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#YKASummit2018: ‘If 1975 Was A Bad Decision, 2014-18 Is A Bad Example’

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Unlike the noisy debates of TV news channels, the panellists engaged with the audience to address the concerns of youths at #DemocracyAdda on the second day of Youth Ki Awaaz Summit on September 2.

The past four years have witnessed major controversies around the pillars of democracy- legislative, executive, and judiciary. The developments like fake police encounters in Uttar Pradesh, killing of Justice Loya, recent arrests of activists, tampering of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), misuse of power by Chief Justice Of India, among many others have put the status of democracy under the scanner. The apparent cracks in the democracy and the associated concerns were discussed at #DemocracyAdda on the second day of Youth Ki Awaaz Summit on September 2 in New Delhi.

Observer Research Foundation (ORF) president Samir Saran along with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Meenakshi Lekhi, Congress Spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, and National spokesperson of Samajwadi Party (SP) Ghanshyam Tiwari shared their insights on the current situation of democratic institutions. Unlike the noisy debates of TV news channels, the panellists engaged with the audience to address the concerns of youths.

Seperation Of Power

Samir Saran said, “Fundamentally when constitution was established it was felt that separation of power is important for functioning democracy. But over the years we have witnessed increased tensions among executive, legislative and judiciary. There’s a natural tendency among all the ruling parties to interfere in the functioning of these pillars and exert their control. Every party has tried to weaken one or two pillars of democracy.”

Ghanshyam Tiwari, communication advisor to the former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav and former chief advisor of JD(U)’s Bihar unit, said “ People and their aspirations make the foundations of the three pillars of democracy. The test of these pillars is how they treat the most marginlaised section. However, the stark inequalities indicate that the traditional structures are becoming obsolete. Money, muscle, and power have hijacked the system and only rich are part of political system. Poor people don’t have enough representative. Also, laws aren’t representing the voices and role of judiciary is getting increasingly questionable.”

Jaiveer Shergill, the youngest national media panellist of the Congress, pointed out, “Separation of power is the oil that keeps the machinery of democracy running. Separation of power is where the leader stands with people and not above them. Party have their nuances. They push you, but you have to push them back. Youths have to make these pillars answerable. You have to turn romanticism with youth into political reality. They have to participate beyond social media to make the system and these pillars accountable.”

BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi was of the opinion that systems are well under placed and is running better than the previous government. She asserted that it is good that there’s a constant conflict among the pillars to keep power in check.

“Three pillars, as designed by the constitution, are very much in order. These conflicts among these pillars are meant to be created, and the perpetual state of conflict keeps checks and balances. The democratic process is not what rhetoric we read in newspapers. Democracy in action is fully functional and best protected. There’s nothing like an emergency situation. The conflicts identify gaps and then gives scope to rectify,” she asserted.

Weakening Of Democratic Institutions Since Independence

Centre and state BJP governments, Samajwadi Party rule in Uttar Pradesh, and several decades of governance under Congress have faced allegations of weakening the democratic institutions. Policymakers representing these parties in a non-partisan manner answered Saran’s, and audience’s questions on state control over autonomous democratic bodies.

Samir Saran: “There’s question on the credibility of the judiciary. The executive has a sense of permanency and assurance, so that affects their operations. And, the current government has reduced the number of times parliament sits. So, clearly legislative isn’t functioning sufficiently.”

Ghanshyam Tiwari: “Goalposts of democracy have changed with generations. A form of governance emerged as a challenge to earlier suppressive models. Now, the present model needs to challenged as it has ceased to be relevant.”

Meenakshi Lekhi: “Judiciary is very much independent today. But of course, there have been cases of legislative overreach in previous governments. Because of that SC in Keshawanand Bharti case court ordered that the fundamental structure of constitution cannot be amended. Across the world, governments appoint judges but in India selection process is totally independent and the current government has ensured that. And regarding legislative functioning, I would note that in India legislator doesn’t have to only sit in parliament. They have to go out and engage with people in their constituencies.”

Jaiveer Shergill: “ If 1975-77 was a bad example then, 2014-18 is a bad example now. Politicians are always on trials. However, we must be proud that despite apprehensions, India has sustained as a functional democracy. Systems have evolved. Of course, there were few bad decisions and moves, but we corrected them and were committed towards democracy. In terms functioning of these pillars, I would say we have a severe infrastructure problem. Cases are pending, and we don’t have enough courts and judges; there’s a shortage of staff in several departments. The second problem is perspective. We need to change our outlook. For instance, in rape cases, we shouldn’t focus on punishment, but on prevention. We need to fix infrastructure and perspectives.”

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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.

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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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