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Questions to the Government, General VK Singh and the Indian Express

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By Astitwa:

What is going on in the country? This is a common question of most Indians these days. The Army Chief’s age row issue, his shocking letter to the PM, his ugly bribery allegations and the recent Indian Express’ frenzy ‘coup’ story. The entire episode that we have witnessed in the past couple of months is turning out to be a sordid tale of poor governance, mistrust, ego polity, dictatorial tendencies, the leadership crisis, a systemic rot in the country’s finest public institution and of course, rudderless media. Many uncomfortable questions arise out of all these issues; issues that have exposed the inefficiencies of the civil and military establishments. Let us have a look at some of them.

Why did General VK Singh make a mountain of a mole?

By moving to the SC over his date of birth dispute with the government, the Army Chief did the most unparalleled thing. In the end, it all turned out to be a pathetic display of miscommunication and ego polity between the UPA’s leaders and the Army Chief. The General wasn’t ready to withdraw his case even though he had accepted several promotions in his career, by virtue of the same date of birth as mentioned in the government records. What triggered in him the urge to fight for his DOB, and that too, at the end of his career, is still a mystery. I wish the matter had been dealt with care by the Defence Minister, the PMO and of course, General VK Singh. Was the situation so messed up that senior leaders of the Congress and the Defence Minister couldn’t reach an amicable settlement? And of course, the Indian citizens want an honest answer from General VK Singh. What exactly did he have in mind, bringing up the issue of his date of birth at the time he did?

Why did General VK Singh Never take Strict Action on the Bribery Issue?      

After the SC dismissed the Army Chief’s plea, he should have accepted it and moved on. But the General had his own plan of action. Should we call it a result of the inflated ego of an Army Chief that he went on to expose some horrific loopholes in the Army openly? Or is the Army Chief really willing to root out corruption in the Indian army? Or, was it just his dictatorial tendencies that carried him so far? If the allegations by him are proven true by CBI, it will be a huge blow to the safety of India and a blot on the Indian Army. But again, questions are being raised against the General himself. Why did he wait for two years to come out in the public? Why he didn’t take action against the middlemen and those involved in the entire scam? Is the General ready to justify his sudden outbursts? What has been his motivation to expose loopholes suddenly?

Why did the Defence Minister Not Act on General VK Singh’s Complains?      

The General has reportedly told in the interview to The Hindu that he had informed AK Antony regarding the bribery issue, but the Defence Minister did not take any action. There are reports that have almost proven that AK Antony did know about the issue. So, why did this Minister, known for his integrity, not take any action? The government must ask his Defence Minister instead of just routinely throwing him out. How deep is the malaise?

Will the Government Establish Transparency Norms and Clean the Army?

In the year 2000, during the BJP Government era, Tehelka had exposed corruption in many departments of the Defence and Army. It was a sting operation that led to the resignation of the then Defence Minister, George Fernandes. In the wake of it, lots of promises were made by elite leaders to clean up the army, eliminate the Defence middlemen and keep a check on the army’s accounts and deals. Clearly, nothing has happened and even after a decade, the army is witnessing the same issue. Irrespective of the government at the Centre, our defence forces have been mired in corruption. Now, when the allegations come from the Army Chief, it is hard to ignore them. Maybe he has acted out in anger, but if what he says is true, the Congress government must take stern action to ensure that the army is cleaned up. India’s security has been jeopardized for decades. Is the ruling government listening?

Why the Indian Express Behaved in Such an Irresponsible Way?

The Indian Express went way too far to publish a story that suggested the possibility of a coup in India. Anybody who has read the story completely will notice that the news has been covered in such a fashion that it is confusing in many aspects. Neither has the newspaper completely accepted that it might have been a coup attempt, nor are they denying it in totality. It is like a fictional work, open to interpretations. What should a citizen interpret from the ‘coup’ story? That an Army Chief, upset on a baseless age issue is all set to topple the Democratic Government? Or, was it an attempt to create more conflict between the already troubled Army Chief and civil government? Indian Express should give proof of what they have said and they must answer why they chose such a controversial time to publish the news during. Over to the Editor-in-Chief, the Indian Express.

The whole debate on the controversy reaches its lowest level when we find that no one is willing to take responsibility and act boldly. AK Antony is blaming General VK Singh and the General in return blames the Defence minister. The Prime Minister is finding it tough to handle unexpected conflicts and the Government seems to be counting its days in power. Government documents and confidential papers are getting leaked from the PMO and Defence offices for the media to access and create unnecessary sensation. Who is leaking the documents? It is time to ponder deeply on our safety issues. There is a ray of light in all this bleak darkness. If the Congress acts smartly, it can modernize the army procurement process and make it corruption free. Never in the official history of any country, has it happened that the man who leads the nation during war has openly accepted that he was bribed by officers of the same institution. The monster-headed hydra of corruption is not leaving any institution untouched. It is time to forget the issue on who is to be blamed and act.

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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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