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Why The Govt. Needs To Listen To Us Before Taking Big Decisions

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In a complex society like India, government plays a pivotal role and affects nearly all aspects of people’s lives. That the government enjoys and exercises considerable influence on our lives was evident a few weeks ago when our Prime Minister announced that the old ₹500 and ₹1000 notes would no longer have legal tender.

How these far-fetched decisions are made should indeed be a matter of public debate. PM Modi’s website released a statement stating that over 93% people support demonetisation, which seemed highly ambiguous, quite contrary to reality. Sadly, that is what symbolises our public engagement. Does the government take public confidence into account when implementing such policies?

What has been the characteristic malaise of successive governments throughout Indian history is their propensity to not listen to people. They have adopted a paternal know-it-all approach to politics and policies. They listen sporadically, poorly at best, or sometimes, not at all to the public as if the very people who presumably were sensible enough to elect them into office have suddenly turned into people who know nothing.

Do those meant to serve us actually listen to us? If listening is done poorly or not at all, by the very organisations meant to serve and represent us, how well do we achieve democracy, if at all? How does a government listen to hundreds of thousands of people, even millions or billions?

In the present, as was the case with the past Indian governments, communication has always been about transmission, not transaction. That too concentrated in the hands of a few individuals while the media is left to speculations of ‘unknown sources’ most of the time. This has been shaped by many systemic and institutional factors including culture, policy, structure, technology and indeed humans.

Even the public disclosures that should be willingly made under the RTI Act are elusive. A large part of the government efforts and budgetary allocations are directed to distributing its messages, a euphemism for one-way transmission – sophisticated means of speaking – advertisements, public relation campaigns, marketing, social media, websites – with a brutally labyrinthine architecture. What is missed out on is the long lost art of listening.

The emphasis of governments on a ‘two-way’ communication through electronic means is often represented as a way of conversational, transparent and open public engagement. Nothing could be further from the reality. If you contact a government agency, however important, there is a very high probability that there will be no future correspondence.

Whatever little listening happens is plagued with confirmation bias, i.e., surveys and public consultation are mostly intended to betray a public acceptance of policies by targeting favourable chunks of the population. The public consultations that are held on draft bills are heavily bureaucratised. It mostly attracts the response of civil society organisations, think tanks and elites. That should not be mistaken for a lack of general public interest in the issue.

Most people find these formal submissions futile due to the vast history of never having been heard. Submissions are seldom acknowledged by the government which undermines trust. Reports on the basis of these public submissions are not released in acknowledgement during the process of consultation. We are just expected to blindly believe in the benevolent intentions of the government. Lack of data sharing with the public is another shortcoming.

Even social media, which could have been a means of seamless communication and instant feedback, is nowadays used to distribute messages mainly to an intended audience. Government campaigns have always been about what the government wants to tell people to do, not about what the people want to tell the government to do.

Disproportionate emphasis on quantitative research, i.e., polling as a method to gauge public mood is also a mistake. Qualitative research, i.e., independent public consultations in digital as well offline forums can be very a good source of data. Traditional polling represents a very narrow set of questions that represent the preferences of an even narrower populace.

The relatively high correspondence rate of the official Twitter/Facebook pages of the Indian Railways and the Ministry of External Affairs show that identifying and responding to public issues can be a very effortless way of creating goodwill among people, both domestic and foreign.

Listening is essential in a democracy. People have a right to be heard by their representatives. That is what legitimises democracy in public eye. Functioning of a stable society is impossible without the means of a free -flowing two-way communication – talking and listening – with an openness to the others’ point of view. In today’s political climate the world over, listening is in short supply.

To be sure, listening – pretence and token listening excluded – is not to be taken as a wishful panacea for all maladies, but as a means of recognition, acknowledgement, understanding, consideration and appropriate response to others’ opinions. To expect a political agreement to result from this would be disingenuous futility. But governments have to move away from informing, disseminating, educating, showing, telling, distributing towards listening, learning, seeing and adapting.

The most important malady of Indian democracy is the lack of open local communities and governments. We desperately need inclusive spaces in which people can think in mutually beneficial ways. Field visits by government officials to meet people can be a good way to start the process of listening.

Political decisions right from voting to the life-changing decisions taken at the helm of democratic institutions have, as a matter of unwritten institutionalised public policy, deprived themselves of listening to the grievances of others. It has rendered the public emotion susceptible to angry and radical inclinations.

Declining trust in government institutions, declining participation in the democratic process, disengagement of members in political parties is a wake-up call for all of us.  We need to resuscitate democracy by the old ways of listening and engagement. The governments need to talk. But they also need to listen before they start talking.

The government has, by its very existence, a purpose in listening to the stakeholders, i.e., people. Until it does so, it will be a mysterious body which we all know very little about. We will also  remain a mystery to the government.


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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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