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We As Voters, Can Do THIS To Make Irresponsible MPs And MLAs Aware Of Their Commitments

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By Dr Amrit Patel:

In a democratic country like India, elected legislators viz. MLAs in states and MPs at the national level have been engaged, among others, in formulating socio-economic policies and passing laws to exploit natural, physical, biological and human resources to enhance the gross domestic product of the States and the country respectively on one hand and on the other framing policies relating to strengthening political, economic, social, technological and military/defence system to substantially improve the quality of human life and safeguard country’s interest. However, past experiences reveal that most MLAs and MPs pay scant attention to the development of their constituencies and ignore aspirations and expectations of the people whom they represent. Against this background this article briefly highlights the need for electorates to vote in each election en masse and make legislators feel concern of people’s needs and committed to fulfil them and make legislators accountable to people who elect them.

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Since the country’s independence and with the launch of eleven Five Year Plans, the Union and State Governments have established several departments, institutions and development agencies which have been implementing a number of programs, projects and schemes to fulfil people’s needs in the critical areas, viz. education, health, drinking water, sanitation, housing, road, transport, communication, agriculture, allied activities, non-farm sector, industries, business & services, among others. Successful implementation of all these programs have tremendous potential to alleviate poverty, generate massive employment and enhance income that can lead to significant improvement in the quality of human life. However, lack of comprehensive review and periodical monitoring of the implementation of these programs accompanied by scientific ex-post evaluation at the constituency level has resulted into country’s not being able to fulfil the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals that focus on democratically elected Governments to ensure basic human needs and fundamental rights that every individual should be able to enjoy, viz. freedom from extreme poverty, hunger and malnourishment; access to quality education, better health services and improved shelter; opportunity for productive, decent and environment-friendly employment; the right to women for safe delivery without risking their lives; a world where women and men live in equality and environment sustainability.

The Millennium Development represents the most important promise ever made to the world’s most vulnerable people in 2000 and to fulfil it within a period of 15 years i.e. by 2015. The MDG framework for accountability emerged from its declaration in 2000 has endorsed an unprecedented level of commitment and partnership in rebuilding hassle free and healthier lives for billions of people hitherto neglected and in creating an environment that contributes to inclusive growth, all round development, peace, harmony and security. Besides, it has also contributed to significant level of imbalances among constituencies within the state reflecting differences in the quality of human life. Institutional weaknesses accompanied by staff inefficiencies and inadequate infrastructure support have further aggravated this imbalance within the constituency as also among constituencies. Legislators’ positive intervention [not interference] during the review of the performance can yield better results and improve the working of the institutions to deliver the results.

It is disappointing that MLAs and MPs care little to fully apprise the people of their constituencies about the latest national and State policies of the Government decided by the Parliament and the State Assemblies and their likely impact on the quality of life and livelihood of the people of the constituency. Electorates must place a demand for this and it should be mandatory for the legislators to apprise the people all policy decisions.

The Union and State Governments formulate all programs keeping in view the national and states perspectives respectively i.e. one-size-fits in all without due regard to significant varying needs of most constituencies. Educated, intelligent and dedicated MLAs and MPs understand the strength, weaknesses, threat and opportunities of their constituencies in so far as the socio-economic development and provision of infrastructure are concerned. Legislators must, therefore, place demand on the Government to remedy this anomaly. In fact, all MLAs and MPs must have full knowledge of the developments that have taken place in each of the years during the last five elections in their constituencies and programs which according to people’s needs have yet not been undertaken along with the reasons thereof. MLAs and MPs sitting or prospective candidates need to put in all endeavours to scientifically and comprehensively assess the needs of the people in their constituencies and formulate strategic action plan in close consultation with the people to fulfil them in a time bound program. Thus, most programs must be formulated to meet with the people’s needs of specific constituencies

The Union Government has been providing to each MP and Rajya Sabha member per year Rs. five crore under the MP Local Area Development Fund. Similarly, some progressive State Governments also provide this facility to State legislators. However, only a few dedicated legislators make good use of this fund to fulfil the minimum and pressing needs of the people of their constituencies and a large number of MPs and MLAs have not been using the allocated fund for the development of their constituencies. Electorates must prioritize the development projects and place demand on their MPs and MLAs to productively use this allocated fund for these projects. The Government can create awareness among legislators and conduct capacity building training programs for them that can make them fully committed for the socio-economic development of the people in their constituencies.

The establishment of institutions, financial investments and creation of infrastructure has been grossly uneven among constituencies. As for example, MPs elected from Rae Bareli and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh have been nursing their constituencies much beyond expectations right from the election of late Mrs. Indira Gandhi and late Mr. Sanjay Gandhi in early 1970s, at the cost of other constituencies in Uttar Pradesh as also in the country. This shows the way how other legislators with concern and commitment to the people of their constituencies can also replicate these developments.

Evaluation of programs to determine the extent to which the benefits have accrued to people of the constituency is a continuous process. Impact evaluation of socio-economic benefits of programs in each constituency can be conducted at the end of every five years in each constituency and debated in the State Legislative Assemblies and the Parliament, as the case may be, and the programs redesigned to meet the people’s needs.

In recent years, the media have played a significant role in creating awareness among the electorates about the way in which democracy in India has been functioning. The media can now bring on a common platform all the contesting candidates before the people of the constituency in order to have face to face interaction that can determine the worthiness of the candidate in the election. People would like to know from the candidates about the problems being faced and candidates’ understanding of these problems as well as their concern, commitment and strategy to resolve the problems, inaction of the staff in the Government offices while responding to the people, say for example, recording police complaints, issuing the required certificates, citizen’s charter not being followed by the staff, their arrogance, delaying the decision on the matter, expecting bribery, among others

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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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