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Whoever Wins The Election, Democracy Must Become Powerful

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A democratic government is a government ‘by the people, for the people and of the people’. When I was writing this article, the Gujarat elections were under way. To all the supporters, I do not support the propaganda of any political front. I only want to unite the crores of Indians who want to protect of our largest democracy. Anyone may win or lose, but the one thing that must remain intact is the flow of democracy in India.

A democratic system not only gives strength to our voices – it also, directly or indirectly, keeps the undeserving elements from reaching unnecessary heights. Democracy should not be limited to just the process of voting in elections. Democracy also ensures the practice of each and every liberty for the welfare of the society, for getting the basic requirements, and also to help other people to enjoy the living standards they deserve.

I think ‘democracy’ is a concept which should be practised more than being propagated. For example, Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption will not bear any fruit in society, if we maintain silence on the immoral working of the authorities – at the civic, state or national level. The Right To Information (RTI) is a good approach to fight corruption and irregularities. But, it has also failed to construct a confidence in the citizens – the confidence that it will also protect its user from the authority against whom the person wants to take action.

There is probably a better solution for this – a strong ‘whistleblower protection bill’ in the Parliament. The problem here is that our legislators are more clever and far-sighted. Any kind of law, however strong, may not be able to  frame and prosecute them. It is to be expected that our legislators will try and find ways of overcome the wall of investigations which may fall over them. After getting free from the net of law, it’s equally possible that they may target the complainants and keep pressurising them till they give in.

The probable chronology of events is:

1. The rules are broken.

2. This may lead to a loss of peoples’ money.

3. If a complaint is made, then the complainant, in all probability, is threatened.

4. If the complainant/whistleblower retreats, then all is good. Otherwise, the person may even be physically assaulted, which will probably do the trick.

Now, the question rises: where is the law of the land? Even if a strong and desirable ‘whistleblower protection bill’ may be in place, will it be of any need after the death of the whistleblower? It is the same situation as the police investigating a crime after having watched the crime when it was going on.

If another complaint rises, then the matter may reach up to the court, but if the ‘helping hands’ of the judiciary and the executive are coordinating with each other, how can we expect a fair trial and judgement? It will surely be a very cruel joke with oneself.

Now, as every door seems closed, this is the point where an unseen face of India’s democracy must enter the scene. In my opinion, any matter which reaches the ‘Lok Adalats’, along with a simple media backing, will definitely lead to a solution. Here, the phrase ‘Lok Adalats’ do not mean the ones that are already a part of the Indian judiciary. Here, ‘Lok Adalats’ refer to the public consensus on a particular matter.

Martyred whistleblowers fought for the betterment of the society and for justice. Now, it’s society’s turn to pay tribute to such people who did not think about their lives for the collective and greater good. The much-needed recipe for this movement lies in its start. The spark needs to come from an individual or organisation, along with a little bit of hard work to attract the masses. We all know very well that Anna Hazare’s campaign had become successful for a very brief period, because the masses had given support to the movement.

Common citizens, who can’t take up the initiative to change something because of their larger engagement with their daily lives, have to secure the rights of those citizens who are, in turn, fighting for the rights of the society in which all of us live. They are trying to make the environment better, so that the coming generations can learn something from the struggles of their elders.

It is understandable that every one may not be able to take such initiatives. But, neither is it possible that thousands of people cannot save a single person from becoming the victim of the selfishness of a handful of greedy people, who are eating the system and the nation from within, with their corrupt thinking. If a society consists of people who are turning a blind eye towards crimes which they can possibly oppose or prevent, then the only consequence of this will be that the victims will be replaced by silent spectators.

A democracy prevails where people do not fear the oppression by the administration or any other powerful shark for raising their voices against the unjust. A democracy prevails where a person or a group of people fight for rights and justice – either for their own selves or for the whole society.

If a democracy is made by each and every citizen of the country, then it is also offended every time the fundamental rights and freedoms of any of the citizens are snatched away. A democracy does not mean only giving votes in the elections. A democracy resides in the freedom of citizens to fight for their rights and justice.

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Featured image source: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
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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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