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How The Russian Revolution Influenced Nehru And Changed India’s History

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November 2017 will be remembered for two of the great events in history: the 128th birth anniversary of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Both these events have been conveniently forgotten by the present governments of India and Russia respectively.

Let us talk about the significance of these events, one at a time.

Jawaharlal Nehru

November 14, 2017, marked the 128th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru. What were the political ideals of this man, which keeps Indians in awe of him to this day? Well, it is very simple. He truly represents the three keywords in our preamble: Secular, Socialist and Democratic. His political ideals, his life’s works, laid the foundations to transform India from a colonial, backward country to the second fastest growing economy in the world after China.

All of us are well aware of his contributions to the Independence movement along with Gandhiji. I don’t want to repeat those. Let us talk about his major contributions after 1947. And what could have happened if he had not been at the helm of affairs in 1947.

Different political parties had different visions for the future India and Pakistan. On one hand was Jinnah’s Muslim League, which advocated a separate country for Muslims and worked towards this goal, even at the cost of heavy communal clashes between the Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. And on the other hand, it had a twin brother, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, which advocated the exact opposite, a Hindu Rasthra. Both narratives had little to contribute to the freedom struggle, except causing communal divisions in society.

The other – and biggest – alternative which held sway was the secular, democratic vision of the Congress party under Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad etc. which advocated an inclusive society for all religions, all castes and sects and a vision of liberty, equality, pluralism and social justice. I am glad that the political alternative of the Congress held sway against the divisive forces else we would have been a Hindu version of Pakistan today.

Nehru was a socialist in theory and practice. He was well read and had travelled a broad spectrum of countries in Europe, Soviet Union, and the United States, and he knew exactly what India needed to transform from a poor, backward, agrarian economy to a modern socialist, planned economy by the 17 years of his tenure. He was impressed with the planned economy of the Soviet Union and this presented a roadmap to all the countries which had become independent from colonial rule to transform themselves.

All these countries in Asia and Africa had plenty of natural resources, but at the same time had a very primitive and infant private sector which could not take up the responsibility of building the nation. Hence Nehru decided to build the pillars of Modern India, namely, public sector enterprises in oil and gas, iron and steel, railways, defence, dams etc. His excellent relations with the Soviets ensured that India got all the technological and financial help to set up the public sector, the bulwark of the economy, at a time when the United States declined to provide any help or expertise and instead thought it wise to invest in relations with Pakistan.

One of the greatest achievements of Nehru would lie in his foreign policy. He rightly held the foreign affairs ministry and embarked on the Non Aligned policy, which was very intelligent, if we think about it in hindsight. As he could manage to build relations with all the newly independent countries, like Egypt’s Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Tito etc. on the one side, and on the other hand , solidify his relations with USSR – at the same time trying to balance his relations with USA and the West, so that he could get the best out of the two superpowers. India was one of the first to recognize Palestine and China’s communist govt at a time when the entire western world was in rivalry with the Chinese after the Communist revolution. India played a balanced role in the Korean war and helped solve matters when things escalated between USA and USSR.

In short, Nehru’s foreign policy allowed India to punch much above its weight in international affairs. The Comintern’s (Communist International) chosen name for Nehru was ‘The Professor’, an apt description given the breadth of his historical awareness.

When it came to democratic institutions, I can safely say that he exemplified the democratic framework in letter and spirit. He established the IIT’s, IIM ’s, prestigious medical colleges, Central Universities which acted as the foundations for higher education. Also, he worked hard to build up primary education and healthcare in rural and urban India despite the severe shortage of funds. The work done by Nehru and the first cabinet along with the very knowledgeable and respected B.R Ambedkar in drafting the Constitution and the excellent debates that took place in the Constituent Assembly are in the public domain for all to see.

To summarize, without Nehru’s vision, it is tough to imagine the modern secular, democratic India with its solid foundations – the executive, the judiciary and Parliament, it’s Navratnas public sectors, and the modern knowledge economy which we see today.

The Russian Revolution

Coming to the other giant event on November 7, 2017, we witnessed 100 years of the glorious Russian Revolution. The October Revolution, led by its architect Lenin, shook the Imperialist world, not only in Russia which was the last of the feudal kingdoms in Europe but also across the Imperialist empires of Britain, France, Germany etc.

If the French Revolution stood for Democracy with its values – liberty, equality, fraternity – the Russian Revolution was the first time when the poor sections of society, the workers and peasants, had taken control of the government. It served as an inspiration for the all the countries in Asia and Africa who were fighting for their independence from the Imperialist powers. Young Jawaharlal Nehru was one of them, others being Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Mao Zedong of China etc.

Lenin demonstrated that Marxism, which was a theory till then, can be applied under revolutionary conditions, to bring about a revolution, and can as well be the guiding philosophy behind the running of a country – in this case, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). USSR, first under Lenin and later under Stalin, demonstrated to the entire world that the workers can build a successful socialist model without any external aid and without the rich capitalists.

With the five years plans, the mechanization of agriculture with huge tractors and state-owned farm collectives, the huge state-owned iron and steel industries, complete electrification, state-sponsored 100 % free education and healthcare, Soviet Union looked promising. “I have seen the future, and it works” – intellectuals like Lincoln Steffens, George Bernard Shaw who visited the Soviet Union proudly claimed. And when Stalin’s Russia played the pivotal role in defeating Hitler’s Nazi war machine, the Soviet Union caught the imagination of the world and went on to be the second superpower of the world after the USA. Of course, not to mention, everyone knows about the space exploration drive by the Soviets which, along with the USA, set the stage for advancement in space and scientific technology.

History and historians will judge and explain how and why the Soviet Union collapsed. There were many reasons to it – the nationalist and independence movements amongst the many republics within the Soviet Union, the bureaucratic and command economy framework which worked well for the commanding heights of the economy but did not work so well for the commodities market, eventually leading to the stagnation of the economy, etc. Whatever the reasons be, the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union had a tremendous effect on world events, which helped shape the collapse of the old imperialist powers and laid the foundation of the independence of the third world countries including India. No wonder, India and the Soviet Union shared the most loyal and trusted of friendships, which still remains between India and Russia.

So friends, history and such major events cannot and should not be ignored. The present-day government should remember this, that without Nehru being the first PM or without the Russian Revolution taking place, they might not be even sitting here today at the helm of affairs!

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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.

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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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