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Is Our Democracy At Stake In The 2019 Elections?


Democracy is a system of government by the whole population or by the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. It first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the form of the city of Athens during classical antiquity. However, the question which arises in the present setup of Indian polity in regard to the country is whether our democracy is safe. Is the culture of debate and dissent still relevant?

Besides economic underdevelopment, India’s cultural and regional divides continue to pose challenges to Indian democracy. We have been receiving warnings that democracy in the world is facing its most serious crisis in decades. Political and civil rights have declined in 71 countries in 2017 while only 35 countries have witnessed some progress in these areas. “A total of 113 countries have experienced reverses in the last twelve years besides a net improvement in democratic transition is only gained by Sixty -two countries,” says Outlook.

Removal of corruption was one of the prime agendas behind the election of the BJP in the 2014 general elections. But now that we are just a year away from the 2019 general elections, corruption is still rampant in politics and business. The media, the fourth pillar of democracy, is being censored. There have been attacks against minorities – Muslims, Dalits and tribals and this poses a serious challenge to the democratic process. A report by Freedom House criticises the Modi government for not appointing the Jan-Lokpal and diluting the RTI Act, which could have improved transparency and exposed corruption.

The election over the years in India have been a matter of options rather than opinions, Ideology or actions. The 2019 election seems like a battle between the BJP and a combined opposition consisting of Congress and various regional parties.

“The present scenario reminds us of the 1977 general election when all the opposition parties united against the ruling Congress party,” says Sharad Pawar, the President of the Nationalist Congress Party. But 1977 cannot be compared to the present because the Emergency was the driving force behind the united opposition against the Congress government. Moreover, the indisciplined act of the suspension of the Indian Constitution can’t be compared to NDA -1’s reign. The general elections of 1967 and 1989 can be compared to the present scenario when the opposition united behind the slogan “Rajiv hatao.”

The united opposition, including the regional parties, will define the election of 2019. In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav, the former Chief Minister of the state, will fight the coming Lok Sabha election in alliance with the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP). Recently, the Samajwadi Party came to an electoral understanding with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and tied up with local satraps which resulted in their victory in the Phulpur bypoll. This was considered important as Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had contested and won from the Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency in the year 1952.

In Bihar, the RJD under the leadership of Lalu Prasad Yadav and a few other regional parties will unite against the NDA alliance.

Congress will act as the main opposition in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. These states will fight in alliance with the Congress and small regional parties against the BJP.

West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Thiruvanantpuram may also see coalitions as the vote share have large bifurcations. The small regional parties have also gained good momentum in getting a decent vote percentage. Therefore, Congress will have to join hands with so many regional parties to form the government. Moreover, the BJP’s performance is poor in these states so it will take time for them to influence the voters.

But amidst all of this, the question still remains – is democracy safe? The recent Karnataka state elections saw some pretty low standard politics. Despite making several (perhaps legitimate) allegations against the BJP, the Congress should also look into its own history. Other than the political environment, the academic environment has also suffered. Violent activities have taken place in university campuses by the student wings of the national parties and religious and cultural intimidations have adversely affected academic freedom in the country. The hostile environment has largely affected the liberty of the students.

The derecognisation of 11,000 NGOs has affected them from intervening in human rights and governance issues. Security forces fighting against insurgencies in the northeast and Maoist-affected areas are accused of being engaged in extra-judicial killings, rapes, torture, arbitrary detention. These sort of violent activities are the obstruction in the democratic progress of the country.

The foremost police investigative body of our country, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is non-Constitutional and non-statutory, has also been questioned about its honesty. The same question is also raised to the Election Commission on its integrity.

In this political turmoil, the very essence of democracy is being lost. The sense of a government ‘for the people’ seems deceptive. Academic hooliganism and social hatred seem so rampant that the very democratic fabric of our nation is in danger. It questions whether we are rational people. The culture of dissent but of universal toleration as taught by Vivekananda seems missing. We must strive to bring about a revolution and make a India truly democratic, secular and the nation of Gandhi’s dream of ahimsa. A nation of equality – an egalitarian society where everyone enjoys their own role in the progression of this progressive democracy is what we must strive for.

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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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