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Post-Independence Indian Economy: Follies Of Nehruvian Socialism Enmeshed In A Mixed Economy

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By Pradyut Hande:

In the bustling 21st century global economy that remains in the throes of perennial flux, India has traversed a tortuous path of socio-economic progression through the ages. Despite the economic slowdown and consequent market volatility, India is today one of the fastest growing economies in the world; well on its way to realizing its potential as a rapidly emerging socio-economic leviathan. It suffices to say, this can be facilitated predominantly through proactive and progressive governance and wide sweeping reformatory changes that relegate “policy paralysis” to the backburner. Granted the fact that despite the tumults of the day, India’s future appears bright; it is important to take cognizance of our past that eventually led us to embark on our current socio-economic developmental trajectory. Why is it that India presently languishes behind its fellow Asian powerhouse, China? Why have we always been looked upon as a state that is “on its way to realizing its potential”? What has hindered our economic progression over the years? Let me elucidate a critical collective factor that I believe is responsible for our predicament today…that has cost us almost two decades in our cycle of economic progression.

1947; after centuries of external subjugation, India was finally free of foreign rule. The air was abuzz with ecstasy, excitement and anticipation as our time had eventually arrived: India’s tryst with destiny. A charismatic, Jawaharlal Nehru was sworn in as independent India’s first Prime Minister. The task before our leaders to galvanize a fragmented and pulverized economy into some sort of action was daunting and required a demonstration of great courage, initiative and character. Given the prevalent global scenario and his ideological leanings, Nehru and his trusted coterie chose to embrace a “Mixed Economy” under the ambit of Planned Development to alleviate the masses from the depressing quagmire of poverty, unemployment and general backwardness. Nehru had committed the nation to “the establishment of a socialist pattern of society where the principal means of production are under social ownership or control”. Enamoured by the economic growth of the erstwhile USSR, Nehru’s socialistic blueprint turned out to be a juxtaposed amalgamation of Keynesian macroeconomics, Stalinist public investment policies and Gandhian rural development measures. On prima facie evidence, it appeared to be an idyllic ideology lined with potential, provided the government was able to establish a sound and flexible framework to facilitate its implementation.

However, with the advent of time, it became increasingly clear that Nehruvian socialism was not the palliative to the country’s woes. However, well intentioned he may have been, his flawed ideology coupled with even poorer management had set India on a disastrous course. In a bid to integrate his ideology into a democratic mainframe, set in a pluralistic society, the hope was that the “mixed economy” would conflate the benefits of socialism and capitalism; propelled by the state’s leading role in industrialization. However, all it did was spawn the birth of an increasingly interventionist state with heavily leaning towards the establishment of a largely ineffective and grossly underperforming public sector, steeped in Kafkaesque bureaucratic controls that further stymied growth. The powerful albeit monopolistic public sector failed to function anywhere near optimal levels in the absence of autonomy and soon became a huge drain on monetary and non-monetary resources. The state run bureaucracy continued to grow stronger and more rigid as potentially “game changing” reforms met with depressingly premature deaths. The excessive controls that were instituted to facilitate the proliferation of capitalistic tenets across a stagnant economy soon undermined its very purpose and suppressed innovation of any kind, further diminishing economic returns.

The private sector was shunned and riddled with regulations and abominably excessive taxation which killed the faintest spark of entrepreneurship and innovation. Furthermore, our ills were compounded by the fact that we chose to adopt a deeply internalized, import substituting strategy instead of following an export promoting approach with the objective to align the Indian economy with that of the world. Foreign investment was frowned upon and further alienated us at a time when we desperately required our integration into the global economic fabric. The fact that we had just tasted independence after years of foreign rule may explain our distrust of foreign involvement and association. Our faith in the state, although admirable, was grossly misplaced as we continued to pay heavily for our leaders’ impaired vision and floundering mismanagement. As it transpired, Nehruvian socialism that promised so much on paper failed on more counts than one, in both ideology and practice. The dreams of millions that hinged upon its success were shattered in the wake of our poor socio-economic progress for over four decades after independence.

The idealistic “mixed economy” approach was novel in its character. One can understand why it held immense appeal at that time for our leaders and policy formulators. However, its efficacy was questionable at best. Unfortunately enough for us, despite taking cognizance of its failings, we continued to regard the “system” as sacrosanct and sunk deeper into the abyss of low productivity and non-performance while our Asian neighbours embarked on a bold new reformatory trajectory. It took us until 1991 to act on our follies and embrace a majorly liberalized outlook that paved the path towards unprecedented economic growth in the years to follow.

We can lament the limitations and misadventures of our past policy makers and their myopic policies, but these are events that set us on the path that we tread on today. Having learnt from our failings, we ought to now channelize our efforts and resources to further our reformatory agenda down various avenues in our quest to push for greater socio-economic growth in the years to come.

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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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