This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Nissim Mannathukkaren. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Demonetisation: Neither Cultural, Nor Revolutionary

More from Nissim Mannathukkaren

Matching people around the idea of “cultural revolution” usually leads either to confusion or to demagoguery. —Ivan Illich

We live in ironic times where the establishment quotes Bob Dylan, an anti-establishment figure. Thus, the Prime Minister recently cited lines from Dylan’s song, The Times They Are A-Changin including, “And don’t criticise/What you can’t understand,” all ostensibly targeted at the critics of demonetisation.

Demonetisation is an event of biblical proportions. But even as its economic consequences are discussed, what goes unnoticed are the new cultural imaginaries that are sought to be put in place. Rather than see demonetisation as only an economic measure to curb corruption, the Prime Minister, in the government narrative, wants to usher “a behavioural change at all levels of society”, which is a part of “the grand ‘cultural revolution’ that the PM is working on”.

The problem is that this cultural revolution is neither cultural nor revolutionary. Culture becomes a mere appendage to technological transformations which still mask material exploitation. In this cultural revolution government still needs lucky draw contests (and prizes worth ₹340 crores) to incentivise digital payments and behaviour change. Also, the revolution will be ushered in through an executive fiat from above rather than it emerging organically from the people.

Emptiness Of Words

Technology is the fulcrum of the new cultural revolution. As the Prime Minister puts it, in ‘Digital India’, “your phone is your wallet”. But when Dylan becomes yoked to the project of “Cashless India” and “Digital India,” culture becomes merely instrumental and hollow. Otherwise, how is Dylan’s song in question, reflecting the American youth’s anger against imperialism perpetrated by their own government, quoted by a government that has come down heavily on dissent, and has used militarism as a political tool?

The cultural revolution is supposed to completely overhaul the system. In a reference rich with religio-cultural symbolism, the Prime Minister calls demonetisation a “yagna against corruption, terrorism and black money”. There is, of course, tremendous hardship for the people. But he asks them to endure it, like the Japanese who bravely faced the tsunami, to make the nation great and modern. Remarkably, in this vision, there are no cultural revolutions to annihilate caste, the most important barrier to India becoming modern. Nor there are yajnas against class and gender exploitation.

Source: Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

In this cultural revolution without culture, anything goes, so the Prime Minister can wish that “the youth seize the moment and be the winds of change” even after his government has virtually criminalised any youth politics that is unpalatable to the state. Or, a union minister can also quote Dylan to critique patriarchy in Muslim community, but not patriarchy among Hindus.

No Critical Pedagogy

Such a conjuncture is itself a result of the failure of India in building a critical pedagogy. Instead of questioning the fundamental bases of exploitation, the entire pedagogy has been built on a technocratic understanding of society catering to building “meritorious” citizens, a society which merely reinforces existing hierarchies. In this pedagogy, as the philosopher Ivan Illich put it, “medical treatment is mistaken for healthcare, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work.”

It is on this ground already ploughed by conformist and regressive currents that the seeds of the new cultural revolution are sown. How else does one explain sections of the most “educated”, including those in the bureaucracy, with a bird’s-eye view of governance, seeing demonetisation as a panacea to all the nation’s ills? The crux of technocratic thinking is to paper over systemic causes of issues such as poverty and prescribe technological fixes.

The root cause of our misery in this technocratic vision is a culture steeped in corruption. While there is a grain of truth in this, the decadent culture is not caused by the ruling classes in general, but only, as a government representative puts it, “encouraged by Congress and its friends all these years in power”. Again, the accumulation of privilege by the upper castes/classes or of the state-sanctioned plunder of public wealth, forests, minerals, etc. by the ruling classes, cutting across party lines goes unmentioned.

When one identifies the problem as such, the solution can only be superficial. Demonetisation becomes a magic wand to end all problems of corruption. When the Prime Minister tells a rally that the rich are queuing up at the houses of the poor to seek their help in depositing black money, he is definitely not referring to the ultra-rich in India. So, the cultural revolution is already making a distinction between the rich themselves.

In this cultural revolution, culture becomes a mask to hide fundamental material realities. Thus, it does not tell us that the top one percent of people own 58.4% of the country’s wealth (up from 49% in 2014, and 36.8% in 2000). When the bottom 50% own only 2.1% of the wealth, how does the promised manna of a few thousand rupees in Jan Dhan accounts alter anything?

The staggering levels of inequality have very little to do with black money held in high denomination notes, but are a result of a skewed distribution of wealth, resources and power legally enforced. That among the prominent economies of the world, India is only second to Russia, which is known for its mafia capitalism, in terms of the wealth owned by the top one percent says something about our rapacious model of development, especially under liberalisation.

The cultural revolution does not tell us that the revenue foregone by the government in corporate income tax, excise and custom duty since 2005-06 is ₹42 trillion— an amount which can fund NREGA for over 100 years!
Neither does it tell us that state-owned banks have written off ₹1.14 lakh crore of bad loans from 2013 to 2015 or that just two corporate houses alone owe over ₹3 lakh crore in debt to the banks.

DELHI, INDIA NOVEMBER 11: Photo by Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images

The tragedy is that the questions not asked by the cultural revolution are left unasked by popular discourse. And they will not be until we are prisoners of what the cultural theorist Henry Giroux calls as the “relentless activity of thoughtlessness” fostered by dominant power through its cultural apparatuses. What they do is to transform the genuine aspirations of the people for equality, a corruption-free society and anger against the existing system into sanitised expressions like demonetisation which do not fundamentally challenge the system.

It is in the absence of a genuine cultural revolution that we have reached a conjuncture in which a nation as diverse and unequal as India is asked to place its hopes on an individual leader as a talisman for a cultural revolution. A cultural revolution in which mobile phones will herald a corruption-free society. To unveil this cultural revolution, we need to go back to deciphering Dylan ourselves.

You must be to comment.

More from Nissim Mannathukkaren

Similar Posts

By Aditya Jaiswal

By Sahil Razvii

By Kunal Jha

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below