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

Why India Will Stand To Lose If It Doesn’t Strengthen Ties With Iran Soon

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The world is now aware of the victory of the incumbent Rouhani over the challenger Raisi in Iran’s recent presidential elections. However, it must be brought to notice that irrespective of the identity of the victor, India will have to seek the same path for its Iran strategy – act fast and selfishly.

A year ago, India had struck a deal with Iran and Afghanistan, concerning the Chabahar project and the trade corridor to Afghanistan. This deal ensured that India gained strategic connectivity up to central Asia, bypassing Pakistan, while deepening the country’s ties with Pakistan’s western neighbours.

However, subsequent tensions between Iran and the US led to India adopting a somewhat cautious stance. In fact, the government asked firms to go slow on projects in Iran. While the objective may have been to assess the impact of possible sanctions on Iran, the widespread belief was that India did not want to upset its new friend, the US, by maintaining friendly relations with Iran.

Change: The Only Constant In Foreign Policy

Policy decisions of a country often operate in contrasting ways, when it comes to maintaining the nation’s varied interests. India’s new friend, the US, had allegedly supported Pakistan militarily during the Cold War years.

In the 1971 Indo-Pak war, it deployed an aircraft carrier of its famed Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal as a show of force against India. Even today, the US has been known to sign cheques to Pakistan for the war on terror, despite allegations that Pakistan has failed to act decisively on Hafiz Saeed, Syed Salahuddin or Masood Azhar.

Russia, which had been India’s closest friend for many years, is selling arms to Pakistan today, including combat air crafts and attack helicopters. Such sales indicate a shift in Russia’s foreign policy towards Pakistan, though it lost thousands of soldiers allegedly to Pakistan-backed Mujahideen elements during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

India’s relations with the US were recently rocked by the contentious H-1B visa issue, which particularly affected the technology sector – a $150 billion sector, contributing around 10% to India’s GDP. India chose not to participate in the recent Belt and Road Forum held in China on the grounds that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project runs through a part of Kashmir, thereby violating India’s sovereignty. However, India’s allies, the US and Russia, participated in the event by sending their delegations.

Given that none of these actions undermined India’s ties with the US or Russia, perhaps it is time that India acts selfishly, focusing primarily on its interests to ensure co-operation with Iran.

India Must Be A Master Of Its Own Policy

Irrespective of the disapproval of its powerful allies, India must resume its original Iran strategy. This is the opportune moment for India to develop deeper ties with Iran. Sharing intelligence with neighbours is a key requirement, even when it comes to projects which need economic co-operation. India’s argument regarding the Jadhav case – the allegation that he was abducted by the Pakistani intelligence in the border areas – only highlights the need for more rapport with Iran. India needs to build connectivity with Afghanistan and central Asia, be it for energy or trade. Therefore, its infrastructure projects in Iran are crucial in securing these relations.

If India’s allies raise concerns regarding Indo-Iran relations, it is only fair that India adopts a strong stance, asking the US and Russia to take a severe stand against Pakistan, until the US’ demands of fighting terror groups have been met. India will benefit from being selfish in this case. Otherwise, the nation will definitely become a victim of the varying policy agendas of  the US and Russia.

India Can Be The Friend That Iran Needs

During the election campaign, hardliners in Iran were very vocal about Rouhani’s inability to meet the promised level of investments and employment. Public spending on projects is expected to be an area of focus, since job creation is a socio-economic concern.

Another issue that arises here is that possible sanctions may hold back investments from private companies and restrict foreign funding. Indian firms have an opportunity to partner on public tenders in Iran. Iran needs a reliable partner for its agenda of economic development, now more than ever before – especially if Rouhani has to prove his naysayers wrong after resuming office.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani and Indian PM Narendra Modi during BRICS/SCO Summit
Can India and Iran be allies after all?

Last year, India made the first move with the Chabahar project deal. But, if India continues to dither on its Iran-strategy on the pretext of not upsetting the US, Iran will cease to view India as a reliable partner.

India, Iran And Lost Opportunities

India therefore needs to act fast. India’s laxity may lead to these projects eventually being handed over to the very powers that opposed the Rouhani regime in the first place – Myanmar being a prime example. Even China has made deep inroads into Iran for trade deals, with its One Belt One Road (OBOR) Project.

Neither India nor Iran has been known to slow their pace in order to appease their allies. However, by doing exactly that, India is only losing its opportunity. Till the US sanctions remain, foreign funding from the west will be restricted. Once the sanctions are negotiated, they will make a bee-line to the world’s newly-opened market.

Iran is an open terrain for China, given its enormous resource of funding (primarily from banks and funds). If India can structure its funding mechanism, it still has a fair chance of competing in Iran’s projects – unlike most markets that recently opened up to global investments. To this end, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, also stressed the need for removing obstacles to ensure banking co-operation with India, during the recent foreign secretary meeting.

If India wants to be Iran’s long-term ally, while addressing geo-strategic interests, it needs to act fast and selfishly. If India fails to do so, this golden opportunity will be lost.

This post first appeared here. It has been published on YKA with the author’s permission.

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Image Source:  Sergey Guneev/Host Photo Agency/Ria Novosti via 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.

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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.

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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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