The Day Is Not Far When Our Society Will Become A Fiefdom Of The Ultra-Rich

Economics touches every aspect of our lives, yet most of us pay little attention to it. Paul A. Samuelson, a Nobel laureate and author of a well-known book on economics, declared, “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws if I can write its economics’ textbooks.” Economics, being the language spoken in the corridors of power, empowers those who understand its intricacies. Conversely, those who fail to comprehend the jargon-laden talk of the economists stay powerless as they are unable to deduce the economic policies formulated in the highest spheres of power.

In India, people are clueless why the 3Ps – politicians, plutocrats and public servants – always talk about “ease of doing business” aka deregulation, and are hyper-vigilant about the movement of stock market indexes. Nor do we have any idea about why they are obsessed with the fiscal deficit and keep harping on maintaining fiscal austerity. We forever remain under the impression that our leaders are doing it in the best interests of the entire society. People are hardly aware of the fact that deregulation, rapacious speculation and socialisation of corporate losses are the things that are responsible for the transformation of our democracy into an arrangement that is – ‘of the 1%, by the 1% and for the 1%’.

As ordinary people simply don’t know how to safeguard their economic interests, it has become easy for the people at the helm of affairs to hoodwink them. Taking advantage of the situation, the 3Ps, who are brought together by the three forces – power, capital and campaign financing – continue to have their heyday.

The politicians and economists are so impressed with laissez-faire economics that they seem to have come to the conclusion that if they can proactively promote the interests of the plutocrats, who constitute the 1%, the supposedly generous ‘invisible hand’ takes care of everything else, enabling the 99% to lap up the ‘trickled down’ things.

The 99% are not aware of the fact that our leaders are only bothered about the man-made capital, and they left all the other capitals, namely human capital, natural capital and social capital to the free market. The free market, however, is only interested in the man-made capital, and when the other three capitals are entrusted to it, it fully commodifies them which results in further marginalisation of the underprivileged.

The market forces, with their excesses, have already caused irreparable damage to the three capitals. They commercialised health and education, which groom the human capital. They poisoned all the natural capital by mainstreaming the highly unsustainable consumerist culture. And, by paving the way for the concentration of wealth in a few hands, they caused the waning of a sense of identity, trust and equality of opportunity, which constitutes social capital.

The politicians, taking advantage of the uninterestedness and lack of awareness prevalent among the people on economic issues, manage to deflect their attention onto trivial, yet potentially incendiary topics as part of their social engineering efforts to reap electoral benefits. And, in the process, they harm the social fabric of the society by turning our pluralistic ethos which is undoubtedly our biggest strength, into a major vulnerability.

Our politicos, though they pose as the Messiah of the masses during their electioneering, promote full throttle, the interests of the big capital once in power by giving a big push to the neo-liberal economic policies such as tax cuts, deregulation and dilution in labour and environmental laws, for full four years. It is only after they suffer a few electoral reverses on the way to general elections, they realise that their social engineering efforts have lost steam and started yielding diminishing returns. And the realisation makes them comply with the political business cycle, forcing them to introduce some big-ticket welfare schemes. These schemes, which are introduced with much fanfare, are mostly implemented half-heartedly only to be diluted slowly to cause their eventual demise.

The economics that is taught in the reputed universities, where most of India’s well-known economists were trained, is neoclassical economics, which is replete with mathematical equations that are detached from human psychology and the real-world situations. It appears that in the garb of complexity the vested interests want to promote a particular type of economic narrative that fits the requirement of the ultra-rich.

Three undergraduate students of the University of Manchester, who got disillusioned with the kind of economics taught in the universities in the UK, expressed their dissent through their book titled ‘The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts’, in which they questioned the monopoly status of neoclassical economics in the curriculum. They opined that “the monopoly of a particular and narrow form of economics, and the way the subject matter is taught (‘pedagogy’) amount to nothing less than the dictionary definition of indoctrination.” We should not forget the fact that the neo-liberalism advocated by economists such as Milton Friedman and FD Hayek, who sowed the seeds of the concentration of wealth and working-class deprivation, is closely related to neoclassical economics.

Now the question arises as to why the prestigious universities all over the world teach economic theories that serve the interests of the big businesses? The answer lies in the fact that these universities receive donations from the plutocrats, who own these big businesses, to their endowments. With some exceptions, even the media, which is mostly owned by the big businesses, promotes the neo-liberal economic thought very aggressively to make it mainstream. Therefore, an overwhelming majority of the institutions that exert a major influence on the society are collectively promoting the economic thought that serves the interests of the plutocrats, which is detrimental to the interests of the commoners.

If we want to create an inclusive society, we need to incorporate alternative theories in the economics curriculum and make it comprehensible to the commoners. Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, which brought inequality back onto the centre stage, made a marvellous attempt in that direction. It’s high time the people and the civil society gave a serious thought about the economic direction our country should take and how to incorporate the ideas such as equality of opportunity and sustainability into the economic thought. Otherwise, the day is not far away when our society will become a fiefdom of the ultra-rich, and we will not be able to hand over this mother earth in a habitable condition to the future generations.

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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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