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Why Dr. Radhakrishnan Still Matters

The thought of dismissing the celebration of Teacher’s Day is tempting for various reasons. The day has been reduced to one of the many ‘days’ that are observed in a year and nothing more. The other complaint in its favour is that it has become more of a ceremony and not a day with a purpose.

It might be worth our while to examine what relevance Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan holds in our times, and why therefore Teacher’s Day should mean something to us. But this would also mean that we must do more than just calling him a great man or re-narrate the exciting tale that was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s life. If a homage is to be paid to Radhakrishnan, it is for the values he stood for. Values which are in fact of great importance to contemporary India.

The Teacher’s View Of Life

This may mean an insult in today’s world, but in the context of Radhakrishnan, it refers to a particular outlook and commitment to the profession. Radhakrishnan as a teacher was capable of showing equanimity of mind and boldness of spirit in the most difficult of circumstances.

In his presidential address at the All-Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association, he had vociferously spoken against the colonial education policy. In what might ring a bell in our times, he had castigated an education system that did not nurture free-thinking minds and had advocated for allocating grants that did not have to go through the legislative machinery.

While serving as the Vice-chancellor of Banaras Hindu University, he managed to ward off troops from campus gates when they tried to storm into it. Before this incident, Radhakrishnan had arranged for special trains for students to go home to ensure that no violence ensued in the peak of the war and anti-colonial agitation.

These incidents only tell us what Radhakrishnan did as a teacher. There are many tales of his unwavering dedication to writing, even while being saddled with major responsibilities which testify him to be a man predisposed to scholarship. But it was a teacher and philosopher’s outlook towards life which Radhakrishnan had, and which demands our attention.

To many, the teacher’s outlook towards life may mean various things but it suffices to say that his was a view of the world that was not only shaped by learning but one in which knowledge seeks to find meaning in life and solutions in the midst of crisis, be it political or spiritual. His books found admirers in India as well as in the world.

‘The Hindu View of Life’ made a strong impact on the agnostic Nehru who read it twice in jail. It was primarily Radhakrishnan who made T.S. Eliot compare western philosophers to ‘school boys’. Bertrand Russell who had been criticised in ‘The Reign of  Religion in Contemporary Philosophy’ was effusive in his praise of Radhakrishnan’s book, ‘Indian Philosophy’.

In an age untouched by the banality of the prefix ‘post’ and when ethical and political crisis were considered coeval, Radhakrishnan advocated for a religion that was not altogether unreasonable and spirituality that could be free of deception. Despite being an ardent believer of Hinduism, he was outspoken in his criticism of caste and superstitions that blinded Hinduism.

Steering clear of abstractions, Radhakrishnan’s views found acceptance amongst scientists and men who had nothing to do with religion. As someone who did not bear a divisive agenda in mind, Radhakrishnan was critical, but not dismissive of any religion. Time and again, he had tried to explain religion using philosophy. In 1938, he had made concerted efforts to establish a department of Islamic studies at a university that was being chiefly funded by Hindu patrons. A serious scholar despite being a practising Hindu could do what is easily written off as a gesture of secularism in contemporary India.

Today when the relevance of humanities is routinely questioned, Radhakrishnan’s accomplishments are nothing short of inspiring examples. For he had displayed before the world, the tangible powers of the humanities. But the application of his learning was not confined to religion alone. In a long spanning career, much of which was devoted to governance and diplomacy, Radhakrishnan showed remarkable discernment in the handling of political matters, and on numerous occasions, he took control of the situation like a seasoned teacher.

The Argumentative Indian And The Pacifist Humanist

The strange and fascinating aspects of Radhakrishnan’s astuteness can be gauged from numerous incidents. Be it arguing with Gandhi or reasoning with Stalin. He was clear in stating his opinions and considerate in listening to others. But at the same, it was only possible for a humanist to introduce human dimension to the profession of diplomacy.

Radhakrishnan’s stint in Russia as an ambassador was remarkable. For the mighty Stalin it was unthinkable to find an ambassador surrounded by books; and one who could have ‘unbuttoned’ conversations with him. Radhakrishnan’s conviction in humanistic principles moved Stalin who had said, “This man speaks from a bleeding heart, not like an ordinary ambassador.” In another tete-e-tete conversation with the Russian leader, Radhakrishnan had cited the example of Asoka’s change of heart to which a ‘visibly moved’ Stalin had replied, “I too was in a theological seminary for some time and miracles may happen.”

In the name of an argument, we often tend to do what Karl Popper calls eliminating the opponent. An individual like Radhakrishnan tells us how one can argue with the most fearful of men with a bold yet benign spirit. Radhakrishnan patting Stalin’s cheek is a popular incident. But Stalin was not the only one, he did the same to the Pope and Mao Tse Tung. In political matters or any issue requiring reconciliation, we believe that persuasion cannot bear the weight of principles, but numerous instances from Radhakrishnan’s life show that the two could very well be balanced using one’s convictions.

It could only be a mind free of pettiness that could befriend a right-leaning Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, endear itself to a liberal like Nehru, and see the human side in ruthless Marxists like Mao and Stalin.

Radhakrishnan’s illustrious biographer and his worthy son Sarvepalli Gopal has called him a “philosopher influenced by his environment.” There is something remarkable about the environment as well as the scholar which it produced. The political milieu of which Radhakrishnan was a part was represented by individuals known for tolerance and mutual respect for each other despite their differences.

That is perhaps why Gandhi could call a Bose his son, who would later call the Mahatma, “the father of the nation.” It was possible for Rajagopalachari to pay tribute to Nehru proclaiming him to be more relevant than himself, irrespective of their disagreements.

This Teacher’s Day, teachers and statesmen alike have a lesson or two to learn from someone who upheld the dignity of both the professions.

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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.

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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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