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Are ‘Bhakts’ Only Hurting PM Modi’s Image?

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According to me, anything without data is opinion, so let’s start with just that. As per the July, 2016 Market Update released by ILO (International Labour Organisation), while labour participation was firm at 55.6% FY15 and FY16, the share of organised salaried workers reduced from 18% in FY15 to 15% in FY16. While some may be self-employed, more than 80% share of the informal sector would cross the 90% mark, if one were to add the informal workers of the formal sector. Also, India has more young people (those aged between 15-29 years) than China.

Those unemployable or, employable yet unemployed, are a challenge. The India-KLEMS database on the RBI’s website says employment in India grew by a mere 1.4% CAGR between 1991-2011, and even lower at 1.2% between 2001-2011. Thus, economic growth did not boost employment.

A Credit Suisse report shows 1% of Indians held 58.4% of all the wealth in 2016, which is up from 49% in 2014 and 36% in 2000. The 5-Year CAGR till 2015 of wealth per adult being 3%, the rest 99% saw their share reduce in a stagnant bucket.

Akamai’s 2016 Q2 State of the Internet report shows India’s broadband speed is 3.6 Mbps vs. the global average of 6.1 Mbps and mobile internet speed is 3.3 Mbps vs. the global average of 11.8 mbps. So, 1.2 billion Indians transact digitally on such dismal speeds.

A Pew Center survey said only 17% Indians owned smartphones in 2015. As per Statistica, this was 23% in 2016. 23% Indians used mobile internet regularly as of Dec 2015, as per the IAMAI-IMRB report, which was expected to reach 30% till June 2016. Only 13% Indians use the three largest mobile-wallets. All of this data shows that digital-savvy, salaried, upwardly-affluent and less cash-dependent Indians are a minority. Those outside the organised economy, digital ecosystem, with lower and stagnant incomes and high cash-dependence, are the majority.

Since demonetisation of high-value currency notes was announced on November 8, ardent supporters of PM Modi, who are also for many reasons called ‘bhakts’ used illogical arguments, convenient positions and were insensitive in their conduct while showing their support and slamming anyone pointing out genuine inconveniences caused by the demonetisation announcement to the majority.

While I support demonetisation and PM Modi’s resolve, any impact on voters’ minds due to these illogical stances, is worrying. On-ground realities don’t matter, is the impression that these followers have been giving, which affects the government’s image negatively.

Demonetisation is a good start when it comes to an economy that is cleaner, more formal and digital. Although most of the black money is stored as gold or real estate and counterfeiters can source the new paper, Modi assured that action would be taken. However, every Indian has one vote. As someone who wants to see him get re-elected for a second term, I am concerned if these ‘bhakts’ are hurting PM Modi’s image in the minds of the majority. Local elections after November 8 showed that support for the BJP remains strong, but the real test will be in the larger state and central elections. So what have these ‘bhakts’ said or not said?

While ‘bhakts’ post adulation, they remain silent on the unorganised sector’s realities. Many workers got their wages for the month of December, in advance and, in old notes. Some were forced to do so, so that they could retain their jobs. One cannot argue in a labour-surplus country. While one can deposit it, warnings that surge in deposits can be investigated worries them. They don’t get documents as proof of wages. The owner may not help, since it may raise eyebrows on how they had so many notes. Many do not understand the limits below which Income Tax department may not investigate. The loss of work (and wages) for standing in line twice, is another thing in itself. Many in rural areas still keep savings in cash, because the nearest bank is a few kilometres away, so going frequently is not practical. Many migrants are at the mercy of opportunistic touts exchanging old notes for ‘cuts’.

With many merchants not willing to give change for the new ₹2000 note, many belonging to the lower-income group had to compromise on the change, since it was the only note they had. Workers of political fringe groups, otherwise vocal on Valentine’s Day, don’t seem to want to help such cases of distress. In fact, those alluding that the rural sector was unaffected should wait for the upcoming harvest season, since that is the real test of the systemic cash. Using correct “cash-demography” in surveys would be practical, unlike the recent mobile app survey that showed 90%+ respondents supporting the move, when only a minority own smartphones or are digital payment savvy.

Are digital platforms entirely citizen-friendly? Low-penetration and internet speeds aside, digital platforms have to be safe from hackers and other kinds of cyber attacks to help Indians go digital. To implement steps to make non-smartphones users (60% of all Indians) go digital will take time, so should they suffer till then? Quality standards have to be tightened, as there have been umpteen issues about services and products. After cancellations, many platforms lock you with credits valid only on their platform, which restricts your choices. One has to tackle the growing menace of digital terrorism as well. It also means educating people about digital money, in a nation where notes are coloured so that those who cannot read or write, can recognise denominations.

While ‘bhakts’ have slammed people for pointing out these gaps, most are yet to say how these gaps can be closed. They said buying Chinese fireworks during Diwali was an unpatriotic thing to do, as China backed Pakistan despite LeT/HuM/JeM. Post-demonetisation, ‘bhakts’ said ‘go digital’ is the future and to adopt it. But they forgot Paytm (India’s premier digital wallet) is 40% Chinese-owned. Using Paytm also benefits China. As a student of free-market economics, my point is illogical because I believe Paytm is a fantastic platform. But do ‘bhakts’ seem inconsistent too?

Their comparisons of long queues outside banks to those waiting in line to get the Jio 4G card or for Roadies, are illogical, as it compares smartphone users eager for the next-big-thing and enthusiastic youngsters going for a show with millions belonging to the working class forgoing their day’s earnings and savings.

If the days following demonetisation showed anything, it was that the Indian society is fast becoming self-centred. As long as they did not face a problem themselves, anyone else in a problem does not matter. Such insensitive behaviour create a bad image of those showing it, as well as those being defended by it. Following delayed treatments in private hospitals, ‘bhakts’ said they should go to government hospitals (as they were accepting old notes), or use cards.

In 2000, only 50% patients went to private hospitals as beds fell short in government hospitals. This number will have only risen since then. In 2011, private hospitals had 60% of the 1.37 million beds. Many poor go to private hospitals for this reason. Also, most private hospitals insist on cash, not cards. I faced it myself when my parents underwent treatments. While one can go to banks to change old notes, what about those not in a condition to travel? We struggled to get bank managers to visit our house to attest the signature of my bed-ridden grandmother. Even if someone stands in line now for such account holders, do bank managers have time to come home and attest signatures? The reaction to cases of deaths was more callous, saying that such incidents were inevitable in a large country or were conspiracies. I have seen both my parents being cremated at a young age, and I say nothing replaces the loss of your loved ones. This is not an inconvenience to bear for the larger national good, despite whatever these insensitive ‘bhakts’ may say.

While I support this move, I worry about any negative impact in the voters’ minds about Modi’s image because of what the ‘bhakts’ have been saying. Any windfall now should be used for public’s benefit accompanied by positive publicity, so that it overrides negative perceptions. It is critical that we understand our nation better, so that our arguments do not hurt the leader’s image!

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Image source: Ria Novosti/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.

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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.”

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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
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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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