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How Leaders Use Their Power In India To Trample Over Democracy

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Political power is an invariable asset that accrues to the winner in democracy. A power that the people bestow upon a leader to help guide them under the aegis of an agreed upon rulebook such as the constitution. How responsibly the leader handles this power is a testament to where their convictions lie, whether in serving the broader interests of the people or in catering to the narrower concerns of a select few. In the Indian context, time and again, we have seen how successive politicians of different hues have squandered the responsible power that they were given in a democratic system that took birth under the visionary leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and conceptualised in the Constitution by its architect Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar.

In a tryst with destiny, a widely disparate conglomerate of regions was broadly painted together as India. The guiding principles of equality, freedom and justice adopted by this new nation were structurally inimical to the thousands of years of caste-ridden Vedic ‘civilization’ that thrived on this land and survived the onslaught of a variety of forces. Hence, even after starting off with lofty ideals, the nation never quite got out of its feudal mould. Rights enshrined in the constitution remained just talking points while lives continued to get crushed under the time-tested juggernauts of caste hegemony and feudalism. Thus, with no sincere attempt at redistribution of wealth, India was never meant to be an egalitarian state and constitution was never meant to be really followed in its letter and spirit.

Nevertheless, some painfully slow progress did take place over the years. Much of this again paradoxically made possible only because of certain far-reaching investments made early on in the public sector and measures such as reservations that for the first time created a semblance of equality in the government job sector for hitherto unrepresented sections that were banished as the crud of Indian society. As these half-hearted measures implemented by mostly right-of-the-center governments dawdled on, the embrace of global capitalism by the duo of P.V.Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh threatened the very fabric of public welfare and eventually diminished the real impact of reservations in the ever-shrinking government sector.

The irreversible processes set in motion by the dubiously labelled ‘liberalisation’ only helped worsen the already deplorable wealth gap watering down whatever little Nehruvian socialism aimed to achieve courtesy the love for capitalism that reached a feverish pitch in the last decade regardless of the guard at the center. Amidst all this, a renewed emphasis on rights had taken shape in the United Progressive Alliance Rule between 2004-2014. For example, acts such as Right to Education, Food Security Act, Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Land Acquisition Act were steps in the right direction taken to counteract the unchecked power of neo-capitalist forces. Even though they were merely an eye-wash in the big picture, the intent to enshrine such legislations into the rule book showed their responsibility towards the masses.

Enamoured by the promise of acche din amidst the din of corruption created by the nebulous media and ‘civil’ society and aided by the spineless Congress leadership that lacked the conviction, blatantly majoritarian Narendra Modi rode to power in 2014. With the decisive strength that his dispensation obtained in Lok Sabha in 2014 with 31% vote-share, a paradigm shift has taken place in governance.

Focus has shifted completely from a rights-based governance to a dictatorial regime. Key elements of the Land Acquisition Act were tinkered with rendering the steam out of it. The Prime Minister himself had gone on record on the floor of the Parliament terming the rural employment guarantee scheme a living monument of failure of the previous regime. Food security was thrown to the wind while hoarding essential commodities such as pulses went unchecked. Food choices of marginalised communities were made emotive issues as the government remained a mute spectator to street terror unleashed on vulnerable Dalits and Muslims be it in Dadri or Una or Amalapuram.

University students were driven to death for standing up for their fellow oppressed sections while some others were charged with sedition for raising their voices against oppression. Tribals agitating for their forest rights ruthlessly shut down with no recourse to justice. Any dissent quelled with vitriol spewed not only by the government but by the loyal sheep in the public that seem to be unaware of where their shepherd is leading them. A rights-based governance seems a Utopian dream in this era where public display of a certain form of Patriotism has been decreed mandatory by the immensely clever judiciary of the land. Nationalism seems to be defined by a narrow love for the aggressive military measures endorsed by the ruling forces and not by the love for people that make up the geographic breadth of the land.

Perhaps the culmination of this utterly fascist style of governance came last month in the form of demonetisation i.e. dehumanisation of the financial freedom of millions of working classes. The abrupt handing down of a ‘fatwa’ rendering 86% of circulating cash value-less overnight smacks of the very definition of authoritarianism. Hiding behind the seemingly noble intentions of rooting out ill-gotten wealth, the move only did quite the opposite – it ensured that the poor and needy suffered the most while the rich and resourceful remained unperturbed. As reports now indicate that almost all of the circulating demonetized ₹1000 and ₹500 made it back to the banks, the PM himself has to answer how he intends to bring to book the fat hoarders of loads and loads of physical cash that he and his bhakt brigade think exist.

While the country continues to fail to safeguard the lives and aspirations of the most vulnerable with more than a hundred people dead already as a direct result of demonetisation, the leader of the nation seems too anxious to ask “can’t you do this much for the country?” He seems to be thinking he can pull off a JFK “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” But alas, millions of our fellow citizens live, work and die for this country already while their country is unable to promise them dignity of work, security of life and now even their right to spend their money as they wish.

In continuation of this dictatorial trend, the government now wants to enforce a cashless economy. Even the prototype capitalist country such as USA does not enforce a cashless economy, rather cash is always an accepted mode of payment. The very idea that a cashless economy is somehow a panacea to all ills is inherently faulty. Such an assumption comes from an utter disregard to street vendors, small-scale businesses, labourers and scores of other people that form the bulk of the working classes. In one stroke, the globe-trotting PM wants to decimate these lives and transfer their business to glitzy shops and malls owned by MNCs that gleefully accept cashless payments.

If and when the electorate gets their next chance, assuming a full-scale fascist crackdown on the body polity of India is not forthcoming, they will do a lot good to themselves by recognising the need for a rights-based governance. If the bloody history of this land is any example, rights have to be fought for, they will never be handed down. Until then, we will remain “reduced to our immediate identity, to a thing, a number, a vote”.

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  1. Suresh Suresh

    very enlightening article,thanks much for this !!

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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.

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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)’.

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 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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