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Should A Hindutva Revival Happen In Bihar, Social Justice Might Be Doomed #BiharElection

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By Jai Prakash Ojha for Youth Ki Awaaz:

The Chief Election Commissioner has dubbed the ongoing Bihar Assembly Elections 2015 as the mother of all elections and quite rightly so. A good number of union cabinet ministers are camping in Patna to participate in the election campaign. And when I witness the PM making frequent visits to the state to bolster the morale of NDA, I am left with hardly any doubt about the importance being attached to this election. Believe me, this election is going to be historic, and it is not only about the mutual bitterness between Modi and Nitish, the colourful words that have enriched political lexicon and the brazen attempts towards caste/religious polarization whipping up passions, but there are other angles too that need no conjecturing.

modi nitish kumar lalu

Contestations Over The Idea Of India

All of a sudden, there is a buzz in the air. The collapse of the Nehruvian consensus has led to serious contestations as far as policies and ideologies are concerned. The acts of appropriation and re-appropriation of legacies, claims, and counterclaims are in full public spectacle. The Congress, for one, had always stood for unity in diversity, a sort of cultural pluralism. Whatever may have been the practices of the party at ground level, in principle, it always differed from the Hindu right. With the decline of Congress and the vanishing of generations fed on Congress ideology, a tectonic shift seems to be taking place in Indian polity. For long, cultural nationalism – one of the core RSS beliefs – was lying dormant due to Congress domination over political discourse. The ascent of BJP in 2014 LS elections has led to vigorous debates on history and secularism, fuelling fears of majoritarianism in the process. Apart from these two dominant paradigms as represented by Congress and BJP, there is a third one too, and this is cultural federalism. Cultural federalism is nothing but a confederation of various castes, communities, religions, ethnicities and sub-cultures, which often gets reflected in the regional and caste-based socialist parties in the country.

Since Congress is nowhere in the electoral picture, the onus falls on the socialist, read Mandal parties, to prevent the Hindutva juggernaut from rolling over the Hindi heartland. UP and Bihar have been the theatres of Mandal politics. When RJD chief Lalu avers that this election is a contest between Mandal 11 and Hindutva 11, it is not an off the cuff remark but has deeper underlying essence. Though the present socialist backward leadership in Bihar or UP had cut their political teeth under the tutelage of the likes of Lohia, Charan Singh and J.P. Narayan who were anti-Congress, they are not averse towards throwing their lot with the Congress to checkmate BJP in the light of changed socio-political circumstances. For them, Hindutva is a bigger challenge that can neutralize their brand of socialist caste politics and hence, needs to be fought vehemently. The Congress decline and the marginalization of communists have further left the field open for the propagation of Hindutva ideology. The JDU-RJD-Congress feel threatened by the rise of Hindu right and what drives the last nails in their coffin is the Hindutva’s attempts to show themselves as the true inheritors of the legacies of J.P. and Lohia.

The electioneering campaign focus is refreshingly different from the mundane, monotonous debates about development. The realization that politics is not only about development but also about ideology has dawned upon political experts who have now woken up to the harsh ground realities of caste.

Why Will This Election Be Remembered?

Bihar has been in the vortex of events that have written history. It has been the land of socialist and reservation politics. It has been the land where Gandhi experimented with mass democracy. Just remember the Champaran Satyagraha. It has been the focal point of unrest and emergency that led to the fall of Mrs. Gandhi’s government in 1980 LS elections. Who can forget the indomitable spirit of J.P. Narayan, the iconic socialist who took up the cudgels to challenge Congress during the 1974 Peoples Movement? Not to mention the way Dalit and Muslim politics, in all probability, will change in the country. A Manjhi magic will catapult him to the focal point of Dalit politics and pit him directly against the OBC leadership of the state. Since Manjhi has already energized the downtrodden with his ultra-Dalit politics, it will hardly be surprising if a potent Dalit movement surfaces in the state just as it did in UP.

For long, Dalits and OBCs had together supported RJD and JDU, making both parties invincible. But now, chinks have developed in the combination. Owaisi-led AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) is merely testing the waters in 6 assembly seats in Muslim dominated constituencies but going by the way his popularity is soaring among the minorities due to his fiery rhetoric, the chances of inception of Muslim Right polity in India can’t be ruled out. Mulayam Singh Yadav should see the writing on the wall as a reinvigorated Owaisi plans to make a debut in communally sensitive UP in 2017 Assembly elections.

A grand alliance win will spell trouble for the BJP as NDA lacks the numbers in Rajya Sabha. The holding up of the legislative business of the Government may result in policy paralysis and the eroded credibility of the Modi government. Just recoil back to the disruption of Parliamentary proceedings by a ganged up opposition in the previous winter session of the House when the NDA government tried to come up with GST Bill and the Land Bill. It will also buttress Nitish’s chances to lead the combined opposition in the 2019 LS elections against Modi-led NDA.

This election will be remembered for new lows in political discourse and the use of words like shaitan, narbhakshi, jallaad, darinda, luccha etc. The high stakes involved and the mutual bitterness in both the camps has led to leaders not hesitating to launch personal attacks. Raking up of emotive issues have led to the blurring of real agendas as there has been a goal displacement. The arrival of parties like AIMIM from Hyderabad, Shiv Sena & NCP from Maharashtra and SP & BSP from UP to participate in the state elections point towards the national importance attached to the poll process.

The 1995 and 2000 Assembly elections were polarized by the caste factor during the heydays of Mandal. Things improved in 2004 and 2009 Assembly elections when development took the centre stage in election campaigns. But now, it seems we are back to square one. This election may have significant ramifications for our polity as the socialist-cum-Mandal forces attempt to prevent Hindutva forces from rolling over Bihar. A Hindutva revival in the land of Mandal may spell doomsday for social justice-cum-casteist brand of polity.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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