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“India Is Emerging, Growing And Shining. But For Whom?”

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By Anwarul Hoda:

“Those who dream about India becoming an economic superpower, even with its huge proportion of undernourished children, lack of systematic health care, extremely deficient school education and half of the homes without toilets, have to reconsider not only the reach of their understanding of the mutual relationship between growth and development, but also their appreciation of the demands of social justice, which is integrally linked with the expansion of human freedoms.” This is how two of India’s leading development economists Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze define and argue about the prospects for growth in India. India is booming, but for whom? This is the question put forward by the duo in their book, “An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions”.

No doubt since Independence the growth of Indian democracy has been incredible. And in seven decades, it has set its foundations so strong that it is in a position to challenge the superpowers especially in terms of economic growth. In the last two decades, the pace of growth rate has been remarkable and reached its maximum height of 9 percent during the period of 2003-2007. After the reforms brought by P. V, Narasimha Rao in 1991-92, India never looked back. With the rapid growth in the post-reform era, we’re moving fast towards a free-market economy. Goldman Sachs, an American multinational banking firm predicted that India will overtake France and Italy by 2020 in terms of GDP at current prices, and later Germany, UK and Russia by 2025. However, for the first time after reform, India beat China in terms of GDP growth and is playing an influential role in shaping the global economy. The International Monetary Fund ranks India as the seventh largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP.

However, this would be only the partial truth if we ignore the social conditions and living standards of Indians within the boundaries of the same booming nation. The United Nations in its Millennium Development Goals report of 2014 states, “Still, nearly 300 million people live in extreme poverty in India and face deprivation in terms of access to basic services, including education, health, water, sanitation and electricity.” Another UN study claimed that India is home to one-third of the total ‘extremely poor’ people of the world.

“Over the past few decades, for a stark reminder of the global gulf between the rich and the poor a visit to any country in the third world has sufficed. India is one of the most striking examples. Here we have our least fortunate living with resources less than those available to dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa, and our wealthiest in the list of the world’s top 100 billionaires,” concluded Oxfam India, an independent organisation working on global inequality, about income inequality in India. Increasing income inequality is another matter of concern which is already affecting the aim of sustainable development.

In the pre-liberalisation era, there were hardly any billionaires on the boat. But in a matter of decades, India ranks third among all countries in producing the highest number of billionaires and is expected to grow incredibly with the time. This itself reveals the pace of growing income inequality in the country. And if we were to continue like this then the outcome will be very odd as Peter Singer, a moral philosopher from Australia, warns that growing “economic inequality can give wealthier people an unacceptable degree of control over the lives of others” and it can “undermine the fairness of political institutions and economic system itself”.

Now, after the distribution of wealth, let’s analyse the share of the general population in the cake of development. During the 2014 Indian Economic Summit, Mint came up with top seven challenges the Indian economy is facing which was the key agenda under the theme ‘Redefining Public-Private Cooperation for a New Beginning’ that included issues like education, urbanisation, health, sanitation, gender, transparency and water scarcity.

The status of the education system in India can be judged by recent Bihar and Gujarat ‘topper scams’. In fact, these scams are not unique. Many such reports on various education scams from all the states are available. Once you google, you can find many results. The ‘Vyapam Scam‘ also falls in the same category.

According to Akshay Saxena, co-founder of Avanti Learning Centre, millions of children are unable to go to high school and 50 million students have terrible high schools among all those fortunate children who finally make it. In his words, “Education is a problem of teachers, students and curriculum, public schools facing tremendous shortage of teachers in millions.” He termed the entire scene as ‘scary’ in the programme, mutually organised by UNICEF and Youth Ki Awaaz at Delhi.

India has the pride of having once been a great ‘centre of learning’ with well-known universities like Nalanda and Taxila. But in the 21st-century, only a couple of institutions from India occupy the space among the top 200 institutes of the world. This doesn’t mean India does not produce extraordinary minds. But the fact is that after graduating from IITs and IIMs, Indian minds look towards Europe and United States for research programmes.

In 1964-66, the Kothari commission had recommended that India should spend six percent of the GDP on education while according to 2010 data, India spends merely 3.3 percent of GDP when the global average is 4.9 percent. While comparing with countries like China and Sri Lanka, we can see that they have much better education facilities and literacy rate. Besides, their education primarily managed by the public sector. It is either because of corruption or lack of funds or may be because of the prevailing education policies. From primary to higher, the crisis is going deeper and deeper in Indian education system.

Another thing, healthcare, is facing the same kind of negligence by the government. Expenditure on health is continuously shrinking. Data says that every year, one million people die due to inadequate healthcare facilities. Besides, around 700 million people have no access to specialist care. So, in such circumstances, the obvious question one needs to ask the government is: who is getting all pieces of cake?

Population is often used as an excuse for the poor social indicators in India. But, when I posed a question regarding population growth and development to Zulfiqar Sheth, a scholar of economics from Aligarh Muslim University, this is what his reply was: “Well when a baby comes in the world, it comes not only with a mouth but with a pair of hands too. Like China focussed on ‘hands’ and massively invested in training people and building infrastructure, we can follow the Chinese model of human development. But for that, we need a big push and a very stable government with a clear vision. If we don’t invest in infrastructure, especially training institutes, our potential demographic dividend will become a demographic disaster.”

Migration, urbanisation pollution and the depletion of natural resources are also issues that demand equal attention as these issues greatly affect the economy in the long term and the population, mostly the poor.

Currently India finds itself at the 13oth position in the Human Development Index among 188 countries which probably isn’t a great improvement from 1991. So, what is changing? Yes, India is emerging, growing and shining. But for whom? It seems like there is another India within India and ignoring it cannot help for short or long term growth.

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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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