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With $1.6 Billion In Its Pocket, How India Is Using Foreign Aid To Make A Point

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By Cordis Paldano:

For the first time in nearly 69 years of India’s Independence from the United Kingdom, this year we will not be receiving any aid from our former colonial masters. On the contrary, we, who have been the biggest recipient of foreign aid for decades, are now an international donor in our own right, providing around $1.6 billion annually in economic assistance to poorer nations. This is not a contingent development but rather a reflection of India’s growing stature in the world today.

Indian PM Modi Meets With President Obama At The White House
Since independance, India has received the highest amount of foreign aid from the US. Source: Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty

Foreign aid may be ostensibly allocated for moral reasons such as poverty alleviation or disease eradication, but at no point is the donor or the recipient oblivious of the underlying politics of ‘giving’, which, be it at the village level or in the global arena, remains the means par excellence of preserving authority. By the same token, to accept aid is to be indebted to the donor, a debt which is partially repaid by acknowledging one’s inferior position in the hierarchy with respect to the donor. Is it any surprise then that the biggest donor in the world today is the United States, which doles out money primarily not to the poor nations of sub-Saharan Africa but rather to Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan and Pakistan which are countries that are of significant military interest to the USA? In a similar vein, France directs nearly all of its aid resources towards maintaining its sphere of influence among its former colonies in West Africa on whom it wields unparalleled diplomatic and military influence.

It would be a mistake to take the moral high ground here and assume that unlike western countries, the financial assistance provided by India was somehow more altruistic. Much of the aid that we provide is restricted to South Asia where we are increasingly asserting ourselves as a regional power and the two biggest recipients of Indian aid are Bhutan and Afghanistan which, in itself, reveals the political motivations that underpin our developmental assistance policy. For decades, Bhutan has remained the single largest benefactor of Indian aid, in return for which we maintain a stranglehold on the foreign policy, defence and commerce of our much smaller neighbour. Afghanistan on the other hand, is the stage where India and Pakistan are playing out the ‘great game of the 21st century‘ and so it is no wonder that India’s pledge to rebuild Afghanistan has reached a total of $2 billion . This money is being used to build dams, roads, democratic institutions and public/military infrastructure with a view to stabilise Afghanistan, reducing its dependence on Pakistan and strengthening ethnic groups that are inimical to the Taliban, which in turn is backed by the Pakistani state apparatus.

Foreign aid, which is the voluntary transfer of resources from one country to another, often poorer country, does come with strings attached, but it is also an indicator of the closeness of relations between the two countries. Similarly, falling aid levels are in all likelihood, symptomatic of trouble brewing in the relationship. Following India’s displeasure at Nepal’s new constitution and the ensuing blockade imposed on the Himalayan nation, India, in its budget this year, has decided to slash the aid given to its neighbour from Rs. 420 crore rupees to Rs. 300 crore , at a time when Nepal is desperate for resources, given that it is still recovering from the devastating earthquake of the previous year.

rafale
There continues to be complications in the purchasing of Rafale fighter jets from France. Source: Arvind Yadav/Getty

If aid, as you say, is inherently self-interested and used to apply pressure on the recipient, then why, the naysayers ask, did India snub the UK in 2012 and award a £13 billion deal to France to supply fighter jets? Readers will remember that this came at a time when the UK had committed to providing 1bn£ in aid to India over a period of four years and that India’s decision subsequently led to a diplomatic row and to the eventual cessation of British aid from this year onwards. Andrew Mitchell, the then British International Development Secretary had justified the aid being given to India by clearly stating that, “the focus is also about seeking to sell Typhoon [fighter jets].”

In order to understand why the Indian government did not buckle to British pressure, we must understand the nature of the aid industry and its evolution since the end of the Cold War. A significant proportion of the aid that India received prior to liberalisation went into public sector projects intended to build and bolster a young nation. However, foreign donors today are more interested in promoting Western democratic models of governance and so, aid is nowadays routed through Western consultancies and charities, working in tandem with local civil society groups and NGOs. This interference is often seen by recipient nations as an attempt by the West to reshape foreign societies to suit its own needs and is no longer viewed favourably in a decade that has seen emboldened civil societies toppling several regimes around the world. India’s rejection of British aid is, therefore, unsurprising and was in fact, soon followed by an expulsion of USAID by Bolivia, Ecuador and Egypt.

Incidentally, India delayed finalising the deal with France, thereby giving hope to the British that the lucrative order was still within their reach and in the process, managed to wrangle substantial concessions from both sides. This was precisely the same strategy that India had adopted during the Cold War years, refusing to align with either of the superpowers that continued to woo India with technical and financial assistance, leading to India becoming the largest beneficiary of foreign aid in the world over the past seven decades.

To conclude, not all assistance is nefarious, and in an age marked by increasing economic inequality, it is imperative for countries to show solidarity with one another and provide aid that is delinked from commercial and military objectives. But in a world where even the offerings made to Gods have underlying expectations, is disinterested aid even possible?

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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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