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Kanhaiya Kumar’s Admission That The Left Has Lost Touch With The Masses Was Spot On

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By Manisit Das:

yechury_karat_kanhaiyaVery recently, we got to hear a spontaneous and passionate speech by Kanhaiya Kumar (Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union President) post his release. The way he slammed his right-wing opponents and media in his satirical and rustic style is a treat for the ears. My good wishes to the leader who is rising!

I am however specifically heartened by one element in his speech. That was his admission that the Left in India had remained largely elitist and that they had failed to strike a chord with masses despite championing their rights and empathising with them. I am happy that he realised that so early in his life. This speaks of his political maturity.

In general, people in today’s world have a sense of antipathy and a cringing fear of the Left. And thus, a certain Bernie Sanders in the United States, trying to build his campaign on the ideas of democratic socialism is immediately feared as a ‘Communist’ trying to take over the country. What people do not realise is that any ‘welfare state’ trying to take care of the social and economic well-being of its citizens is already close to the vision he espouses.

India is not an exception to this trend either. With an enormous section of people not being able to access higher education and alienated by almost unfathomable barriers like caste, religion, sects, social status and regional identity, it is not too difficult to deduce that a discourse on ‘dialectical materialism’ or ‘classless society’ would sound like Hebrew to most ears.

Now, our post-Independence nationalism is somehow a ‘hate thy neighbour’ nationalism. More often than not, it seems that an India-Pakistan cricket match is the greatest unifying force in the country. And for the same reason, the soldiers in the borders are our greatest heroes and the people of the frontier provinces are our biggest traitors. Thus, when E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Chief Minister of the first democratically elected government led by a communist party in India, remarked that neither the Chinese nor the Indians could be accused of aggression since both were defending territory that they thought was theirs, the Communists turned into Chinese sympathisers in the eyes of the people overnight during Sino-Indian war in 1962.

However, the same majority of people didn’t empathise when the Left withdrew their support from the first UPA government at the Centre over their concern for India’s sovereignty in the face of a nuclear deal with the USA. This deal required the country to submit a list of India’s civilian nuclear reactors to the regulatory agencies thereby exposing them to inspection on demand. The Centre wasn’t blamed of anti-nationalism and the Left weren’t idolised as patriots and nationalists. Such irony!

Now, let’s come back to the question I started with. A lot of people are scared of ‘Communists’. And it is not quite unjustified either, given that they have a bad taste in their mouths due to the Communist regimes in central Europe, Russia, North Korea among others. Here, I find a quote by Milan Kundera, an author of Czech origin very significant:

“Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: The criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiantly that they were forced to execute many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers.”

People essentially forget that their experience with any political extremism, be it far right fascism or centralised socialism with an authoritarian form of government, never turned out pleasant. And this was precisely why people tried to fuse elements from ‘right’ and ‘left’ and hang around the ‘centre’. That is how most of the political systems work in the present day world.

The horizon of the Left is immense. It remains a vital space in politics. Many feel that the Left has an obsession with the ‘victimisation of the marginalised’. Yes, they do and they often sound rhetorical. But in a political democracy guided by economic authoritarianism where interests of big corporations are prioritised in the name of free trade, there needs to be a voice for the oppressed, for the marginalised and for the alienated. There is a need because the conservatives and the right-wing will never speak of inclusion and will not try to protect the interests of disadvantaged groups.

When India experimented with democracy after her Independence, the world watched with cynicism and apprehension and wondered whether the exercise would turn the country into a failed state. But we didn’t fail as a country. The nation state didn’t fall apart because she stood by her people and didn’t try to create a country in the name of a single religion or a monolithic nationalism, and accepted her diversity as intrinsic. However, that very idea of India is now threatened with the political degeneration of the Left and a ruthless right-wing which builds itself on a majoritarian rhetoric. India needs her Left now, very dearly so. Let’s hope the Left leadership of the country lends an ear to one of their young compatriots today and is in the process of getting back to the people and forging connections. The sooner, the better.

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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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