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What Trump’s Win In USA And Currency Ban In India Have In Common

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By Avani Bansal:

Over the last few days, we witnessed what some may call dramatic events. No change is overnight. It is slow, brewing underground until one day, it’s out there for everyone to see. In India, Modi announced the replacement of the old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes in an attempt to bring out the black money from the coffers of Indians. The nation was awe-struck at the surprise that came with the announcement, as reflected in the over-flooding of comments on Twitter. Whether this action of the government will really help curb the black money problem is debatable and only time will tell. It’s been hailed as ‘revolutionary’ by banking industry leaders, as an adverse hit to the small and medium-size businesses, and motivated by political reasons than economic, amongst others. It’s short and long-term effects may be debatable but it is not unfair to describe it as a bold move, given its wide reaching impact on every person in the country and the swiftness with which it was implemented.

On the other side of the globe, Trump’s election as the 45th President of the United States of America has attracted sharp reactions from around the world and across political divides. The run up to the elections and the final outcome had the world watching with bated breath. US presidential elections always attracts attention from media around the world but this time it was nothing sort of historic. The political campaign of Trump made it clear to anyone who was listening that one can expect policy reversal on some key areas and issues including the Affordable Care Act, climate change, rights of immigrants, LGBT rights etc. Now that Trump is elected, perhaps we need to give him a chance to lead, in Clinton’s words.

But why should we pause and take note of these two extra-ordinary events, one in the largest democracy and another in the most powerful democracy of the world? These two events present the need to go back to the basics of democracy. What we see unfolding is bigger than the Modi and the Trump of the world. Irrespective of what we think of these two events, we are witnessing a dramatic shift of our own fates. We are watching the forces of democracy undergoing a churn. These events present a question – is democracy the best form of government? Can we, the people, trust ourselves to rule ourselves?

Democracy means rule by the people and it is as good as the people themselves. The reins of our country are always in the hands of the people. It is not enough then, as ‘the people’ to sit in peace with our opinions based on the simplistic narratives presented to us but to look carefully at the forces that define the popular discourse, and to influence them in the desired direction. It is important to look beyond what’s obvious, for hidden motives, forces at play, real beneficiaries of a move and to always ask – “Why?” than just “What?”

Yes, Modi’s move is bold but it’s timing cannot be neglected. There are several arguments on the table that needs to be kept in consideration. First, it can be argued that this move ahead of the U.P. elections does win a political vote in favour of BJP over other parties. One can also argue that it cannot be ruled out that BJP party insiders would have seen this move coming and arranged for the black money to be converted into white in preparation for the upcoming elections. The money in politics aside, one may say that the political mileage in terms of the popularity of the move cannot be discounted. But on the other hand, it can also be argued that this was a risky move that could have either helped BJP win next general elections or lose it.

It’s about reading the nerves of the majority right and playing to it. Trump did exactly that. The insecurities of the average white people, the growing inequality in the American society, the backdrop of the financial crisis, a distrust of the insiders in politics are all factors that explain to some extent the electoral victory of Trump.

As different as these two events may look, they are also remarkably similar. They force us to re-think the role of populism in democracy. If winning an election in a democracy is all about numbers, can we really hope for long-term, systematic social changes? Should our leaders say and do the things that the majority wants to hear and see, or should they do ‘the right thing’? What is ‘the right thing’ is debatable. Further, whether it is right as per the collective conscious of the majority, or as per the conscious of the leader is another layer of complexity inherent in the debate. But if democracy is to survive and emerge stronger, then we as people need to go deeper, beyond simplistic narratives. We need to engage with the complexities and nuances of every proposition.

Do we really know if this move of the government will be effective in curbing black money? Do we really know if and how Trump will ‘make America great again’? Today, politics seems to have become replaceable with populism. What is easy is what sells. What sells is what’s sold. Common people don’t usually engage with the complexities of an issue. Politicians are hell bent on explaining every problem like they were explaining it to ‘a six-year-old’. But democracy cannot survive only amongst six-year-olds. We need adult conversations.

As ‘the people’, we wouldn’t do our duty if we only relied on what the media feeds us, or what social media shares tell us. We need to apply our minds independently. We need to understand that the under-written rule of democratic elections is that one needs to win the next election before one can ‘save the world’. Winning the next election requires focusing on short-term objectives, even when they may come with long term costs. Who cares? But we can make the government care. We can ask tough questions, we can keep the debates on, we can ask for assessment reports by the government to check on the feasibility of a project/proposal. You will read opinions of all kinds but what we need is that you engage with the issues, try to understand what’s happening and not take a simplistic ‘they know best’ approach. We need more inputs by the experts and we need to trust those experts. And yet, relying on experts alone is not the solution. Ultimately, we need to choose leaders who have a strong will, a powerful soul and who will ‘do the right thing’, not withstanding the pulls and pressure of politics. They will be like the lotus in muddy waters – in it but not affected by it. The challenge is, will we choose them and will we stand by them?

A democracy cannot rely on leaders alone. It is you and I who make a difference. So keep your eyes and ears open. Look for what’s behind the game. Stand for the right move, and rise above party politics. Dare to say the right and be with the right. Let politics play its role but let it never be above your soul. In the meantime, give a long hard look at democracy. It’s come a long way and now finds itself at cross-roads. Where is democracy heading and why, and where do we want it to go and why, are questions we all need to be asking today.

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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, 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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