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My Visit To India’s Villages Taught Me The Reality Of Trickle-Down Economics

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One criticism of neoliberal capitalism is its famed ‘trickle down effect’. Trickle-down economics is a theory that states that benefits for the wealthy should trickle down to everyone else. These benefits are usually tax cuts on businesses, high-income earners, capital gains, and dividends. This article explains the theory briefly. The economic inequality in India has continued to rise post liberalisation. The wealthy are accumulating more and more wealth. According to an Oxfam report, India’s top 1% pocketed 73% of the total wealth generated in 2017.

During our intense classes as part of Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University, Dr Mihir Shah used to severely criticise trickle down theory. This was followed by some intense discussions with my classmates about top to bottom approach in policy-making – how India is run from Delhi and other cities, how policies are made without ever visiting a village, with the hope that things will eventually ‘trickle down’. This approach, clearly, has not worked and sadly, things have not changed much. Policy and Development sector is pretty much still a top-to-bottom game, with funds and policies trickling down from the top, and taking their own time to reach a poor woman in a remote village.

Shramdaan
Villagers working under Paani Foundation’s Water Cup in a village in Maharashtra.

The first thing I realised after graduating was that what I learnt in classes will only help me 10% of the times, rest is all on the job. Post graduation, over the last two years, the dissonance I felt was huge. It was very easy to sit in AC classrooms and discuss why farmers are committing suicides, why we need feminism, or what is the future of Indian democracy. But when I went and experienced the reality, I realised that our classrooms live in their own different reality, what in Ashoka we famously called, ‘a bubble’. I have realised India’s social, economic, and political issues discussed in India’s universities are only partly true. The knowledge is in shackles and it needs to break out. The talks on gender, caste, and class sound good in cities but are seldom heard in villages. Things will take their own time to trickle down, hopefully.

People romanticise our villages, films like “Swades” are responsible for that. Things are not so rosy. I am always conscious of looking at our villages through an urban lens. But even from a rural perspective, the situation is grim. Our villages face issues of caste, gender and class on a daily basis. Therefore, I feel it as my responsibility to correct people when they say that caste doesn’t exist or women now have a lot of freedom in our country, etc.

I care a lot about gender as an issue, but I feel helpless sometimes in villages. I see villages with a woman Sarpanch but being run by that woman’s husband or her son. I see women getting married before they even turn 18, I see Dalits and other marginalised communities still living landless and labouring hard to earn their ₹200 daily wage. I often wonder what more can I do, but then end up firefighting lazy bureaucrats and people full of apathy.

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Government has consistently abdicated it’s responsibility of a public school system. The result is a large number of NGOs working for primary and secondary education. The gap between public schools and private schools only widening. The situation indeed is grim. The solution though has been more and more private schooling, Where’s the trickle down?
Two years since graduating, I have worked with a political party, with a Member of Parliament, and now I’m working in an NGO. The learnings have been different in all these cases. Till recently, I thought I had a good knowledge of India’s problems until I visited our villages, spoke with farmers, saw the rural politics.

Farmers are growing sugarcane in drought-prone areas, despite knowing well that it is very harmful. After all, it is kind of easy money and requires less effort. No academic article I came across pointed to this fact. I always wondered why are they growing sugarcane, only to find a treacherous cycle that exists designed by the sugar lobby. Farmers resort to chemical fertilisers, the way we consume junk food. It’s easy and avoids the effort of making a compost. Our government is gladly giving subsidies worth of ₹70,000 crore to the fertiliser industry! Farm loan waivers are promised by our politicians for every elections, which end up benefiting the rich farmers, never the poor or the landless. Every time there is some crop loss due to the weather, farmer bodies are fast to take it up with the government. Since farmers are a huge vote bank, the government duly obliges.

We have one of the best Constitutions in the world, and we have been successful in bringing democracy to our villages. A lot of our policies are good in theory, but really shoddy in implementation. Policies get lost and bruised by the time they trickle down. Pratap Bhanu Mehta in this moving article has called India, ‘the too-late nation’.

We suddenly realise that the government has done nothing when 22 people died in a stampede in a Mumbai station, yet we elect MPs who don’t attend the Parliament, or only go there to protest and walk out.

We realise our healthcare is shoddy when kids die in a government hospital in Gorakhpur, yet we continue to elect people who only care about identity politics. The only time we hold our Government accountable is once in five years; the rest of the time, we live in our own bubbles, divorced from the reality. We are proud to be ‘apolitical’, which, in my opinion, is a way of saying ‘I don’t care’. We are indeed a ‘too-late’ nation, we only wake up when we realise things have not trickled down. Only if the taxpayers were as angry about their taxes going to potholes as they were about their taxes going to JNU, India would have been a different nation.

We wait and wait for the rich to realise that they need to help trickle down what they earned, and wait for the government to trickle down the development.

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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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