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This Canadian ‘Manifesto’ Might Just Be The Answer To India’s Inequality

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Recently, I happened to read a book by the journalist, Naomi Klein, titled “No Is Not Enough: Defeating The New Shock Politics”. The book was born of a realization that just opposing governmental policies is not enough; an alternative narrative should emerge – like the Leap Manifesto of Canada. The efficacy of an alternative narrative is further affirmed by the popularity of political candidates like Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Arvind Kejriwal.

The Leap Manifesto from Canada

Almost 60 activists working in different areas like climate change, indigenous rights, social and food justice, faith-based and labour movements came together in the spring of 2015 and began a process of thinking and dreaming beyond their individual issues for a tomorrow they wanted. The group didn’t hierarchically arrange the crises: the fruit of their discussion was the Leap Manifesto, which signifies their ability to see the inter-connectedness between the crises and the alternatives. The ‘Leap’ in the title reinforces that smaller steps are no longer enough.

I will mention a few of the proposals put forward by the Leap Manifesto of Canada. It demands acknowledgement of the rights of the original caretakers of the land and the introduction of universal annual income. The Manifesto criticizes the reduced funding on low carbon sectors like education and healthcare, and reckless privatization of energy sectors in the name of austerity. Along with the use of clean energy and greener agriculture, it advocates that the energy sources should be community owned. It asks for the adequate development of public transit systems. It proposes town hall meetings across the country, which give the residents an opportunity to gather and democratically interpret the Leap Manifesto for their local communities. There could be a tendency to label the entire idea ‘utopian’. According to me, its feasibility depends on one of their proposals – the ability to weaken the monopoly of corporates in the political decision-making process.

Indian Context

The crises that are relevant in India are significantly different from Canada. I don’t intend on giving a list of our crises. But the problems of Dalits differ from those of religious minorities which in turn differs from those impacting the farmers. The attempts to claim that ‘my issue is bigger than yours’, would weaken the might of our fight. The challenge before all the concerned citizens is, can we see the inter-connectedness between the majority of these issues to develop our own Leap Manifesto?

Here I would mention a few of the connecting links between the crises. The poor, the indigenous people and the farming community are the worst affected by the climate crisis. The pro-corporate policies of successive governments (which has promoted development and inequality) in terms of lesser governmental regulations enhanced the probabilities of ecological hazards. Tax benefits to the rich industrialists (as in the case of Special Economic Zones) have an adverse impact on the money available for welfare schemes. As Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz says, a trickle-down economic theory is wrong; history is witness to the increase in inequality between the rich and the poor. India has one of the fastest growth rates of inequality in the world. Policies favouring differentiation are entertained to divert the attention of people from the real issues.

A Few Challenges For An Indian Leap Manifesto

French philosopher Jacques Derrida speaks of the binary of opposites, where society is divided into two classes where one is more privileged than the other. Centuries of such historical privileges or wrongs have helped the population with a stake in maintaining the inequality. We are different, but we are equal before the law. This realization should be imparted through education and other means for the creation of a just society.

The inefficiency of the authorities does create many man-made tragedies. Painkillers are given to soothe pain, and so are scapegoats created for a similar purpose. The dementia of our psyche helps us forget and move on as if the pain was always part of our destiny. Along with forgetfulness, we own the virtue of procrastination. This makes the politicians less accountable in the non-election period.

Sameera Iyengar, co-founder of ‘Junoon’, says, “I love mythology, and I love science too, they represent different truths, and each one is valuable for the function it serves. However, mixing the two diminishes both. And it is a dangerous confusion to propagate.” Many newer myths are created as means of oppression and later, they are labelled as facts. Such a creation of facts makes it difficult for the public to rebel against systems of injustice.

In Conclusion

A just, independent country was the vision of our freedom fighters, which is promised by the preamble of the constitution; this is also the hope of the Indian majority. Developing our own Leap Manifesto (the name of the vision is much less important than the idea/vision itself) standing on the bedrock of these hopes is a challenge to our intellectuals, activists, teachers, students, farmers, dalits, indigenous peoples, and concerned citizens. It needs to be another expression of the celebration of diversity. A pan-Indian response is required as the policies are decided by the central and state governments. I am sure India has many such initiatives and we should come together to create a greater impact. To quote Naomi Klein, “The people’s platforms are starting to lead — and the politicians will have to follow.

A version of this article was originally published here.

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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 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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