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Why Politicians With Criminal Records Keep Coming Back To Power

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In 1950, when the Indian Constitution decided to adopt Universal Adult Franchise, it came as a shock to many. The country was still quite poor and not many people understood the importance of their vote. The upshot of adopting Universal Suffrage so soon was that the underdeveloped institutions failed to deliver what the citizens voted for. The failure of these government institutions paved the way for criminals to enter politics.

Milan Vaishnav in his book “When Crime Pays” talks about how, till the 1980s, criminals used to act as the muscle power behind politicians and in exchange received lucrative state concessions such as mining rights. It is interesting to understand what transformed these criminals from being hired as guns of politicians to themselves becoming full-time politicians. Vaishnav says in his book, “Three trends – political fragmentation, deepening competition and continued Congress decline – converged in the late 1980s to break open the political system in an unprecedented manner”. What he means is that with the emergence of a multi-party system, Congress started to fade away as a political force and bribing its local representatives became less of a sure thing. Hence, these criminals had to take the giant leap and themselves become full-time politicians.

What was astounding was the ease with which these criminals were allowed into their folds by political parties. What do political parties gain by recruiting these criminals, even though it can be self-defeating as their image can be tarnished?

This is where the role of a multi-party system comes in. The elections have become competitive and the electorate size has increased making elections a costly affair. Voters need to be wooed with goodies and rich criminals bring in the required cash. The criminals fill the party coffers because of which they are tolerated.

Another important question is why don’t the voters, who demand democratic accountability, express their dissatisfaction by rejecting these malefactors? Firstly, to ridicule the ‘ignorant voter’ hypothesis, we need to understand that the voters vote for these criminals despite their criminal records.

Talking about Raghuraj Pratap Singh (or Raja Bhaiya, as he is called), a six time MLA from Kunda in UP, a local villager said, “He enjoys immense support because he gets the job done for people. We do not care about his criminal activities as long as he helps us.”

Raja Bhaiya has a high criminal record including alleged murder and rape and still has managed to win each time he has contested elections.  In 2003, the SC passed an order which made it compulsory for all candidates to submit and publicly disclose all their current and past criminal records. Since then, the number of MP’s with criminal records has increased. In 2004, 24% Lok Sabha MP’s had criminal records, in 2009, the number increased to 30% and in 2014, the number increased further moved to 34%.

According to “The Economist”, since 2004, the chance of a candidate with no criminal record winning an election is 6% whereas the chance of a candidate with a criminal record is thrice as much with 18%. This shows a clear pattern indicating that the voters are not ignorant and vote for these criminals because of their criminal records.

The voters get swayed towards these criminals when the government fails to do its job. Vaishnav writes, “Where the rule of law is weakly enforced and social divisions are rampant, a candidate’s criminal reputation could be perceived as an asset”.

They employ their muscle power and get the job done for the people. Sometimes they reap benefits from the existing social injustices and portray themselves as a ‘messiah’ for a particular community, fighting for their rights, thereby gaining their confidence and hence, their vote.

Another significant name is that of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy or YSR and his son Jagan Mohan Reddy. YSR’s father, Raja Reddy was a strongman known for taking matters into his own hands. YSR followed his father’s path and entered politics. He had eventually become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.

His father’s position as the chief minister served Jagan really well. In 2004, when YSR first became CM, Jagan’s assets were estimated at around $14,000. By 2009, the amount increased to a whopping $11 Million and by 2014, his net worth was more than $62 million. Thereby, power and money did go hand in hand for YSR and his son.

The admittance of such people into our parliament and state assemblies is nothing less than a mockery of our constitutional ethos. It is disheartening to note that even after knowing their reality, we decide to vote for them.

Subsequent orders from the highest court of justice have failed to curb this menacing trend. Pressure must be built upon the government by social activists and media houses to amend the existing laws and introduce rigid criteria for the entrants who wish to partake in any election. Also, if the suggestion of Election Commission to introduce state funding is given a serious thought, such rich goons will not be able to lure the political parties and the electorates.

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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.”

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.

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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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