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[Pictures] When Thousands Marched In The Heart Of Delhi To Warn Modi Govt. Of Its Anti-Poor Moves!

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By Akhil Kumar:

The Modi government came into power riding on the popular slogan of ‘Ab Ki Baar, Modi Sarkar’, and promised to lead us all to ‘Acche Din’ with a flick of our PM’s magic wand of ‘development’. What followed has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some of even those who were cogwheels in Mr. Modi’s chariot to electoral glory. What went wrong, you ask? Well, the government seems to have taken the people for a ride only to cozy up to those who oiled the machines of the said chariot and led it to victory (the people present in the march believe those were the corporations and big businesses who have made their lives miserable – Ambani, Adani et al, I am of-course just being the messenger here!). Little surprise then that the people took the slogan and cleverly turned it on its head – ‘Ab Ki Baar Hamara Adhikar’ they roared in unison marching in the heart of the capital.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

NDTV reports that ‘hundreds of people converged’, if only they had a closer look at their own footage of the event, they would know better. Was this just an oversight, or is it yet another proof of how the mainstream media is complicit in the criminal subjugation of peoples’ rights and silencing of their voices of resistance and assertion? I accompanied thousands of people (more than 30000 according to most people) from across the country who came together in the ‘adhikar rally’ that marched from Ambedkar Stadium and culminated into a massive public meeting at Jantar Mantar. In my 5 years of active participation in various movements in the city, and hence being a regular at Jantar Mantar, I can tell you that never had I seen the place bursting at the seams like it was yesterday. There was no place to sit, and the ground wasn’t visible as thousands of people were trying to squeeze in and make room for more to fit in. Thousands of people poured in from across the country, by various means (trains, buses etc.) even when most could hardly afford the trip. Many of them even camped on the streets and spent their night sleeping in the cold Delhi night with nothing but plastic sheets as cover. The fact that the mainstream media chose to ignore or misreport this extraordinary solidarity movement is testimony to the fact that the voices of the oppressed are often deliberately silenced or manipulated by big media as per their vested interests.

Picture Credits: Abki Baar Humara Adhikar
Picture Credits: Abki Baar Humara Adhikar

Coming back to the Adhikar rally, the near 4KM distance that we marched was an inspiring experience. Narmada Bachao Andolan, Pension Parishad, Anganwadi, Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity and a total of around 170 rights based organisations joined in to assert their rights and demand accountability and justice from the government. They sang songs of resistance, shouted slogans, raised their fists in anger, and swept the roads like an angry tidal wave. Many walked barefoot, some brought their little children along, some others carried bags of grain and other symbolic objects to make the message clear.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

The placards and banners that they carried had very specific demands and questions for the government, protesting against the dilution of pro-poor policies to make way for big money. The slogans questioned the policies that the present government is hurriedly pushing through, and the others which it is trying to dilute and maim. The government has taken a U-turn and is going back on the very policies that the BJP supported when it was in the opposition.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

The meeting at Jantar Mantar saw popular mass leaders like Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Kavita Krishnan, D Raja and many others addressing a huge audience on many issues that concern them. The meeting began with the host listing various issues that they had gathered to discuss. Here’s a brief look at the points raised, along with some pictures:

1) Land Rights: Many of those present have been displaced, their lands taken away from them, and others who weren’t paid proper compensation. The speaker explained how the Land Acquisition Act was being weakened to favour big business at the cost of the land and livelihood of the working class and the poor.

Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes
Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes

2) Workers Rights: The proposed changes to the Contract Labour Act and its repercussions were discussed. A majority of the workers are now being employed as contract workers in the unorganised workforce and every effort is being made to stop them from organising and forming unions to safeguard their interests and assert their rights. 8 hour working day and a day off in a week should be ensured for all workers, including domestic workers. We need to have a scientifically calculated minimum wage in the country, which should be inflation indexed. The calculation for minimum wages should be on the basis of 240 work days in a 365 day year. There is need for an Urban Right To Work, along with unemployment allowance.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

3) Rights over the forest: Forests are home to many adivasis who are now being driven out of their homes to accommodate profit making corporations. Their lands forcibly taken, their mountains mined, and their rivers poisoned. Efforts are on to dilute the powers of the Gram Sabha that gives power to the locals to have a say on their habitat and natural resources. We have all seen the power of the Gram Sabha in Niyamgiri, where the Dongria Kondh drove out Vedanta. Also, care needs to be taken to ensure that the Gram Sabhas are not manipulated by the powerful and local elites repressing voices of the dalits and adivasis.

Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes
Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes

4) Right To Information: The RTI Act is a very useful weapon in the hands of the people to know what the Govt. is up to. Communication from the govt. is very crucial for awareness and development, and for the people to rightfully demand answers. Reportedly, efforts are on to dilute this act as well.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

5) Right To Food: The National Food Security Act has not taken off at all, the deadline has been postponed twice. The data from the Socio-Economic Caste Census has not been released. Support to farmers in terms of a guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP) and decentralized procurement are issues that need urgent attention. India has the highest malnutrition and maternal mortality rates, the maternity entitlements promised in the NFSA (the scheme hasn’t even been announced yet) should be paid heed to immediately. Children’s right to food, entitlements under the NFSA, have no rules or processes. The quality of food provided in schools and Anganwadi centres should be improved – include eggs, which is nutritive and popular with children.

Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes
Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes

6) Right To Education: Almost 1 lakh government schools across the country have been closed down – 22% in Rajasthan – most of the schools that have been closed down are those that were being accessed by Dalits, Adivasis and girls. Changes are being proposed in the RTE Act to make it more friendly to private schools. The govt. should bring under 6 and 14-18 year olds under the purview of RTE as well. Inadequate number of teachers and a dire lack of teacher training has been a huge problem. About 6 lakh seats in private schools need to be filled to meet the requirement of 25% seats reservation for EWS children as per the RTE Act. Shouldn’t the government focus more on taking responsibility and strengthen the educational infrastructure to provide free quality education to all, more investment in the education sector is needed to facilitate this. Also, an important point raised was how we need to be very wary of communal propaganda creeping into school textbooks. We need to resist this attempt at saffronisation of education.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

7) Right To Health: There have been reports of proposed cuts in spending on the Health sector where the need is to at least double the spending. The rampant commercialization and privatisation of this sector needs to be checked and the government should work extensively in improving the condition of hospitals, build more of them, and provide free healthcare and medicines. The Clinical Establishments Act is also not being implemented. What’s even more ironic is that the BJP promised free medicines in its manifesto, now they say only 50 medicines will be on the free list and even those will only be available at PHCs, so inpatients will not get any free medicines.

Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes
Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes

8) Right To Pension: The pension amount, as of Union Budget 2012-13 is INR 200 per month per person from 60 – 79 years and INR 500 per month per person for those 80 years and above, and the access to even this is not very easy. This needs to be increased as it is not possible to survive on such a meager amount. There is need for universal pension scheme. If Govt. employees get 50% of their last drawn wage as pension, the same should be applied to the poor – 50% of the minimum wages. Pension should be made available to all aged citizens, single women, people living with disabilities, transgenders and sex workers. The procedure to avail this should also be made simpler.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

9) Right To Protest: The renewed offensive on the right to protest needs to stop immediately. People resisting the destruction of natural resources, and fighting for their rights to livelihood are often punished and silenced for demanding justice or even posing questions.

Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes
Picture Credits: Chandan Gomes

10) Women’s rights: Women’s right to freedom without fear and a dignified livelihood should be taken care of. With the increasing instances of violence against women and their systematic subjugation, there is an urgent need to take concrete measure and implement policies that ensure that the discrimination and subjugation is put to an end.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

11) Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan and other minority rights: The communal polarisation by the RSS and their ploy to strengthen hierarchies of caste should not be tolerated. We must resolve to reject all such hierarchies, and defeat the RSS ideology. Also, the factors facilitating this structural oppression need to be fought with vigour. Ambedkar’s vision of the annihilation of caste is the way forward.

Viable solutions were also proposed to facilitate this change. India is among the lowest spenders on social services in proportion to the GDP. We also have one of the lowest tax-GDP ratios in the world. Resource mobilization through progressive taxation is the need of the hour. Tax exemption and other concessions to the corporate sector needs to be reduced; a lot of resources, including cheap giveaways, go into this. Budget cuts and low funding can not be justified.

Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta
Picture Credits: Piyusha Gupta

The massive intersectional solidarity in the event further strengthens my belief that a mass peoples’ movement to assert rights and demand justice is the only way forward to egalitarianism and social justice. ‘Ladke lenge hamara adhikar, hum cheen ke lenge hamara adhikar’ as they said. For the people present, the state has become the oppressor, and as they say ‘freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor’, hence the need for such assertion and solidarity, for it is in fact about freedom, the freedom to live a dignified life, to exercise their constitutional rights and demand social justice.

To know more about what I think of this story, follow me on twitter at @Akhil1490

You must be to comment.
  1. Voice of reason

    While i am not against protests, the problem i have with your articles is that some of the problems sighted have had very bad impacts on our own country. For example right to form union, you may think that it is necessary so that the workers are not exploited, but honestly most of the unions have been detrimental to towards the progress of the organisations of which they themselves are a part of. Look at West Bengal, i am sure you will agree that “union Baazi” along with other political factors never really allowed the State to grow. One of my friends was working with Hindutan Motors ( ambassador car, remember ), its plant is in West Bengal, he was saying that out of 350 regular workers, you will never find more then 270 on any day, people have absolutely no sense of responsibility and accountability , when i asked why was it so, my friend replied- the union takes c are of the workers, the management cannot fire anyone or there will be strikes, and unrest. this is mostly what labour unions lead to.
    I see a lot of activists talking about pensions and un employment allowance, please tell me where will the govt get the money from. the real problem is the screwed population of the country, too many mouths to feed, why don’t you activists do something about that. till this time i have not seen a single article on this issue. I have not seen to many activists discussing how to control population all you can do is government bashing.

  2. Kunal

    Hello,
    First of all, It’s a nice article to read and i will appreciate your effort of taking this forward.
    From my point of view I agree that, some of the acts like land acquisition act, right to information, right to health should be preserved.
    But, why this people wants cooked food in their plates? Why this people need 50% of their last drawn wages as a pension? Have they thought about how much of their money they will be spending on their vice habits like eating tobacco, smoking, consuming alcoholic drinks. People should think of this first.
    In most of the companies, labor unions have turned up as the bottlenecks in the change. If company wants to bring and implement new technology, why should not they go with this? and in scenario labor starts striking or agitating due to fear of job loss.
    I would also condemn our government for not fulfilling the expectation of poor people because of whome they a now at the helm.
    Finally i would like to say that if there are problems, then we can find the solution also and we should take an initiative to eliminate it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.

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