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The Obama Visit : 5 Things To Take Note Of, Other Than Fashion Statements, Food And Tea

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By Devang Pathak:

Republic Day – first celebrated on 26th January 1950, commemorating the day on which the Indian Constitution came into force.

Also, 26th January 1930 – Indian National Congress made the declaration of Purna Swaraj.

I thought I should start by stating some “well-known” facts about our Republic Day to calm the noise down about the fashion statements of leaders and guests, the food eaten, the chewing gum chewed and scores of other “controversies” which erupted in the past three days.

As our esteemed guests have departed, let us take a look at a few things we can take from this historic visit of Barack and Michelle Obama.


Strategic from Day 1
The invitation to Barack Obama was seen as a clever PR ploy by the Prime Minister. But both the parties came ready to deliver substance and not just hype. The biggest news on the first day was the final resolution of the differences over the historic Civil Nuclear Agreement which provides a much needed boost to India’s energy needs. The next set of issues which were tackled were the easing of the H1-B Visa restrictions which the President assured to take into consideration under his immigration reform, joint production on four defence projects and US participation in Smart Cities Project MoU’s with three states. The joint statement issued by the heads of states showed that this wasn’t just a visit for symbolism but a strategically vital step. Mr. Obama, who likes to keep things close to his chest, also announced in his Siri Fort Speech that the US would support India’s bid to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

China is a Common Cause of Concern
In our euphoria of hosting the US President as our guest and friend, we forgot the probable reason for USA’s increased dealings with India in the first place. India is the only democratically strong, economic alternative to China in Asia. USA and China have been major business partners for decades but the security and human rights conflicts which they share are not private. The activities of Chinese submarines in the Bay of Bengal, their advances in the South China Sea and the reports of Chinese troops entering the Indian territory, just days after the visit from the Chinese President, have made India anxious about China’s intentions as well. The joint statement mentioned the concerns over the Asia-Pacific maritime waters which naturally irked China. China has retorted by downplaying the significance of the Obama visit and even signalling potential hurdles for India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. While terror originating from Pakistan is a major concern for both the countries, the Chinese economic and military overtures are significant too.

Pro-Business and Trade all the Way
While the opposition Republicans in USA pride on being vehemently pro-business and capitalism, Democrat Barack Obama bought a plethora of pro-business announcements for India. Modi’s pro-business agenda met a perfect match when at the US-India Business Summit; Obama announced comprehensive schemes to boost trade and business. While Modi addressed the concerns about the bureaucracy which derails projects and the Intellectual Property Rights conflicts, Obama announced $2 billion of leveraged financing for renewable energy investments in India through US Trade & Development Agency, $1 billion investment in loans for SME’s through Overseas Private Investment Corporation and $1 billion for ‘Made In America’ exports to India for the next two months.

It’s all about the Legacy
Barack Obama faces a difficult situation domestically. After 6 years as the President of the world’s largest economy and with his critics increasing day by day, Obama saw the India visit and meetings as an important foreign policy moment in his legacy. The goodwill generated by the visit and the announcements, if translated by concrete action, would forge a long term strategic partnership with a country which can soon be the fastest growing large economy in the world.

Modi has been in office for seven months but his actions and policies are always aimed at being ‘historic’. From the Madison Square Garden speech to ensuring the first time that a US President was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade, every strategic decision is made with an eye for the history books. The India visit was an attempt to add a striking achievement to last few years of political life for one leader while another feather in the cap for a leader who has just started his term.

Indian Media seeks Western Validation more than Indians
Barack Obama became the first US President to visit India twice during his term. He also became the first US President who was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade. It was indeed a historic moment, but not the only moment.

The 24 x 7 news channels decided to approach the visit with the hype and noise of a loud Indian wedding. There were contests run with #NamastePOTUS , news channels spent whole day covering passing motorcades, created various hashtags for the visit, and created news items out of the smallest controversies or banalities. The genius of the system lies in the fact that these same news channels can then debate- “Was the entire visit based on pure hype?” and “Why do Indians seek Western validation?”


The other extreme lies in an apathetic attitude of the western media to the visit. The New York Times instead chose the visit as an excuse to broadcast their imperialistic stature with racist tendencies in a piece titled “In India, Obama elevates the Nation’s Self-Esteem”. While the President of the United States was heaping praises about India, his nation was blissfully oblivious of our significance.

I have deeply admired Mr. Obama and his oratory skills since 2008. I enjoyed listening to his speeches and lauds for India. But I am also aware of his tendency to pander with words such as the DDLJ reference or the Hindi greetings. Thus, here is hoping for a more robust and self-confident India next year.

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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.

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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)’.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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