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I Found An Uncanny Similarity Between Modi And Indira : Sagarika Ghose

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By Sagarika Ghose

“My fascination with Indira Gandhi’s persona and the similarities between today’s times and the Emergency era tempted me to write this book”

The initial idea for a new book on Indira Gandhi, I guess, was Chiki’s. And Nandini’s. The two graces of Juggernaut Publishers, the ever-enthusiastic Chiki Sarkar and the perceptive Nandini Mehta called me one afternoon early last year to ask: would I be interested in writing a book on Indira Gandhi?

They had, they said, over the years noticed and liked my writing and thought this book would be up my street. “It’s her centenary year next year,” came Nandini’s persuasive voice on the phone, “and it makes sense to try and bring Indira alive for a new generation of readers and maybe even for those readers who would like to once again be reminded of Indira Gandhi.”

We all met for a coffee at the sunlit, green-fringed Juggernaut office on a bright April morning. Also at the meeting was the bespectacled intense-eyed Parth Mehrotra, coolly unflappable among us chattering viragos, who would be my brilliant editor on the book. Chiki smiled and asked me,“So, Ms G, shall we do Mrs G?”

“Of course, we will!” I exulted without a moment’s hesitation. I had always been deeply fascinated by the Indira Gandhi persona. In our times, when sparks fly in all directions as the flint of women’s’ freedom clashes against the rock of violent prejudice, the image of Indira Gandhi has for me always soared as the great hope.

She was the woman who in spite of nasty patriarchal injustices ruled at the top as Shakti and Durga. The idea of Indira is a vindication of the patchy equality that women can strive for, she’s a symbol- perhaps only a symbol but a powerful one- of what Indian women can achieve if they’re dogged enough. To be offered a chance to delve into the life and the mind of Indira Gandhi was one I simply could not refuse. I signed up with Juggernaut with great eagerness.

I had always been an avid Indira-watcher. After all, she was the Venus at the prow of India’s ship all through my growing up years, the woman who was the conqueror of men, the embodiment of political leaders who rose to the heights of the Bangladesh victory and then fell into the dark depths of dictatorial rule. Even the word ‘Indira’ had always evoked for me a picture of lofty regality and grim authority.

Her assassination on October 1984 and its bloody aftermath was the moment when my generation – the teenagers of the 1970s, collectively lost our innocence and were born into a fiery adulthood. Her personal style had dazzled and her near-total dominance over India and its public life has cowed us into silent awe. How could I dream of saying no to attempting a book on Indira Gandhi?

There was another reason why I was tempted. Democratic freedoms today are contested like never before; a powerful majority government bears down on India’s fragile institutions and the writer, the activist, the student or the dissenter faces unprecedented state hostility. Long before Narendra Modi, there was Indira Gandhi, who similarly dominated her party and government and reached out to the public in a direct populist connect, bypassing many constitutional norms in the process.

In fact, Modi’s strongman one-man-show doer politician image is very similar to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. The crucial difference, of course, is that she remained consistently secular at least in outward expressions, generally steered away from religious majoritarianism and regarded the RSS and Jana Sangh as her mortal enemies. Her personal grace and aristocratic refined charm were also a sharp contrast with the rough personal manners of today’s netas (politicians).

Yet the hallmarks of the Emergency-the assault on individual freedom, a massive executive towering over the legislature and judiciary, the war on the press, the belief emanating from the PMO of l’etat c’est moi, (I am the state) are all strikingly in evidence today. The almost uncanny similarity between Narendra Modi and Indira Gandhi, Indian politics’ original ‘supremo’, was thus another reason why I was so keen to work on this book and re-examine, from the standpoint of today, Indira’s rule, its ruinous economics and its bludgeoning centralization.

But in the end it was Indira’s bewildering, paradoxical persona that seduced me: the woman of grace and refinement who was trapped in the castle of her ambition and her craving for power, a stylish beautifully dressed figure standing at the window of a fortress looking out towards her people with great love but also paranoia.

There is so much to learn from this extraordinary and formidable woman, so much drama in her tumultuous life, so many life lessons of tenacious survival. At the end of fifteen months of being immersed in Indira- as I typed out the last words of this book, the realization dawned that my love-hate, bitter-sweet romance with Indira Gandhi had only become deeper than before.

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Read:  Indira – India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister

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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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