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3 Years After His Death, Are We Any Closer To Realising Dr Kalam’s Vision For India 2020?

“We are all born with a divine fire within us. Our efforts should be to give wings to this fire and fill the world with the glow of it’s goodness.” – Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam

It’s July 20, 2018, and we are a week away from the day which marks the third death anniversary of the legend known as the “People’s President of India” – Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. His journey – as a young boy from Rameswaram to becoming the President, of being awarded the highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna, contributing to many science and technology projects that marked our country’s presence in an elite league – has never ceased to impress us. His life is an epitome of what self-belief, confidence and hard work combined can make one achieve. It is with these principles that he had a vision for India in 1998, the vision to see India as a developed superpower, prominently titled – India 2020. While our love and respect for him is as colossal and unwavering as ever, this irresolute mind of mine makes me contemplate whether we, as Indians, have somehow forgotten his vision – India as a knowledge and economic superpower, safe India and a higher standard of living by 2020?

December 2020 is only two years away. Let us look at the factors which were considered as areas of core competence for integrated action by the man himself:

(1) Agriculture and food processing
(2) Rural development
(3) Tele-education, telemedicine, e-governance, information and communication technology
(4) Creative leadership
(5) Surface transport and infrastructure for all parts of the country
(6) Nanoscience and nano energy technology.

As per the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2016, India ranks 131 in HDI from amongst a list of 188 countries. Mahatma Gandhi once famously said – “India lives in its villages.” Dr Kalam echoed the opinion as he stressed the importance of rural development. While we do need smart cities, to achieve our goal of sustained and developed India we need smarter villages. If cities act as the steering wheel, it is the villages who are the fuel. We have been predominantly an agricultural country and even today it is this sector which has a major impact on our GDP. It is imperative that new research and practices are conveyed to the farmers to help them make the most of their land. Recently, Union Cabinet Minister Nitin Gadkari, while addressing an event, spoke about how biodiesel can be generated by farmers and the way it would reduce demand for petrol/diesel, which can make India self-reliant in fuel. We need many such initiatives from the State & Central government, where innovation drives a decision and not populism. Being a developed country also means being a leader in not one but many sectors. India can be a leader in the agriculture sector. But to be a leader, we need to be able to travel unexplored paths, which are achievable only through research and innovation.

Approximately 75% of college graduates in India are not considered employable. It’s disheartening to observe that a country with such a huge potential is unable to produce employable graduates. While we have brilliant minds, it is the system that needs to be updated. Granting students a degree shouldn’t be the sole purpose of universities. Making students capable of being employed, changing the examination pattern to check knowledge rather than memory, focusing on all-round personality development are some of the changes that need to be made at the earliest. It is overwhelming to see the youth of today exploring different paths apart from the traditionally ‘safe’ fields of engineering, medicine, CA. It is imperative that these students have a certain assurance of employability and get access to quality and creative education. The syllabus needs to be altered to make the students confident as well as job-ready.

Better connectivity within the nation leads to more exchange of thoughts, ideas, culture and so on. India is largely connected through railways. Trains remain the most popular and affordable mode of transport for the majority of people. It is time we provide people with better and faster alternatives like metros and bullet trains. While we can debate on the route of fast bullet train proposed by the Government of India, there is no doubt that India today needs a high-speed rail project. It makes connectivity faster, safer and comfortable. Introduction of something like ‘Hyperloop‘ would only make transportation better. It is time the local corporations and private entities established for the construction and maintenance of roads take their job seriously and realise the importance of safe roads. It is glad to see new options being explored for inland waterway transport and development of coastal roads.

Dr Kalam addressed the Parliament several times in his five-year tenure as the President of India. In one of the addresses, he stated that a developed country is not judged by temples, mosques or gurudwaras but by education, healthcare and economic stature and culture. He wanted political parties to contest based on development and resort to developmental politics rather than electoral politics.

Today, it is disheartening to see that it’s not just political parties, but even citizens of India, are sticking to age-old caste and communal politics. Our role doesn’t just end with voting and paying our taxes, but by making this vision of India 2020 our individual mission. In a democracy, for it to be strong and prevalent, it is necessary for opposing ideas and views. However, we sometimes get so involved in opposing each other that the development and peace of the nation is lost. And our politicians make exploit the sentiments of the people.

Communal politics is not resorted to by one political party but almost everyone. Vote bank has become more important than the development of banks. In a democracy, it’s the people of the nation who drive the thinking and outlook of a nation, the politicians can just endorse them.

When we talk about people, India is blessed with a large youth population. What made Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam believe that India can reach its goal by 2020 is this vast population of the youth. He believed that the ignited mind of the youth is the most powerful resource on the earth. The youth of today are more engaged and have a sense of responsibility towards their nation, but at times they either lack support, direction or are a victim of the unnecessary. When the young should be looking forward to employment and empowerment, the sights of a few coming onto the streets and destroying people and public properties based on caste and fake news is a major jolt to our progress. Today, when we have someone like Hima Das making our country proud, our people working at respectable positions in corporate giants, our pool of engineers, doctors, scientists, accountants making us proud globally, such incidents take us a step backwards.

For a country to be respected, it is imperative that the country is safe. It is very unfortunate, disturbing and annoying to see how unsafe women still are. Candle-light marches, sympathy messages aren’t going to stop them. Stricter, responsible and faster law would. Also, there needs to be a change in the moral policing rampant in society. Morals and ethics can be imbibed through quality education from schools, surroundings, parents and friends.

Strength respects strength! Our armed forces are highly skilled and equipped. And we are only getting better and better. The Indian Space and Research Organisation is making exponential progress and regularly producing moments of pride.

For us to be a true superpower, excelling in sports is equally important. Sport brings a country together, it teaches its people to handle success and failure. It’s pleasing to see the evolution of leagues in different sports, but we still have a long way to go make a mark in global events like the Olympics. We need better infrastructure, but more importantly, the mindset that one can earn a livelihood through sports needs to be inculcated, only then we would be able to see more people backing their kids/friends and achieve better results.

While we have lost the legend, we can’t let his vision die. Together, we can achieve a lot. All we need is a compilation of thoughts, minds and platforms! I urge all – Let us, find ways to make our country “sujalam, sufalam” in the true sense by 2020.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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