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If India’s Top Institutions Have Been Compromised, Then Indian Democracy Is In Crisis

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The credibility of India’s top institutions has lately suffered, affecting governance and democracy in the country. An example would be the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice of India which was rejected by the Vice President and was subsequently challenged in the highest court.

When the case challenging the legality of the Vice President’s action came before the court, the petitioner sought clarification from the bench hearing the case, expecting that the Chief Justice could not pick and choose the judges that heard his own case. But the court refused to give an explanation, meaning that the court would not follow the first principle of justice in its own conduct that one cannot be a judge in their own case. It is logical that such a court could not be expected to deliver justice fairly and therefore, the petition was withdrawn.

It is a crucial own-goal, akin to a sabotage from within, putting question marks around the highest court’s ability to enforce the Constitution fairly, thus damaging democracy in the country.

But it is not only the Supreme Court that has failed to inspire confidence. Even the Parliament of India has failed to discuss, debate, moderate and legislate on urgent public issues. For instance, the Lok Sabha functioned for only 33.6 hours in 28 days during recent budget sessions, passing two bills in 14 minutes. It passed the annual budget for the nation without discussion and the speaker of house disallowed to take up a no-confidence motion against the government.

In a cabinet system of government, it is the Prime Minister’s duty to conduct the proceedings of Parliament with the help of their cabinet. However, the present Prime Minister took little interest in doing so. Instead, after the washout of the Parliament session, he observed a day’s fast with his cabinet colleagues and cleared his conscience. It is like sinning to national loss and bathing to personal purity, adding little value to the highest executive office of the country.

The Reserve Bank of India sets the monetary policy of the country but it took merely a day to approve the government’s advice on demonetisation without thinking about its rationale or how it would handle the post-demonetisation situation. Consequently, 99% of the currency came back at the cost of more than a hundred human lives and it was a huge loss to nation as the economy slowed down due to the unavailability of currency in a cash-dependent system.

For democracy to function, the Election Commission must be beyond reproach. However, the Election Commission sullied its image by its conduct during the Gujarat elections, postponing election dates against norms and by disqualifying AAP legislatures of the Delhi assembly, without giving them a fair hearing. This invited the Delhi High Court’s criticism that struck down its decision.

Inefficient and self-perpetuating institutions at the top have a ripple effect down to the bottom. For example, the Chennai High Court could not decide on the case of the disqualification of 18 legislators for five months, causing a government to continue in the office that might have been functioning illegally for all these months. It finally delivered a split verdict recently, keeping the matter on hold indefinitely. This is in line with other high courts across the country where 4.2 million cases are waiting to be heard.

Similarly, the state assemblies of  UP, Gujarat and Rajasthan functioned for 17, 25 and 33 days in 2017 and later passed a legislation granting a former Chief Minister an official bungalow with 9 employees for life , under the patronage of the present-Chief minister who hopes to become a ‘former’ Chief Minister soon as election are due shortly in the state.

The institutions are the last resort of the people for getting justice in a democratic society. If they are unable to do so and become unaccountable and politically influenced, then democracy becomes a farce and the leader who presides over such a spectacle is judged by history harshly, be it Indira Gandhi or Narendra Modi.

In this context, learning from history is useful. India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru, is revered largely because he built, nurtured and respected institutions that he recognised would outlast individuals who, howsoever popular or clever, were merely slaves of time in a democracy.

Pushkar Raj is a Melbourne based researcher and author.

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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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