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The Breach Of My ‘Social Contract’ As A Citizen Of India

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The basic tenet of governance is based on a ‘social contract’. The concept that the citizenry is in a contract, a mutually beneficial arrangement with the government. The contract to gain civil rights in return for accepting the obligation to respect and defend the rights of others, giving up freedoms to do so. Somewhere along the way, the current Indian government seems to have taken it for granted – taking away way more and giving back much less, if at all! The general trend usually is to resort to government-bashing or rather Modi-bashing, but that too not openly. This is because if one does that, then that person will be considered anti-nationalist. Which in a way means that if you dare criticize the Hon’ble Indian PM Narendra Modi, irrespective of how constructive that might be – you run the risk of being branded as ‘anti-Indian’ and/or ‘anti-nationalist’!

On the contrary, staunch Prime Minister/Bhartiya Janata Party supporters must realise that what it actually does is encourage debates and deliberations and promotes diversity of thoughts in a culturally, geographically, economically and socially diverse country like India. This should not be curbed but rather encouraged. There cannot and should not be only one systemic voice that is heard. However, the current political climate bends towards more of a monologuist regime where one person takes the stage and all the limelight, throws myriad of self-promoting animated slogans/gestures usually comprising of hyper-factlessness, blanketed or rather marketed as ‘coming from the heart’ (read: Mann Ki Baat).

The critical and development-impacting issues such as poverty, poor health indicators, poor education levels and/or generally every other socio-economic indicator; unemployment among youth; lack of jobs; lack of social security nets for poor, disabled (both physically and mentally challenged), retired and the aged population; women safety and protection (ranging from rape, sexual harassment and assault at public places, in public transport, at home and/or workplace); agrarian slump and farmer distress; and the list goes on and on… actually never see the light of day.

Unfortunately for India’s future, the above and many other socially relevant issues are rarely ever the focal point of any concrete debate in media or among the citizens. Policy deliberations and political discourse are never based on these critical blockers of development, but rather caste/religion/gender-based politics. The politics of hatred and division is what has become the norm nowadays. Things need to change so that ‘participatory democracy’ doesn’t merely remain a theoretical phenomenon but actually is put into good practice by all sections of the Indian society in equal measure without any prejudice. What is disheartening is that there is hardly any practical use of it in today’s India!

Having said that, I will take the plunge to make some constructive criticisms. I believe that criticising the government is of the essence, not only because the current Indian government is actually just about pomp and show where policy making and governance has gone to the dogs, but because of the fact that current politics that is being played at both the central and state level has been reduced to a marketing gimmick that targets the naive and serves only a certain segment of voters (a.k.a the ‘saffron class’). But is it only the government’s fault? Are the Indian citizens asking the right questions? Most importantly, are the Indian citizens questioning the (wrong) answers? We certainly cannot put the entire blame on the government only. Equal onus is on the citizens and most importantly the corporatised, biased and Modi-fearing Indian media. If we all actually want India to progress, the only way is to ASK – ask the right questions!

Lastly, neither Congress-free India will ever solve the crisis nor will a saffronised India ensure that we are free of the ills of our society. India, as a country does not need to be saved from Congress or BJP or Modi per se, but its citizens’ and media’s lack of questioning! We, as Indians, need to question whether we are okay with a woman feeling unsafe at dusk in the capital city. Whether we are okay to allow half of the child population and women to suffer from anaemia and succumb to malnutrition. Whether we are okay to let our farmers commit suicide due to drought, lack of livelihood and incentives. Whether we are okay by not having enough schools; providing adequate teachers; and thus good education to India’s children. Whether we are okay for our students to succumb to mental stress, depression and anxiety. Whether we are okay to not have enough doctors and hospitals to look after the poor and vulnerable populations? Whether we are okay to stay mum on Dalit atrocities across the country? Whether we are okay with the lynching of our Muslim brothers in the name of ‘food policing’. Whether we are okay to let the century-old Jallianwala Bagh-styled massacre be revisited in Tamil Nadu recently. Whether we are okay to continue like this. Do we dare to ask the right questions?

As a party to the social contract between me as a citizen of India and the Indian Government, I hereby would like to question the ‘social contract’ I had signed up for! I hereby ask when will things start to improve before worsening further? I guess my search for the ‘right’ answers will continue… Until all my questions are answered!

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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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