West Bengal Co-Operative Societies Act, 2006 to ensure that cooperative banks were not empowered to attach the property of any farmer failing to repay loans.

Restoring the superiority of Bengali intellect: Bengalis, besides other things, are famous for their superior intellect. Bengal was a perennial source of intellectuals in all the disciplines of education. But, the foundation of primary education had taken a beating and higher education was in tatters during long Communist rule. Didi has taken a lot of steps to restore the standards of education. Unveiling of hospital-cum-college in Bankura, upgradation of 999 secondary-schools to high-schools, appointment of 46000 primary school-teachers, riddance of 13 universities from political interference through a Cabinet ordinance and disbursement of Rs. 10 crores for education of poor girls are some of the noteworthy efforts to revitalize the once esteemed education-system of the state.

Improvement of Public health: Public health has been one of the thrust areas where Didi has diverted a lot of her attention. She has been on an investigative-visit-spree, sometimes incognito, to check upon the facilities and slackness of doctors. Many a times, lax doctors have been fired on the spot. A project proposal with an expenditure of more than Rs. 2000 crore designed to create tertiary care infrastructure in districts and sub-divisions has been passed. Rs.1,984 Cr has been allocated for Health department by state government. Mulling of 500-bed cancer hospital in Rajarhat and training of rural women to meet the shortage of 50,000 nurses is another commendable initiative.

Mamata Banerjee, in addition to all this, has been very keen on promoting Bengali art and culture and has been a proponent of Bengali brand. This is this love for Bengal which sometimes comes in conflict with national interest, wherein it gives the vital support to Central government. She resorts to flamboyance and brinkmanship to achieve her goals. This earns her a title of coercer and a spoilsport but why should that put a veneer over all the good she has done for her state. Criticism should analysis both flips of the coin.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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