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Lessons From The Indian Left To The Political Class Of India

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The ethics of Indian politics are seeing a new low. Incidents of corruption, nepotism, VIP culture and money-muscle nexus have wrecked the trust of the common man in the system. In everyday language, “Raajneeti ek acchi vyavsa ban chuka hai (Politics have become a good business).”

With our socio-political sphere in crisis, we need to recapitulate a few examples of Indian politics which represented the organized Indian Left movement. There can be a long list of communist leaders who led, and still lead, a life of honesty and simplicity. I have come up with three such leaders from the state of Bihar whose struggle, sacrifice and service remain unmatched. All three of them played an unforgettable role. The austerity and simplicity of these left leaders will dwarf many present-day politicians.

1. Ajit Sarkar

Ajit Sarkar was a firebrand leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), from Purnea, Bihar, who took up the cause of the landless and the poor. For the people of Purnea, Ajit Sarkar was like a messiah. According to them, his election campaigns involved dedicated work. He never fell back on using money or muscle power. Being a legislator, he failed to own a house. He was a living example of a threat to the corruption and feudal structure of landlords who exploited the poor. I consider him as the worst victim of the ‘criminalization of politics’. Ajit Sarkar ruled the hearts of the deprived.

2. Vasudev Singh

Born in the Chandanpur village of Begusarai, Vasudev Singh joined the 1942 Quit India movement at an early age. He came in touch with comrade Brahm Dev, a Communist Party of India (CPI) leader who had shoot-at-sight orders issued by the British against him. He joined the Communist Party in 1952 and then joined the CPI (M). He could not pursue his education after middle school due to his family’ poor finances. Only by giving tuitions to the children of well-to-do families was he able to complete his studies. And that was how he ended up as a school teacher.

Given his politics, he organised the teachers under the umbrella of Bihar Secondary Teachers Association (BSTA) and became Begusarai district secretary of that organisation. He quit his job and continued union activity. He was fielded by the CPI (M) from the Begusarai constituency in 1980, which he lost by 2,500 votes. Once again, he was the party candidate in 1990, but this time, he won defeating the state home minister. He remained an MLA from 1990-1995. During this period, his simplicity – and the persuasive manner in which he raised issues in the assembly – were noted by one and all.

Later he contested as a Member of Legislative Council (MLC) in 1996 from Darbhanga teachers constituency, comprising of four districts. He was so popular and respected among teachers that he won again from this constituency in 2002 and 2008. I recall two instances to prove simplicity of Vasudev Singh.

To quote the CPI(M)’s weekly organ, “One cannot but sympathise with the police guards at the assembly gate who refused to believe Vasudev Singh was an MLC and tried to push him away from the gate as an impostor. The poor guard, like every other guard at assembly gates, are so used to see netas zip around in flashy cars that it must indeed have been hard to believe. When Vasudev ji fell on the ground, the chief minister was shaken and had to apologise for the incident and a separate ferry service was put into service henceforth for taking this CPI(M) legislator from the gate into the assembly building.”

And the second instance was when he was speaking in the House and a few other members interrupted. While he was speaking in the House, there was an interruption from a few other members. “Please keep quiet. It’s Vasudev Babu speaking,” said chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Unlike most legislators, he never owned a house in Patna.  Being a one-term MLA and three-term MLC, never owned a car.  He lived in a single room given to him by the teachers’ association at Jamal Road. Almost a quarter of his bed is filled with rows of books and papers. An illustration of his voracious reading habit. His simplicity, honesty and integrity drew respect from all parties. He thought that becoming a communist was a lifelong process. One could not become a communist by just taking membership if they didn’t have feelings of comradeship. “We have to constantly strive to be a good communist,” was his advice to party members.

3. Arun Kumar Roy

Arun Kumar Roy was born on 15 June, 1935, in the Sapura village of Rajshahi district of what was then-East Bengal. His parents were Shibesh Chandra Roy and Renuka Roy. He completed his primary education at a local school in Naogaon, Rajshahi in 1951. Later, he went to Belur Ram Krishna Mission School, from where he completed his secondary education. He graduated in science from Surendranath College, Kolkata and later gained a master degree in 1959 in chemical engineering from the CalcuttaUniversity. He started his vocation in an industrial house of Kolkata.

After serving there for two years, he joined as a research engineer, and worked under Dr Kshitish Ranjan Chakraborty in the newly established Projects and  Development India Limited Sindri, Dhanbad He joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist)  after being dismissed from his job as chemical engineer in the company for supporting a workers’ strike in 1966-67.

Later, he founded the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC). He had served three times as Member of Parliament and three times as Member of Legislative Assembly. He was the first elected leader to demand to scrap the pensions of MLAs and MPs. He cited the reason that being an elected leader isn’t a service or a job. If a leader loses an election, they are eligible to fight elections again. In such a scenario there’s no retirement, so no question of pension should arise.

Three decades earlier he had kept this demand in front of the President and the Prime Minister of our nation. AK Roy is devoid of a house, bicycle, car, land and a bank account. Once he was robbed by few robbers, to which he said, “They were perhaps more needy.”

The above-mentioned names were ardent mass leaders, but they were also the epitome of simplicity. Our generation is under the impression that more money-power makes one more attractive. This keeps us from understanding the significance and purpose of an elected leader. Dress codes and fancy vocabularies are not enough to be a good politician. Our country, which has a huge marginalised population, deserves empathisers like Ajit Sarkar, Vasudev Singh and AK Roy, who have set a benchmark of leadership. They rejected the culture of corruption and show-off that is so prominent in Indian politics. Their illustration of a simple lifestyle can be regarded as the factual facet of politics which is the need of the hour.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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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