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How The National Herald Case Has Brought Back Focus To The Congress’ ‘Corrupt Image’

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By Abhishek Jha

India’s Congress party president Sonia Gandhi wipes her sweat as party’s vice-president Rahul Gandhi (L) watches during a farmers rally at Ramlila ground in New Delhi, India, September 20, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RTS1Z5K
Image source: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

In a major embarrassment to the Indian National Congress, the Delhi High Court on Monday (7th December) ruled that the accused in the National Herald case will have to appear before a trial court. The accused include Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Motilal Vora, and Oscar Fernandes, the President, the Vice President, Treasurer, and General Secretary of the Congress party respectively. Journalist Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda, both considered close to the INC have also been accused. BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy had filed a complaint before a trial court in 2012 and the aforementioned were named as accused in a case pertaining to Section 403 (Dishonest misappropriation of property), Section 406 (Punishment for criminal breach of trust), and Section 420 (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) read with Section 120B (Punishment for criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

The verdict of the Delhi HC led to the disruption of both the houses of the parliament on Tuesday (8th December), as the Congress alleged that Swamy had filed the complaint to fulfil vendetta politics. As the accused were to appear in the trial court on Tuesday, Abhishek Manu Singhvi pleaded before the court that the accused be exempted from personal appearance on Tuesday and that they were willing to appear on a later date. The court exempted the accused from appearing on Tuesday but had asked them to appear on December 19, The Hindu reported. The verdict and the resulting disruption in the parliament can meanwhile become another roadblock in the discussion of bills listed for discussion in the winter session.

The case in itself has yet again brought to fore the INC’s corrupt image. The allegations against the accused is that they used party funds to lend interest loans to Associated Journals Private Limited (AJL), which was running the National Herald (founded before independence by Jawaharlal Nehru), and then floated a company Young Indian Private Company (YI) (Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi own 38% shares of YI each) to wrongfully acquire assets of AJL which run into about 2000 crores.

YI, however, was created under Section 25 of The Companies Act, which requires that company will use its “profits, if any, or other income in promoting its objects” and not pay dividends to its members. The arguments in the High Court illustrate, however, that “The Memorandum of Association of the AJL bars the Company from entering into any transaction which is not for furthering its objective to publish newspapers.” The AJL does not publish National Herald anymore. Therefore, the allegation arose that in acquiring the assets of AJL, the accused, who own major chunks of YI, acquired all the immovable assets of AJL.

The Delhi HC has hence ruled that it needs “to be explained by petitioners as to what was the need to assign the huge debt of 90 crores when this debt could have been easily liquidated by AJL from its sizeable assets. Even writing off such a huge debt by the Congress Party can legitimately attract allegations of cheating, fraud, etc.” Although the petitioners had tried to argue before the court that being in possession of the shares as part of YI, a Section 25 company, does not necessarily mean that they filled their personal “kitties”, the HC has ruled that “such a deep scrutiny of facts is required at the charge stage and not at the summoning stage” and asked them to appear before the trial court.

The petitioners, the accused in the Herald case, had also tried to get an exemption from appearance in the trial by submitting that Section 39 of the CrPC, which allows any person to initiate criminal proceedings against several criminal offenses, does not have a provision for those not being affected by a cheating and misappropriation case to file a complaint. However, the High Court was of the opinion that “how a Political Party of national stature acts is everybody’s concern. Rather, it is a matter of serious concern as allegations of fraud, etc. are levelled against the Congress Party, who has ruled the Nation for many decades. Precisely, it is the act of Office Bearers of Congress.”

Also, the HC has observed that “In a unique case, like the instant one, expanded meaning to the law has to be given.”

The judgment has been welcomed by the BJP. Although a political motive behind the complaint cannot be totally ruled out as BJP and Congress are arch rivals in India’s electoral politics in most states as well as in the nation, the High Court’s observation does lend weight to the serious allegations levelled against the accused. At a time when Congress seemed to have been having an upper hand in the Parliament, with the voice of several opinion shaping personalities in the country being in alignment with the issues Congress is raising, the judgment is going to be a big blow their campaign.

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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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