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Why I Am Hardly Surprised When I Meet Indians Who Admire China’s Authoritarian Values


We are so accustomed to the term “democracy” that we rarely stop to think and ask – what exactly do we mean by the term? For a layperson in India, going to the polling booth and exercising their right to vote every once in a while is what signifies democracy.

There are thousands of books in the market explaining the definition and the real meaning of democracy. Most of them agree that irrespective of all its flaws, democracy is worth aspiring for and is the greatest of political values. And why not? Democracy as a political value cares for the individual.

But there lies a simple catch which often plays out in a country like India. Democracy, while catering for individuals, empowers the collective – and in doing so, creates a lesser collective which, in turn, remains less powerful than the stronger one. This binary of majority/minority is something present in each and every society of the world.

However, there are only some who bother to cater to these lesser collectives or the minority. They do this by forming certain mechanisms which in India’s case is the Constitution where minorities and oppressed groups have been ensured equal rights.

Now, after painting this rosy picture, one thing which must be laid out is that this tussle between majority and minority often manifests as a tussle between democracy and the Constitution. India is not an exception. People exercise their democratic rights to choose democratic governments. Nevertheless, both the chooser and the chosen barely bother about the Constitution and the rights ensured by it to the people who form the lesser collective.

Scholar Ayesha Jalal has called this electoral democracy as compared to the substantive democracy which comes with hordes of rights and guarantees to ensure it. First, these states lack the tools and resources to provide substantive democracy to their population. Secondly, the society of these states are mostly undemocratic and feudal in character.

Here, democracy as a political value and democracy as a value in general has been distinguished. Contrary to popular belief, democracy has never been the part of Indian polity as such; at best, it has been soft authoritarianism under Ashoka or Akbar but never a democracy. Our family system and societal and community values at large have also been more authoritarian in nature. So, democratic values have never been part of our lives or upbringing as such, which, in turn, has culled our enthusiasm for political values like freedom of speech/expression or privacy, as well as personal values like the right to choose our life partners or the right to love or eat what we like.

This contempt for democratic values did not go away after independence and the establishment of political democracy. Our education system and schools have ensured that social sciences get the step-motherly treatment as they do and students rote-learn about Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Constitution and the independence movement. Hence, they have never learnt to feel the text.

This detachment from the text, combined with our authoritarian pedagogical style and the authoritarian upbringing at home, makes sure that we don’t experience anything slightly democratic first hand. So, when we come across citizens who don’t even have a vague idea of their own country’s Constitution and yet vouches for it, we shouldn’t be surprised. As Karl Popper said, individual egotism is often substituted by collective egotism and not altruism.

I am hardly surprised when I come across people who openly admire China for its authoritarian values and credit these values for its rise in power and stupendous development in such a short span of time. China’s contempt for minority rights or individual rights in general is seen as an ideal template to be copied for what it has been able to achieve.

After spending a nice four-and-a-half months as an exchange student in one of the provinces of China, I was nothing but impressed by the sheer enormity and velocity by which China has developed and was still developing. It made me think a lot on development, individual rights and democracy.

On a micro level, I was feeling much safer when I walked on the Chinese street than I feel on the Indian street at 10 o’clock at night. Also, from an Indian vantage point, I found Chinese streets to be much more developed, gender friendly and safe. With all due respect to China, I felt really disturbed for India. If the state fails in all its basic duties (in which I think safety of life should be the primary one), then what exactly it is for?

We have democratically elected leaders who openly denounce women walking out of their homes after a certain time in certain clothes and going to certain places. It is highly disturbing because these leaders are doing nothing but resonating what the society at large thinks. They often get away with that for obvious reasons. In such a scenario, this fantasy for political authoritarianism to compliment the extant social authoritarianism doesn’t seem alien.

So, instead of aspiring for a society as democratic as the polity, the average citizen aspires for an authoritarian polity complimenting the authoritarian society. And unfortunately, China is increasingly becoming able to provide this alternative to the world and to its neighbour India. In India, people hate China for its anti-Indian activities while still showing a great respect for its authoritarian values.

People do aspire for personal safety, freedom to love or eat what they like but we don’t have to trade off our political values like freedom of speech/expression and privacy or such individual rights to get those other basic rights. We can aspire for both. Ultimately, this is what democracy is about.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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