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PM Modi Endorsing Reliance Jio May Not Be Illegal, But It’s Wrong For Many Reasons

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By Abhishek Jha:

What appeared to be a full page Reliance Jio advertisement was, on the face of it, only a dedication to Digital India. It is, therefore, unlikely that Reliance will invite any legal proceedings under the Emblems and Names Act, should they be initiated. Moreover, it has been said, it is unlikely that the ad, which is now running on television as well, could have included the PM without his approval. By the time of writing this article at least, neither the PMO, nor Reliance Jio representatives seemed to have responded to any media queries on whether any approval was sought or given.

Allegations Of Favours To Reliance

This tacit understanding between the PM and Reliance however keeps the question of propriety alive. There already is a perception that Reliance is being favoured. A CBI inquiry was sought in a PIL, for instance, challenging the 4G spectrum allocation to Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. (RJIL). The PIL was filed after the CAG alleged that Reliance had been favoured in the allocation by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in a draft report.

Infotel Broadband Services (IBSPL), a company with net worth of Rs 2.49 crore, had made an Earnest Money Deposit of Rs 252.50 crore and later won the bid for one pan Indian slot by paying Rs 12,847.77 crore. Soon after the bid, Reliance had acquired its shares and renamed the company Reliance Jio. The CAG alleged in the draft report that the government did not verify whether confidentiality conditions were violated by IBSPL. It also said that the DoT not clarifying whether voice services over spectrum were permitted could have reduced demand for the spectrum, thus favouring IBSPL.

While the PIL based on these allegations was turned down by the Supreme Court this April, new allegations of favours have been made more recently by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). The COAI has accused the DoT and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) of favouring Reliance by keeping guidelines ambiguous. This has reportedly allowed Jio to run extended free trials, which while helping the company get some three million customers might have possibly caused losses for the government.

Suit, Boot, And Sarkar

These aspersions on the transparency with which Jio has established itself though are only half of the bit on which the PM’s participation in the ad can be questioned. The current government has been accused of favouring the rich, powerful, and privileged from the very beginning. If there was any kind of understanding between the PMO and Reliance, the ad further shows how insensitive they are to worker, poor, and disenfranchised, because the ad came out on a day when an all-India strike against the government’s labour policies was taking place. The strike, in even its symbolic capacity, was against the government’s labour policies, against corporate exploitation of labour, and against their alleged collusion. All these three came together in the ad.

The PM participating in a corporate ad might appear harmless but one must note that this also gives a kind of sanction for what big companies do for profit when not monitored and regulated. Jio itself, for instance, has been reportedly procuring its Lyf brand smartphones from the China’s ZTE Corporation, although this is not officially declared by ZTE. ZTE was among the 16 multinational brands that were accused in an Amnesty International-African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) report this January of sourcing cobalt from mines in Democratic Republic of Congo that exploit workers. Cobalt is used in the batteries used in the electronic equipments these brands make. The report said that the workers were sometimes as young as seven and made to work in mines for long hours without protective clothing.

Fuchang Electronic Technology Co., a supplier to ZTE, also faced workers’ protests in October last year after it unexpectedly shut down factories. Closer home ZTE has recently announced plans to open manufacturing units for VoLTE (Voice calls over a 4G LTE network) smartphones in India, cashing in on the Make in India initiative. Given its own history and the manner in which labour laws operate in India, we can imagine the future of these plans. A factory of ZTE, which opened in 2005 is in Industrial Model Township (IMT) Manesar. Land acquisition for this township also allegedly took place in a dubious manner. This is now part of a CBI inquiry too following court orders. This is only with respect to Jio. Reliance’s own exploitation of labour is relatively well-known.

Despite all this, it can perhaps be argued that the PM appearing in the ad is no surprise, for the above is a criticism that that he does not seem to care about. The development of the nation- an entity bound more by imagination than anything- is apparently of more significance to him than the real lives of the people who inhabit its geographical boundaries. However, we should also know that concessions have been wrested from the BJP’s party line by popular politics. When we criticise the ad, we demand that he withdraw the state’s approval for those who ran the ad.

Featured image credit: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images
Banner image credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

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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.

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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.”

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.

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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.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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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