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Here Are 10 Ways By Which You Can Improve India”s Political Discourse

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By Saanya Gulati:

From pepper spray incidents in Parliament, to protests at Jantar Mantar, recent episodes confirm the boisterous if not downright bizarre nature of India’s political discourse.

The ‘masala’ (gossip) that everyday political events provide is nothing short of a soap opera. The drama is often exciting. But this reduces our political discourse into a melodramatic script that lacks substance and depth. Besides, there are plenty of actual soap operas on Indian television!

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Here are 10 things that our political discourse can do with some more of:

1. More respectful of differing opinions

“The moment I disagree with you, I will not listen,” says the news anchor to the panelists on his debate. If you were part of ‘debate club’ in school, the first rule you would have learnt is ‘to hear out your opponent before making a counterargument.’ Switch on Lok Sabha TV or any television news channel, and you will quickly realise that this rule simply does not apply.

Debates are often reduced to a debacle — from parliamentarians marching to the well of the House, to journalists screeching at the top of their lungs —with everyone wanting to be heard, but not hearing the other.

2. More data-driven

‘From the fight against polio to fixing education, what’s missing is often good measurement and a commitment to follow the data.’ writes Bill Gates.

If one has to make recommendations to improve the education system, s/he needs to know simple things like the student-teacher ratio or whether there is a principal in each school. Good data can help identify gaps in the current system.

Information should be available in formats that are easy to access and analyse —breaking away from the tedious filing system of many government offices is a good first step.

3. More focused on outcomes and quality

Pratham’s ASER Survey says there is a government primary school within one kilometre of almost every habitation in the country. Yet our education system is broken.

We tend to assume that building more schools is the key to fixing our education system. Or building more hospitals will resolve the health crisis. While the need for basic public services is unquestionable, the need for good public services is as, if not more, important. We need stronger qualitative measures of policy implementation and for our political discourse to shift from quantity to quality, and from inputs to outcomes.

4. More interactive

Web 2.0 and social media are changing the conventional ruler-subject paradigm of politics — more engagement is possible between voters and representatives today.

But to make our political discourse truly interactive, political parties and politicians should not use these platforms as yet another vehicle to propagate their agenda. The challenge is to create more regular and constructive exchanges between the electorate and decision-makers.

5. More nuanced

Mantras like ‘women’s empowerment’ or ‘development,’ which many of our leaders mindlessly echo, do not tell us anything about the what, how, and when.

The public is more critical of vague repetitive rhetoric of social identities and appeasement that was once enough to mobilise people — evidenced by the public’s reaction to the #RahulSpeaksToArnab episode. For a more nuanced political discourse, both individual interviews and speeches, but even party manifestos and agendas, should be more action-oriented and time-bound.

6. More proactive

During election season or when a scam is exposed, everyone is ready to debate politics. We selectively choose to take an active part in public life when it is convenient for us. ‘Democracy in India does badly in between elections,’ as Ashutosh Varshney, a prominent political scientist aptly put it in a recent talk.

For routine accountability, engagement and participation should be continuous, and more proactive on our part.

7. More transparent

While Parliament’s daily antics are broadcast live, there are many official proceedings that still take place behind close doors. An example of this is standing committees, which advise the government on landmark legislation before they are discussed in Parliament. This is one of the few forums that aid pre-legislative consultation. Making such debates viewable to the public can add value to the public discourse.

8. More encouraging of different stakeholders’ voices

Civil society and non-profit organisations hold a big stake in policy making. But there are few avenues for them to contribute to the political discourse in a meaningful and impactful way.

Creating channels through which organisations can use evidence from pilot interventions as a vehicle to advocate for policy reform can act as an important driver of large-scale social change. A poignant argument Manish Sabharwal, Chairman of Teamlease, makes is that the Government has execution deficit, private sector has trust deficit and NGOs have a scale deficit. If each stakeholder can play to its strengths, then this will strengthen our political discourse.

9. More decentralised

The hackneyed ‘Modi-Gandhi’ debates, albeit recently turned ‘Modi-Gandhi-Kejriwal’ are telling of how personality driven our political discourse remains. Amidst these discussions, we forget the complex and multi-layered nature of our institutions.

If we spend as much time assessing the candidates from our own constituency, we may start voting for issues that directly impact our daily lives. This in turn will also force parties to choose their candidates more carefully.

10. More reflective of India’s diversity

Questions like ‘what matters to the Indian voter?’ or the ‘youth’ do not have a single answer in a country as diverse as ours. It is statistically impossible to generalise anything for over a billion people.

Rural versus urban, class, and regional distinctions, undoubtedly influence the political discourse, resulting in the multiple narratives of what constitutes India. The role of our political discourse is not to unify these narratives — but to remain cognizant of this diversity, and receptive to marginal voices and communities.

You must be to comment.
  1. balayogi

    political discourse in this country will be healthy when it functions without pro leftist bias, without paid media , without discussing irrelevant issues other than overall economic development , without resorting to media capturing street protests, without trying to please foreign approval but really reports what the country needs and whoever has delivered something good etc. The degradation political discourse is more due to paid media and leftist elements in media than politicians themselves . That’s why political discourse and exchanges even totally differing views as those between patel and nehru , between Dr.B.R . ambedkar and nehru, between rajaji and nehru were open ,virulent but were decent and confined to the issues but after emergency when the left married the congress and the congress started strangulating the dissenting media [as Indra Gandhi did to goenka during emergency ] media preferred to get paid by congress and certain foreign institutions and leftists elements crawled in the name of or under the label of liberalism and started polluting the whole media the cleansing will not take as the internet and social media are powerfully spreading the truth and that is the reason the left is not leftover even in the states where it blocked progress and the pay masters are going to fade away and hopefully sanity will return to popular media and thereby resumption of healthy political debates

  2. Meenakshi Kohli

    extremely well thought out. Written in a very simple manner, can be very clearly understood. The examples too make it relatable. Great reading. Can’t we share with the relevant people?

  3. Vishal

    Good article.

    The country is just not organized and is hyper. Too much pollution, too much corruption, too much pollution…did I say it again..oh…, I meant to say it a fe more times… too much population, too much sun, too much spices in food, too much religion and too much empty talk.

    The country needs to cut its pollution levels drastically. Otherwise the children are doomed.

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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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