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India’s Dance With The Dragon

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For god knows how long we have been slumbering to chants of India rising ‘fast’ to ‘soon’ outpace the mightiest. But as the neighbour makes all the noise, the world’s largest democracy stirs and the itch of how grows harder.

India has fared pretty well in the world community and has always stood out for its distinctness. The development of Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific is significant, even though America’s objective here, seems more to tease China than recognise India. In a world balanced on power games, just having the proper credentials is not enough – particularly when India has an overpowering China on one side, and insecure Pakistan on the other.

At a time when China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI or the 21st-century silk route that traverses through Europe, Asia and Africa) is aggressively shaping geopolitical equations, and India cannot afford to be far behind.

India started with staying away from the BRI meet, which directly challenges its sovereignty (the flagship project of BRI – China Pakistan Economic Corridor goes through Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, connecting Xinjiang to Gwadar in Pakistan). Many have criticised this move as regressive to India’s growth. Recently, Russia too pitched for India’s participation for its ‘own good’.

All those associating with the sugar daddy’s squad, definitely see BRI as a once-in-a-millennium godsend. The possibility of it coming at a cost (bigger) eludes them, despite doubts being raised over its ‘ambiguous’ design by some like America. Why would they not doubt America itself for its own agendas? Why would they bother about India’s displeasure when the BRI is clearly in conflict with their personal interests?

When countries all around are joining the bandwagon (latest being Maldives), India has to strike a balance between safeguarding its security and increasing its regional and global relevance.

Security

Once India gains a stronger foothold over security, its unchanged stand on BRI would be viewed more objectively. It might then, become clearer to others, that if China can breach the security of one nation (as significant as India), what are the chances it won’t do the same (or worse) in others’ case? What happened in Doklam could be seen as a teaser.

On a national level, the Government of India is working to improve the connectivity of ports, and in turn, have greater control over the Indian Ocean (other than trade) through the Sagar Mala Project. While China is building Pakistan’s Gwadar port, India stands ready with the inauguration of the first phase of Chabahar port. This will open a trade route for India to Afghanistan and larger parts of Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.

Chabahar could also be India’s muscle power, in case Beijing decides to turn Gwadar port into a naval outpost for the Chinese military.

India has to show its readiness for dialogue, in case of misunderstandings, however. It can’t shy away from taking prompt decisions as and when needed. The 1962 Sino-India war has left a dent too ugly for a replay. Be it India’s plans to develop services in Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota (which was financed by China) in Sri Lanka or connecting ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) and Djibouti (in Africa where China already has a military base), every step forward, will bring India and China face to face.

Solution

All will be in vain if India doesn’t come up with a better (if not bigger) alternative to offer. Efforts are, in fact, on in the direction of creating an international network of alternative routes, where industries and trade could flourish. These are models that could run parallel to and even outshine the BRI.

In this, India’s USP over China could be to ensure the interests of the countries involved and a more consultative approach, in contrast to China that seems more imposing in nature.

There is not one, but many plans running simultaneously to turn this challenge into a staircase to growth. India has ventured to join hands with many stakeholders to come up with a solution that has something for all.

Earlier this year the PM, in partnership with Japan, announced the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) that aims to enhance growth and connectivity between Asia and Africa. The AAGC unlike the BRI, will be a sea corridor, which will prove to be a bonus on maritime trade and security. The corridor will focus on:

1. Development Cooperation Projects
2. Quality Infrastructure and Institutional Connectivity
3. Enhancing Skills
4. People to people partnership

India and Japan’s contribution (India’s human resource development and Japan’s state of art technology) can subdue if not knock out Chinese presence in Africa.

Meanwhile, India’s Act East Policy has fallen in line with America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor which seeks to connect India with South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia, through Myanmar (and possibly eclipse China efforts at the same).

Then there is the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) that met last month, after a decade. It has aimed to sustain ‘maritime security in Indo-Pacific’ and check North Korea’s ‘nuclear missile programmes’. Under this as US, India, Japan and Australia together vowed to ‘uphold respect of international law and rules-based order’. China shivered a little seeing itself as the in the unnamed target. In the context of Beijing’s disputed claims on the South China Sea, meetings like these have increased China’s consciousness.

Taking A review

While India needs to make its presence felt in the region and deal with China head on, surely it is not seeking to ruffle the dragon’s feathers unnecessarily.

New Delhi is, in fact, trying to maintain fluid communication with Beijing, as gaining momentum would not be effective without China’s support. There are common grounds on which both the countries can connect: One being the recently held trilateral talks with Russia and China, to discuss global issues of terror and extremism (the first Chinese visit after Doklam). However, China has to understand that its highly unlikely that it itself, will never be ailed by the terrorism it today turns its back to and even seems to support often.

Though China has had opposing views on the aforesaid matter, the meeting ended on a neutral note.

Who knows, if Beijing becomes more farsighted, India and China could team up and outdo the West that has forever been the dictating the East.

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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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