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The Demonetisation Debate Shows Our Obsession With Idealism Over Facts

By Abhik Deb:

One of the most common essays almost all of us wrote as a school assignment was ‘India of my dreams’. In hindsight, it was a wonderful exercise as a child to let our imaginations spread its wings. As we grew up, our idea of India and what it should be like might have changed but it has remained a perennial figment of imagination.

Incidentally, almost via a divine interception (read PM Modi’s claim), we find ourselves being just a month away from ‘sapnon ka Bharat’. If our country can annihilate black money, it can indeed lead to a gamut of issues getting resolved. The inflow of a huge amount of money in the national economy is naturally expected to be followed by its equitable distribution, something that has been promised by successive governments. Some have merely promised while others have gone a notch higher by specifying how much money each Indian will receive.

INR 15 lakhs per person might be an admitted overstatement but receiving even some part of it will lead many among the 47% of the population without a bank account to have one. It will also lead many of the 6 crore zero balance accounts under Jan Dhan Yojana to have something to show. These beneficiaries of financial inclusion will also receive credit and debit cards from banks and we will march towards a cashless society. They will become immune to demonetisation or anything such and will ‘swipe’ their way through their ordeals. By virtue of having a healthy and running account, banks will also provide them with loans. Farmers will finally break free from the vicious cycle of moneylenders and suicides will cease to take place. The clutch on counterfeit notes is supposed to stifle funds for terrorism. In the scarcity of funds, terrorism and extremism is expected to end and subsequently, Kashmir, Chhatisgarh, the North East and all such hotspots will eventually resolve their discontentment. Peace and tranquillity will no longer just be words of diplomacy.

All this and much more, and it is merely a month and a few days away.

Understandably, the situation is not and should not be simplified as such. But that is exactly what is being done. Our fantasy about upcoming good days often makes us oblivious about the present. The ‘greater good’ of demonetisation has overawed us in a manner that its objective analysis seems worthless. This phenomenon is not out of place. One can relate it to ‘post-truth’ – that has been adjudged ‘Word of the Year‘ by Oxford Dictionaries. The word, an adjective, is defined by Oxford Dictionary as: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

The triumph of the adjective over the verb might be great news for literature but when it affects policymaking and politics, it becomes scary. For starters, the entire discourse takes place in the realm of aspirations, where ideation (if not propaganda) towers over experience and evidence. This is indeed a like a ‘dream’ sequence and more often than not it is the happy dream that gets sold as we love staying cocooned in its comforts. We tend to nurture it and anything that casts a shadow of doubt upon its validity is unwelcome. This restricts us from questioning it on grounds of reality. The debate around demonetisation is a near perfect analogy of this. Our reactions to the move are being linked to virtues like honesty and ability to sacrifice for the nation and thus anybody questioning demonetisation is vulnerable to being demonised.

In the recent past, questions have been raised related to the GST Bill, Trump’s victory, the Bhopal jailbreak and encounter, cross-border terrorism and retaliatory measures, Najeeb’s disappearance, BCCI and the Lodha Committee’s tussle. These issues have come up, brewed storms in varying degrees and died slow deaths as demonetisation and its dreams have taken over. We are hardly concerned about issues which were our darlings merely a month ago. Will the issue of demonetisation meet a similar fate? It seems unlikely given that something as essential as money is involved here. Whether or not this dream comes true, it is logical that we document its outcome on the parameters of something as concrete as truth and not on the idealism and fanfare of post-truth.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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 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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