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Every Time Atalji Made A Speech, His Aura Shone Through The Screen

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Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee is no more. I speak of him now not as a politician of the BJP, but a statesman who was a model public figure.

‘Aura’ is a word I rarely use, ‘transcendental aura’, even more scarcely, but for Mr Vajpayee that is an apt one. Every single time I watched his speeches, it made me aware of how special this man is. His aura shone through the screen. ‘A masterful orator’ is what is usually said to describe him, but, I was also enamoured by the child-like gleefulness of his delivery. The smile with which he eviscerated accusations. His witty repartee, in this age of social-media, would be a gold mine. What does he mean to someone who was not even 15 when he retired from active politics? To a generation that has not really ‘lived’ through his Government? Precedent. A #101 on how to conduct yourself. For me, that was adopting the manner of being assertive yet approachable based on a foundation of strong principles and sprinkled with the right dose of theatricality. This precedent is not restricted to people who are aspirants for a role in public life, but, is also extendable to be a precedent on how to build and lead an organisation. An organisation that seems electorally unstoppable hitherto was reduced to 2 seats in 1984, where Mr Vajpayee himself lost his seat. He led the effort to build that party along with Mr. Advani, which they managed to do together. He serves as a precedent to appreciate the gift of laughter in a space which was sometimes full of sanctimoniousness and pseudo-self righteousness. He was a precedent on reaching across the aisle in times of conflict, with a famous friendship with his predecessor Mr PV Narasimha Rao. A precedent in not reducing to the level of pettiness during civil discourse. There are enough anecdotes on his magnanimous nature, especially to people from the opposite aisle but the real test of his statesmanship, for me, was to turn that smile into a steely frown when faced with tough decisions. The nuclear tests, not bowing to public outcry over disinvestment of PSEs and of course, Kargil are stellar examples. I do not want to comment over whether I liked those decisions or not as I do not wish to be political in this post, but rather, wish to take the position of an ordinary citizen professing his admiration for a singular person’s personal qualities.

One good thing coming out of the horrible and untimely death of Mr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, when he went to Kashmir to protest the permit quota system of the Government, was when he told his young secretary – “tell everyone where I am and what this Government is doing”. That young secretary did so and more. That event gave us Mr Vajpayee. He continued the work of Mr Mookerjee and got himself elected to Parliament. He impressed our first Prime Minister over there enough to be predicted to become a Prime Minister himself one day. I seldom want to romanticise people, especially those who I did not know personally, however, it seems as though it was inevitable, fateful and not hypothetical that he would reach that post. He impressed as the External Affairs Minister. The first person to make a speech in Hindi at the UN. His ranking of speeches would give anyone a headache. His speech during the 1962 war is almost an urban legend in terms of how good it was. The best speeches of his, in my opinion, were reserved for his ‘enemies’. He never let politics come in the way of mutual respect. His eulogies for Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi were beautifully poetic and poignant.

An unassuming man, he lamented not being able to go out and eat in a dhabha when he became the face of his party. His humility shown through his poetry. ‘Geet naya gaata hoon’ and ‘Oonchai’ are poems I can recite the lines to. There is a certain level of appreciation which is unimaginable for anyone else when you ask anyone about him. People who would not be fans of his party show particular reverence for him. This isn’t a geographical phenomena either. People coming from south India, Northeast and even Kashmir (where his ‘Insaniyat’ doctrine is still well-known) elicit positive opinions about Mr Vajpayee. He once went to the extent of making sure Government facilities like a car were not being used by his relatives. The respect he had for the Parliament and parliamentary procedures is also a significant precedent. A ‘Gentle Giant’ indeed.

I await a biography about his life. Theatrically so, he once lost a no-confidence motion by a single vote. He also spent years building an alternative political platform in India. His personal bravery during the unfortunate 1984 anti-Sikh riots, in stopping two people from harming another, was heroic. Of course, there are the not-so great moments too. Political and personal. The mistakes and faults make for a well-rounded story. A liberal man in the truest sense of the word. His is a story of a poet who somehow entered politics and couldn’t leave it. A man who desperately wanted to be a journalist but found himself on the other side. There will be people who shall enter politics, be great orators, earn admiration from friends and foes, they shall still be a pale imitation of Mr Vajpayee’s stature. There won’t be another one. This starts the end of an era where old-school politics will not work for a newer India.

I particularly liked his victory against the resistance he was faced with when he was Prime Minister. He was pressured from all sides to do this or that and yet, decisively, he did what he thought was right. He was big enough to apologise and seek corrective measures when he thought he was wrong too. He did that with certain schemes as well as certain events. The best part about him, however, like I said, will be his unparalleled sense of humour. I wish there were cameras since the 50s to appropriately capture his speeches. Anecdotal examples reveal themselves to be indicative of a man who used it as a healthy way to put his point forward. I wish there was more of that today.

A simple phrase he once said about himself “Bheed mai bhi akela mehsus karta hu” (I feel lonely even in crowds) struck me as daringly honest. It was strange relating to a then-65+ year old man who put something so simple yet empathetic. His unique way about himself was always nice to watch. India would benefit from having people sharing his characteristics in our political sphere. It would do good to move conversations about issues from an acrimonious way, to perhaps, an enjoyable one.

In one of his famous interviews he observes that he only wants to be remembered by people as an ‘aacha aadmi’. One who only wants to escape this dessert of politics respectably. I shall do him that courtesy, “aacha aadmi tha”.

You will be missed, Atalji.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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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