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Remembering Jawaharlal Nehru: The Man Who Shaped Modern India

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Jawaharlal Nehru occupies a towering space in the political landscape of modern India. He was a Democrat, socialist, visionary leader, and humanist, who played an immensely important role in shaping modern India. Today, when the country celebrates the 129th birth anniversary of the country’s first Prime Minister, it becomes pertinent to look at his contribution in shaping India into a functional democracy. From education to industrialisation, women’s liberation to the welfare of tribes, and from an emphasis on humanity, individuality, and secularism to his vision of a non-aligned world, Nehru displayed all the characteristics of a visionary statesman.

Nehru was above all a nationalist. He envisioned a socialist society and had immense faith and love for the people of India.

The independence had come after a long struggle. The road ahead was an uncharted one, and Nehru committed his life to build the nation. Post second world war when colonialism was gradually fading away, the world was divided into two new superpowers – the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Nehru refused to join any (although he did he have a soft corner for the communist soviet union- a policy that every prime minister, including PM Modi, has followed). He believed that we had long fought for our freedom and India cannot afford to let another superpower dictates its internal and external matters. Essential for this was the need to build a healthy self-reliant, self-sustaining economy. And India soon saw rapid industrialisation, technical innovation, the growth of science and education. He urged the people to believe in themselves and in their capacity to build a nation.

After the complete transfer of power, Nehru was successful in establishing a unified socialist, democratic and secular nation regardless of the several initial hiccups. Under his leadership, India emerged as a nation that promoted ‘unity in diversity’. The aspirations of people from different religion, caste, class, language, provinces, and tribes, found a space in the newly established country. Ours was a nation in the making, and Nehru urged the people to embrace the diversity and provided stability by putting down disruptive forces. The Five Year Plans were a step in the direction. Nehru believed that given the changing dynamics of the world, only a united country could succeed.

He was a man committed to the idea of democracy and civil liberties. He was not ready to compromise on them for anything. They were his religion. Even at the height of power, he maintained democracy through a constitution based on civil liberties, a government elected by universal adult suffrage, free and fair elections, a free press, and independent judiciary. He wanted to leave behind a country that could be properly governed by the people at every level beginning from the Panchayats. He believed in the power of the people. In 1960, he declared, “ In India today, any reversal of democratic methods might lead to disruption and violence.”

For this task, he wanted to build a strong economic base for the country, not through capitalist but through socialism which he defined as equality of opportunity, equal distribution of resources, equitable distribution of wealth created through the developers of science and technology. This change he believed would come, gradually, through a series of reforms. He never wanted to force changes on the people through the parliament but appealed to the rationality of the people to bring change in themselves. He was unwilling to compromise on institutions and disrespect the people to shove his views of development. He was ready to been seen as a weak ruler of a soft state rather than an authoritarian one.

Nehru’s welfare state was based on rapid but self-reliant economic growth through rapid industrialisation, self-sufficient agricultural growth, advancement in science and atomic energy, control of public sector over strategic industries, cooperatives, and a mixed economy with planning.

In doing all this Nehru never forgot the idea of a secular India. According to him, tolerance and acceptance of every faith and religion was a pre-condition for a functional democracy. He feared that any compromise on this would be a betrayal of the cause of India’s freedom. India’s secularism was based on showing respect to all faiths, non-interference of religion by keeping it a private affair, and equal opportunities to all religions. But he was failed by his own party members who began mixing religion and politics. In 1960, Congress allied with Muslim league and Christian communal groups. He was unable to contain these changes within the Congress. Nehru believed that education and scientific temperament alone would bring about secularism. He failed to understand that communalism was much more than that. It was an ideology.

Taking into account his weaknesses does not diminish his stature in the post-colonial world. Unlike Gandhi, he failed to mobilise people even though they had high regard for him. He was unable to use the love the people had for him into the active participation of the masses in politics. A lot of it had to do with Congress as a whole, lacking an ideology. He failed to connect with the people like Gandhi had done in the pre-independence era. A successful mobilisation and organisation of the people would have helped in the growth of the parliamentary democracy and brought about the social change that Nehru was looking for but lacked the insight to implement. Before independence, there were mass movements of the people that kept them actively connected to politics, but after independence people directly engaged with country’s politics only during elections. This led to the rise of new elites in the national politics and masses were finding it difficult to identify with the grand institutions that Nehru built. His policy suffered from lack of execution be it in land reforms or community development.

After Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru was unable to organise the party cadres or use the party as a vehicle of change. This was mainly because even in colonial India he had seldom taken up the task of organising the party. In the post-colonial era this proved to be a serious weakness. He instead relied heavily on bureaucracy that remained aloof from the people and government administration that failed to touch the people.

Today, his legacy continues to oscillate between being maligned and being nostalgically looked at. He shaped India as we know it today. His stamp upon India can be seen across its length and breath. In many ways, he was the architect of modern India.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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