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Any Attempt To Paint India With The Same Brush Will Be A Disaster. Here’s Why

By Parnika Deora:

A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory is called a nation.

A state is an organised political community living under a single system of government and may or may not be sovereign. With these terminologies clear we can now focus on the hackneyed concept of a ‘nation-state’ that stresses on people, living in a particular state, having or sharing the same history, tradition and language.

This may haunt the patriotic side of some but John Strachey, a British colonial administrator, had once said that there was no ‘India’ and that the people of Bengal, Madras, and Punjab would never feel that they belonged to one nation. This statement may seem blasphemous to some and pragmatic to others. India is not a nation-state because it does not have uniformity on the basis of history, culture, language etc. To move somewhat away from the shades of grey, one can call India a ‘state-nation‘ because a state-nation does not need to proclaim uniformity but it accepts that cultural boundaries do not have to coincide with political boundaries and diversity can be celebrated within a country.

19th century Europe was not very liberating and easy for its people. Diversity was discouraged and if there came such a case then political boundaries were shifted either by creating new countries or merging existing states. Some who feel for the cause of nationhood or nation-state are trying to now mould India’s diversity to forge a unity that comes under the ambit of shallow standards set by a few.

The politics of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan came about and showed how an idea of a nation state based on Hindi as the national language, Hindutva as a way of life and the north-Indian belt as the heartland could do if propagated with full force. With the backdrop of being fascist in nature, the Hindutva ideology is feared to be dealing with cultural hegemony, that is, omnipresence and domination of a certain way of life or culture. As we know India is a diverse country, we see people dealing with this homogenisation in their own way. Localisation and heterogenisation of culture (interpreting and practising their own culture within the homogenised majority) is a good example that works well against the theory of homogenisation.

Nationalising any one language in a country like India is a recipe for a disaster. With more than hundreds of languages being spoken in different parts of the country, sharing one language with all the citizens seems a bit of a stretch. Just to fit the ‘nation-state’ model one country does not have to trample on the basic ingredients and ideologies that constituted the formation of the country in the first place. Different ethno-racial groups living in different geographic regions in one shared country speaking different languages and sharing different cultures is a cause for celebration. If we have made it this far without having the need to alter our country’s diverse ethos, then we can make it till the end of the road.

Talking about the ‘state-nation’ policy, India sets a good example:

1) States like Kashmir, Nagaland and Mizoram are given a special status and special legislations.
2) Minorities and socially disadvantaged communities have rights that protect their individual rights.
3) We see regional and national parties coming together and forming coalitions.
4) Cultural nationalism in states does not give rise to secessionism due to the prevailing federal and parliamentary system.

There are many more such factors that set a good example.

Till the French Revolution, not all people in France spoke French. This was enforced by the French government in order to make their ‘nation’ uniform by having one particular language that would be spoken by all. If the same vigilantism crawls back into the sphere of the Indian society then not only would it be unethical and against the law but it would also create havoc among different religions, communities etc.

Our country’s law has been able to move past the issues of caste, language, religion etc. but it seems that our political set up still thrives on the above-mentioned points to work its way through. Political parties often capitalise on caste politics and make use of these things to increase their popularity among different communities and people.

In conclusion, I feel that India is a ‘state-nation’ and it should be a cause for great pride because we Indians are united by our identity but cultural, linguistic and religious differences do exist amongst us in humongous proportions. The need to be a nation does not fit in the Indian context because India has such a vast diverse cultural reservoir that trying to fit it into the ‘nation-state’ theory would consequentially hamper our country’s image. Let’s not be swept away by caste politics or certain forced ideologies but have an open mind, which is necessary for the present scenario.

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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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