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Why We Need To Learn From Our Past Mistakes And Stop Treating Politics As A Dirty Word

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By Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah:

“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers.”
-Nikita Khrushchev

The very first question which our teacher put to us in the very first class of Political Science (Hons.) in Hindu College was, “What is Politics?” Most of the answers which the students gave were basically centred around a few key words like ‘Governance’, ‘Power’, ‘Welfare’, ‘Administration’, ‘Political parties’ and a bunch of supporting words and phrases like ‘dirty’, ‘manipulation’, ‘greed’, ‘abuse of power’, ‘politicking’ etc.

Otto von Bismarck

The same question was put to us in Class XI and most answers revolved around the same words and phrases. In fact, any layman who hasn’t gone into the depths of political theory would offer a similar set of answers. But is politics really dirty or evil? Does it not have any use? Why is it so that, when asked, most of the people prefer to say that they don’t “like” politics? Isn’t it a fact that the very thing they dislike for being evil, ultimately takes a predominant position in determining how they would live, where they would work, how their surroundings would be and, maybe, even what they would cook in the kitchen?

In our very first lessons on political theory, we are taught that Politics is an activity which seeks to initiate discussion/debate, evolve consensus, and make our lives better. It could be the “Art of Government” from the point of view of Chancellor Bismarck or simply diverse notions of ‘Power’, but it ultimately seeks to build a better society and improve the living conditions of human beings. Such things suggest that ‘Politics’ is a very noble activity. But is it really noble? What we observe in our society today, does it have any resemblance to these wise definitions of politics?

An unbiased answer would definitely be closer to a negative one. Isn’t it clear that Politics, which was meant to improve our lives, has emerged as something which catastrophically destroys millions of lives across the globe? Wasn’t it politics which led to almost all of the so-called ‘great’ wars in the world? Isn’t it politics (along with its comrades-in-arms like economy or culture) which played the role of a catalyst in the rise of Fuhrer Hitler, destruction of lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the disintegration of USSR? Wasn’t ‘9/11’ a byproduct of the dubious foreign policy of US and the rise of bin Laden? Wasn’t Iraq turned to ruins without any rhyme or reason for political and economic advantage? Today, if the Middle-East is burning, or Paris is haunted by the ghost of global (un)Islamic terrorism, isn’t the element named ‘Politics’ singularly responsible for it?

Hiroshima, 1945. Source: Wikipedia

Even if we look at the history of India, once a developed land, it became “a country in an advanced state of decay” just because of dirty politics. Prithviraj Chauhan faced political betrayal and lost to Muhammad of Ghor (in Afghanistan). The Nawab of Bengal Siraj ud-Daulah was ditched by Mir Jafar and Mr. ‘Clive of India’ was gifted the first grand victory of the British on Indian soil almost on a platter! Later on, the British sowed the seeds of Hindu-Muslim conflict through the evil political tact of ‘Divide and Rule’ which has brought immense shame to India and its pluralist culture even after 50 years of independence in the form of gruesome riots which bury humanity, smeared with the blood of Indians, some who prayed in temples and others in mosques. Political parties, in fact, never fail to incite communal feelings among the people for mere electoral gain.

Soon after Independence, the faulty economic, foreign and domestic policies pursued by India have brought more misery to the people than happiness. Massive unemployment, poverty, lack of education and industrialisation, aggression showed by neighbouring countries were direct fallouts of lack of political farsightedness. The government took away the citizens’ Fundamental Rights itself during the emergency. It is nothing but politics of discrimination/neglect which resulted in secessionist movements in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir. What else could be the reason, other than politics, of the rampant loot of taxpayers’ money through the uncountable number of scams like Jeep Gate, Bofors, Fodder Scam, 2G Spectrum Scam and Coalgate?

Historical mistakes take a backseat when one looks at the current situation in India vis-a-vis politics. The way out of any punishment for crime seems to be politics. Even if someone has done heinous crimes but has political links (or is himself a politician!), his probability of being caught are far less than that of a common man. The Law is supposed to be blind (resting upon concrete evidence), and politicians leave no stone unturned to use this to their advantage.

The alleged murderer of former Purnea (Bihar) MLA Ajit Sarkar, now proudly sits in the Union Parliament; the conviction of a Chief Minister of South India (who was eventually acquitted) results in outcries for her release and ‘sentimental’ people commit suicides across the state; culprits of the 1984 Sikh-riots or the 2002 Gujarat riots still roam freely (validating the golden saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied”); leaders of insurgent groups are released from prison for initiating peace talks and some of them even become lawmakers, people who at one point of time mercilessly killed hundreds and thousands of innocent school kids who didn’t even know what ‘India’ meant! This is what politics does. It deprives us of our required electricity service, displaces us from our moorings for filling the coffers of the capitalist class and never fails to use the masses as pawns in service of political agendas. They promise, we believe, and we vote.

There are some villages in India which register 100% voting and the villagers exercise their democratic rights hoping that it would initiate the process of change. But surprisingly, the road connectivity, infrastructure or education in those areas have not improved much from the days when their forefathers used to vote for Pt. Nehru. Elections after elections are held but the lives of this section of people hardly change. For them, politics or elections are just an event for getting blue ink applied to their nails.

Politicians fail to recognise the fact that they are of the people, are elected by the people and essentially for the people. But today, politics is nothing but an activity for some irresponsible people, seeking to maximise wealth and enjoy being in power. Today, one needs a huge amount of money to fight even a university union election, let alone the assembly or parliamentary elections. It is a herculean task for a common man to contest and win, unlike N.S. Kajrolkar, an unknown milkman who defeated B.R Ambedkar in the first general election (1952) from the Bombay constituency. In fact, political activities have reached such a low that instead of attacking each other on policies, leaders get personal in their criticism. Parliament is not allowed to function properly for petty political gains. Any political debate on TV appears to be nothing more than a cockfight which reminds one of Bernard Shaw’s timeless words, “politics is the last resort for the scoundrels.”

“Man by nature is a political animal.”

Manik Sarkar. Source: Wikipedia

If one carefully observes our newspapers and TV channels, it is politics which occupies much of the space as compared to other fields like finance, sports or entertainment. It is politics which sets the agenda for news, editorial content and in most cases, the 9 p.m. battle of wits on Television. Whether we agree or not, it is a fact that we could never detach ourselves from an interest in how our elected representatives work. Before the 2014 general election, every speech of PM Narendra Modi or, if we could recall, before 2009 election, leaders talking about the achievements of UPA-1 along with the slogan “Singh is King” never failed to excite us. For a news channel, the elections seem no less than a marriage ceremony.

The policies of a government impact all aspects of our lives, from taxes to traffic rules. It is certainly wrong to say that politics is the root of all evil. It is in fact, the best way to bring a gradual but positive change in the lives of huge numbers of people. The way Manik Sarkar and Pawan Chamling brought Tripura and Sikkim respectively out of the league “underdeveloped states,” has set an example for all other states to follow. Several MPs have even sacrificed their personal lives for the betterment of their constituencies. They have taken initiatives in building bridges, roads, ports (for instance Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram) and asking questions and participating in enlightening debates in the House. It’s a good sign that 58% of current Lok Sabha MPs are newcomers.

If we look at other places around the globe, politics is changing lives in impressive ways. Norway, the top ranking nation in the UN’s Human Development Index, has very low poverty and unemployment rates and has shown extremely high educational standards and has a life expectancy of 80.2 years. New Zealand, a nation which banned nuclear weapons, has one of the highest living standards and happiness ratings in the world.

In Arthashastra, Chanakya, while describing the qualities of a ‘King’, says, “In the happiness of his subjects lies his own happiness.” These words are the key to good governance and the welfare of the people. It is high time that we set up a legally enforceable process by which voters could hold their representatives accountable if they are not performing satisfactorily (instead of waiting for the next election to teach him/her a lesson!). The judiciary must also play a more active role (without infringing upon the legislative domain of the parliament) in the citizens’ interest.

But most importantly, instead of criticising politicians, the people must be more vigilant themselves. Whether one likes it or not, politics impact his/her life more than any celestial object! Hence, it is better to become aware of our problems and to fight for their redress if politicians don’t pay heed to our demands. We don’t need to sit in a ‘dharna’ or a ‘hunger strike’. The need for the hour is awareness and taking up of small measures by everyone. The way small drops of water form a huge ocean, our tiny efforts would result in the formation of a better society – the ultimate goal of any political activity. We must take an interest in politics. To quote former US President J.F. Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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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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