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Beyond The ‘Typographical Error’: Smriti Irani’s Fake Degree Row Might Have Grave Implications

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By Sanjana Sanghi:

I sincerely hope that the HRD Minister Smriti Irani comes clean on the allegations against her regarding her education qualifications. I hope for this because her story has inspired me. She is the youngest minister in PM Modi’s cabinet – a woman of 38 who now holds what can safely be considered as one of the most important positions of power. It defies many stereotypes and will serve as an inspiration for many more women.

smriti irani..

However, this emulation-worthy story can be rendered as one to be scorned at if the allegations against her prove to be true. From a political point of view, it will hurt the credibility of the BJP and put under scrutiny the criterion our celebrated Prime Minister considered while choosing an able Cabinet, while also damage Smriti Irani’s political career.

Can it be just a ‘typographical’ error?

As much as one tries to dismiss this controversy around her educational qualifications as politically motivated – history and some facts make it difficult to believe. I’d like to believe the BJP when they say that there have been “typographical errors”, however some incidences regarding the same in the past decade put that to question.

In 2004, Irani contested from Chandni Chowk in Delhi and declared that she had a Bachelor of Arts Degree. In 2014, according to the affidavit filed when she contested from Amethi, she declared that she had a “Bachelor of Commerce part-1 School of Open Learning (Correspondence) from the University of Delhi”. As though such declarations weren’t contradictory enough, she gave a statement last year that fueled further controversy. She said, “In that kitty of mine where people call me ‘anpadh’ (illiterate) I do have a degree from Yale University as well which I can bring out and show.”

However, this “degree” from Yale University was in fact a 6 day crash course on leadership with the Yale faculty.

In response to a complaint registered by Ahmer Khan, a freelance writer who found that Irani had declared 3 different sets of qualifications while filing her nominations in 2004, 2011, and 2014 respectively, the Court has agreed to hear a case about Irani’s possibly false educational qualifications. The petitioner’s complaint was admitted and a metropolitan magistrate of Delhi said he would hear pre-charge evidence in the case on August 28.

Ever since the Lok Sabha results last year, the BJP and Smriti Irani have faced flak for her educational qualifications. Last year, Madhu Kishwar, a woman’s right activist, had raked up a controversy over the fact that Irani was only ‘12th pass‘. The Congress immediately took to using Irani’s case as an instant reason to attack the BJP. Ajay Maken had tweeted, “What a Cabinet of Modi? HRD minister (looking after education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate!” Union Minister Uma Bharti had retaliated to such statements by trying to ask how educated Congress President Sonia Gandhi was.

The BJP’s decision of a shortened monsoon session of the parliament this year suggests clear escapism. Lalit Modi’s revelations against External Affairs Minsiter Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the Land Bill, and now the fear of extensive cross questioning surrounding Irani’s controversy – all these might just be the reason to take this step and avoid embarrassment.

Grave implications

While Irani might have every quality and ability needed to head this ministry, however, falling short on the basic criterion and being caught for possibly fraudulent degrees will not only hurt the BJP, but also set a bad example for millions of students in India. If the Govt. representative responsible for looking after the education and overall development of ‘the largest youth population in the world‘ is proven to be involved in such dishonesty, what message does it send to the students and youth?

A Delhi court has taken cognizance of a complaint filed against her for allegedly giving false information about her educational qualification. For now, all we can do is wait till the entire truth of the matter is out. But even if she comes out clean, much of the damage has already been done.

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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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