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How Demonetisation Exposes The Fragility Of Our Institutions

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If in the long run we are the makers of our own fate, in the short run we are the captives of the ideas we have created.

– Friedrich A. Hayek (The Road To Serfdom)

Whether or not you support the government’s move to render the legal tender status of the old 500 and 1000 Rupee note, whether you have been positively or negatively impacted by the decision, whether you find economic logic in the decision, whether you think the implementation could have been better – you cannot afford to ignore the institutional deficiencies that this decision has brought to fore.

In the hyperbolic narrative around the decision, we have erroneously failed to recognise that the decision has manoeuvred around the institutions that have sustained us in these last seven decades.

The Executive:

Indian republic, being a parliamentary system, is run by the Union Cabinet which controls the executive government. The financial policies are, in general, decided by the finance minister. The Finance Minister keeps his colleagues informed about the affects of the policies on the ministries under their purview. All proposals relating to country’s finances are discussed in the cabinet at some stage. To be sure, the cabinet is never taken by surprise. This broadly defines the working precedent and practice of the government financial decision making.

According to a Reuters report, the Cabinet, much to their surprise, was informed of the decision to ‘demonetise’ shortly before the announcement was made on national TV. No report by the Niti Aayog or the Chief Economic Adviser was published to outline and detail the process. There was no economic analysis backing the move. But the PM was backed by an obedient cabinet without any known objection.

The Parliament:

The finances of the government and its fiscal policies are subject to Parliamentary approval. To be sure, the policies see the light of day as long as the government has a majority in the Parliament. A robust legislative process, however, is a prerequisite for effective law-making. In this instance, however, the government has ignored the Parliament by issuing an executive notification that, effectively, has ramifications for the finances of every household in the territory of India while it has no legislative backing of the Parliament.

Notwithstanding the above, the job of Parliament does not end at passing laws. Both houses of Parliament have a role to scrutinise rules made by the government under different laws. But the Parliament has been held handicapped, both by the government and the opposition, taking turns in ripping to shreds the very duties they have been sworn to serve. It has had no serious debate on the issue at all, let alone exercising scrutiny.

The Reserve Bank of India:

According to the RBI Act of 1934, the recommendation to render a certain currency denomination as invalid tender is made by the Central Board of the RBI. The chairman of its 4 regional boards is on the central board. Additionally, the Centre nominates 10 more directors on the Central Board.

The gazette notification that withdraws the legal tender status in the preamble states that the decision has been made on the recommendation of the Central Board of the RBI. Currently, the chairs of 3 of the 4 regional boards of the RBI is empty. Only 3 out of 10 nominee directors have been appointed. 1 position of Deputy Governor is still vacant. Thus, the RBI is operating with less than half of its board size; and less than a third of its size for independent members. A decision of such economic and social consequences was taken by a 10 member structure which should optimally be 21-strong.

In the bi-monthly policy review, the RBI governor conspicuously left unanswered the question of how the decision was reached by the Central Board – in light of the fact that the RBI mentions in its December policy statement that a fuller analysis of the impact on the economy is awaited. It seems bizarrely clear that the decision was merely rubber-stamped by the RBI in a hastily convened meeting with few chairs in occupation.

Media:

Much of the discussion in the TV studios has been restricted to the politics of the decision – the electoral consequences. The news presenters were brimming with excitement in the early days of the announcement, proclaiming with a sense of obedience that they had nothing to hide. They have taken utmost care not to appear opposed to this decision, questioning every opponent with the ferocity of a prosecutor while accommodating the presumably good intentions of the conformers.

Secrecy cannot be a foil for breaking down the governance structures. Everyday change in rules and regulations, contradictory statements by the RBI and the Ministry of Finance, changing of goalposts from black money and counterfeiting to digital economy – a naive go with the flow approach – betrays the fragility of our democratic institutions.

Any modern government, around the world, is run by rules and regulations along with a set of well-established traditions. Like it or not, they are there to keep the institutions of government protected from the whims and fancies of a political front. The precedent of an executive extra-legislative monetary-cum-fiscal policy that circumvents every democratic institution, to inflict itself upon a beleaguered citizenry – one that feeds itself on schadenfreude –  should send spasms of chills down our spines. We do, indeed, have a republic. The ubiquitous question is – can we keep it?

As Hayek had once written-

But while history runs its course, it is no history to us.

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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.”

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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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