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Stop Saying That India Is A ‘Democracy’, Because All Evidence Points To The Contrary

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By Shreya Chatterjee:

दुश्मन की गोलियों का सामना हम करेंगे, आज़ाद हैं, आज़ाद ही रहेंगे | — चन्द्रशेखर आज़ाद

(We will face the bullets of our enemies, but we will not compromise on our freedom- Chandrasekhar Azad)

As the nation proudly celebrates its sixty-nine years of independence, there is a feeling of concern that hides behind the wall of appreciation. There are innumerable things I ponder over. Have we really attained freedom or is it just an illusion? Do we really get a fair chance to exercise our fundamental rights? Are we all really equal before the law? Can we really retain our individuality in India? Are we really safe?  Here are a few reasons why I am pessimistic over the matter.

INDIA-RAPE-CRIME-POLITICS-WOMEN-PROTEST

Despite the scrapping of Section 66A of the IT Act by the Supreme Court, many still face threats if they choose to express their point of view on a political matter. Police forces too don’t avert themselves from making arrests for anything deemed ‘annoying’. You must have heard about the murder of U.P journalist, Jagendra Singh and the ‘much-deserved’ punishment he received for expressing his knowledge regarding the various ‘illegal’ activities under the minister, Ram Murti Verma, on social media. Almost every murder case like the Jagendra Singh case is given a false angle of suicide by fake forensic reports and forged documents. A series of suspensions of officials take place, but the actual felon stays immune since political career plays a shield to their felonies.

An eighth-grade student learns the eight fundamental rights listed in the Indian Constitution by heart, only to realize later the terms and conditions of exercising them in real life. The peaceful protest that went over the Nirbhaya case was unfortunately welcomed by lathi-charge and launch of tear gas and water canons. Who were the protesters? Hooligans? They had rage in their eyes, which demanded answers regarding women’s safety in the capital. Their grieving hearts had the right to seek scores of answers from the government. Our government spends years to decide capital punishment of a terrorist, but does not refrain from resorting to brutal display of force against harmless humans.

200 years of British rule gave birth to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes homosexuality. The Supreme Court also gave the same verdict in favour of the law on December 2013.  The biggest irony lies in the fact that three out of the four nations within the United Kingdom have already completely legalized same-sex activities. You can now very well trace the miles we have moved on the path of modernity from ‘British Raj’ to ‘Swaraj’. What right does the Government have to call one individual’s sexual preferences as ‘unnatural’ and criminalize it? Is this freedom? The recent incident of Mumbai Police picking up couples from hotels for ‘indecency in public’ throws some more light on the priorities of the Police forces. I wonder where else the couples should have gone for privacy?

There was a recent debate regarding the population decrease of Hindus. Even Ghar wapsi was introduced by VHP and RSS in U.P to combat the so-called ‘extremely serious’ issue of conversion. The reconversion drive of poor non-Hindus to Hinduism has gained decent momentum in our ‘secular nation’. Is this how my or anyone’s freedom to equality works?

Attacking art galleries, banning books and movies is not something new. Added to all this we had a short-lived porn-ban in recent times. Not to forget the legal prosecution that All India Bakchod (an Indian comedy group) faced, that exposed the declension of tolerance level of Indian society towards harmless humour. Show contents which include profanity clearly have warnings. Moreover, movies do have ‘U, U/A, A’

labels, creating a clear picture of the audience that it targets. But sadly, my freedom does not let me decide what I should watch or do in my personal space.

Seems like our lawmakers poke their nose in almost every matter, leaving the ones which really demand substantial consideration. Every lapse in law enforcement reveals various hues of our leaders. Ironically, ‘tonight the nation wants to know’ many things, but unfortunately, all it is left with are piles of unanswered questions.

Thus, it would not take eons to conclude that we do have freedom, but in disguise. A true form of democracy can’t be achieved as long as our freedoms are curtailed. Without the people having the freedom of speech and expression and right to equality, democracy is just an empty word. And without ‘real’ democracy, the true potential of the nation remains in a veil.

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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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