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Electoral Reforms: Disassociate Money Power & Muscle Power From Politics

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By Saif Khan:

All of us would collectively acknowledge and accept the fact that it’s high time for the government of India to initiate sweeping electoral reforms to strengthen our democracy. The populist opinion in the country is that the politics of the country is chaotic and electoral reforms is one of the most fundamental steps that the government needs to take to improve the state of polity in the nation.

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Electoral reforms have been on the Government’s agenda since quite some time but they caught the public eye when social activist Anna Hazare announced that he’ll be launching a countrywide movement to initiate electoral reforms. Anna Hazare and his team have come up with a couple of proposals which they think are game-changing in nature but before critically analyzing their proposals, I would like to put forth my views. Instead of asking for the introduction of bizarre rules and regulations, I root for something far more basic and necessary.

The first step that needs to be taken is to debar criminals from contesting polls. One of the primary reasons for the hatred of the common man towards politics is because of its criminalization. The Election Commission did summon an All-Party meeting to discuss this highly important issue but the proposal was unanimously nailed down by all the parties. Mainly two arguments were fielded to skill-fully downplay the proposal of the Election Commission. The first one said that the Election Commission cannot debar anybody from contesting elections who has been accused of a serious offence but hasn’t been proven guilty. The reason behind this being that the law of the land says that a person is innocent till proven guilty and since the person has still not been proven guilty, the EC cannot take away his right of contesting in polls. The second argument which all the parties collectively fielded was that many a times false and frivolous complaints are registered against politicians to defame them. Ironically, this is done by their political opponents only to garner political advantage by tarnishing their rival’s image.

According to me, both the arguments fielded were quite reasonable but were not reasonable enough to reject the proposal. We need to categorically debar individuals from contesting elections who are facing serious charges and for this we need to develop an effective strategy within the framework of the constitution. It should not violate the rights of those who are accused and want to contest but at the same time it should ensure that no criminals are given the liberty to contest. Political intellectuals, bureaucrats, jurists, civil society members and academicians need to sit down together and devise a pragmatic policy to eliminate criminals from politics. The second thing which I want to see is State funding of elections because my motto is, ‘Dissociate money power and muscle power from politics’.

While the first initiative which I mentioned earlier will take care of the latter concern, the first concern is going to be addressed by the State funding of elections. Most of the campaigning in elections is done with help of black money. To stop this, the State needs to plunge into action. State funding of elections will not only block the flow of black money into elections but will also ensure a level playing field for all contestants. Every contestant (having political affiliation or not) will be given the same amount of money for campaigning. This move can certainly address many serious concerns in relation to elections in India.

I also feel that there is an urgent need to further strengthen the Election Commission. The Chief Election Commissioner needs to be elected by a cross political body comprising of Government representatives as well as Leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of the Parliament and not just by the Government so as to give his office a more non partisan look. We should ensure that the Election Commission doesn’t become yet another asset at the Government’s disposal while tackling other political parties.

The next two issues that I am going to deal with are the Right to Reject and the Right to Recall. The beauty of India is its pluralistic form of parliamentary democracy but the problem lies in the fact that politics in India is party oriented. We don’t elect individuals on the basis of their merit or policies, we elect individuals as per our political loyalties. We vote for that party’s candidate whom we support on the national scene. We are so ignorant that we often vote for a candidate whom we have no knowledge of but still we don’t mind voting for them because they belong to party to which we are politically inclined to. The Right to Reject can work out properly only when politics is individual centric. In the current political set up, it will be a failure. The Right to Recall is an even more bizarre proposal. In India, most of the people are passive recipients rather than being active participants in our democracy. We are not even aware of the policies enacted or initiates undertaken by our Government since its inception for our benefit. In such a scenario, the inevitable question is how will we judge the Government? We shouldn’t be judging them on the basis of populist opinions. We need to become aware citizens first and only after that should we be given such a power. The Right to Reject as well as the Right to Recall is like asking a science student (symbolizing the people) to correct the answer script of a commerce student (symbolizing politicians) and this science student feels that all commerce students are fools just like we think that all our politicians are incompetent and immoral. Such prejudices can be extremely lethal for our democracy if they are given a chance to speak.

Since most of us have no knowledge of the candidates who represent us and their policies, we do not deserve the Right to Reject and the Right to Recall. I personally feel that Electoral Reforms are a must and should be initiated immediately. The priority should be on debarring criminals from politics and on State funding of elections while the Right to Reject and the Right to Recall can take a backseat till politics becomes individual centric.

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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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