4 Things India SHOULD Remember Before Going To Vote In 2019

As the elections are around the corner and the nation is gearing itself to cast its votes with an unending optimism on its future and incessant faith in democracy, I’m enthused to put across my views on the things we must keep in mind before we head out to vote in 2019.

Being an ardent follower of socio-political and economic happenings in the country, I’m reminded of American theologian and author, James Freeman Clarke, who famously said, “A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman of the next generation.” The problem in India is we have too many politicians, with no statesmen at all. In short, we have many Reagans who enrich their tycoon cronies through their neo-liberal policies, but we don’t have even a single Roosevelt to herald a New Deal.

1. Policies Have Become Tycoon-Centric:

All the world over a new chilling truth has started dawning on the minds of the poor and the ordinary. The truth is, the advent of disruptive technologies and globalization has empowered the big businesses to accumulate gargantuan wealth, and as a result, the world is fast turning into an oligarchy. Gone are the days when the economic policies used to be people-centric. Now they are overwhelmingly tycoon-centric. This is happening because the governments are using the single and grossly skewed yardstick called ‘growth’, to measure prosperity. As a result, the governments all over the world came to a strong conclusion that it is only the tycoons who can bring about the growth, and as such providing them with “ease of doing business” is paramount.

Due to this shift towards a pro-rich bias, universities all over the world are producing so many Friedmans and Hayeks, who pioneered the neo-liberal economics, and political arena is giving rise to many Reagans who first implemented the trickle-down Reaganomics. And India, which hopped onto this neoliberal bandwagon in 1991, is no exception to this trend. Even we have many “nomics” and currently, the Modinomics is ruling the roost.

Now you may ask why I started my discourse with economic matters. For a common man bread and butter issues are paramount. As one of India’s greatest sages Swami Vivekananda had rightly said, “Man is guided by the stomach. He walks, and the stomach goes first and the head afterwards”. The commoners prioritize fulfilling their basic necessities and leading a life of ‘ease’. Therefore, we should be voting to those who can provide us with that “ease of living”. But who will give it to us?

2. The Two Parivars Are The Two Sides Of The Same Coin:

We primarily have two alternatives: Gandhi Parivar and Sangh Parivar. We are currently witnessing the rule of the Sangh Parivar, which came to power by making egalitarian and inclusive noises such as “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”. Unfortunately, what we see now is the ‘Vikas’ of crony capitalism in the garb of Hindutva. The man who is at the helm, after failing to deliver on his promises, is back to playing divisive politics and appears to be tacitly unleashing the so-called ‘fringe’ to promote his electoral prospects.

But can the alternative, I mean the other Parivar, be any better than the current dispensation? It is highly unlikely because Indian politics are increasingly becoming homogeneous and the so-called alternative is not actually an alternative. Highlighting the homogeneity in Indian polities, journalist Arun Shourie famously opined that the Modi dispensation is nothing more than Congress plus cow. When the people elect those who are promising an alternative, the only thing they will get is Modi minus cow. As the political environment has become highly polarized, people who like Hindutva are supporting the Sangh Parivar, and those who oppose Hindutva are rallying behind the Gandhi Parivar relegating the bread and butter issues to back-burner. The fact is when we set aside the cow, they both are same. The same corruption, crony capitalism and apathy will keep haunting the people. What the commoners need now is a political dispensation that can bring back people-centric policies.

Unfortunately, the alternative to the two Parivars, over the years, has grown weaker. The democratic left, with its successive defeats in elections, has left a huge vacuum in the Indian politics, and the AAP, which emerged with a big bang on the Indian political scene and raised a lot of expectations among the people, appears to have lost steam thereafter. And the regional political parties, which are no less corrupt and inefficient, will end up supporting either of the two Parivars.

3. A New Leadership Must Emerge From Mass Movements Based On Livelihood Issues:

In this situation, the people have only one option: bring down the current dispensation and install its rival in the seat. But this is not going to solve the problem. This situation only reminds me what Marx had stated about democracy. “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” But democracy, being the heart and soul of our nation, can’t be discarded. We the commoners must combat tooth and nail the forces that are bent on hijacking democracy to serve their narrow self-interests.

Before 1991, many people would often say if you want to distribute wealth you first have to create it. As the people who said this have managed to amass unimaginable wealth, now is the time for the commoners to assert themselves to better their lives. When the people stay united and assert themselves, the ruling classes will have no option but to obey.

People all over the world are turning against the tycoon-centric neo-liberal policies and building mass movements to assert themselves. The Occupy Wall Street protests in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis was a slap in the face of the pro-rich ruling classes. The recent Yellow Vests protests in France demonstrated to the world how a staunchly united working class can force the leaders to retreat on their anti-people actions.

Even in India, there is a hope. The recent protests by farmers, who fell victim to the widespread agrarian distress, grabbed the attention of everyone and exposed the empty rhetoric of the ruling dispensation. The Dalit protests and the anti-Sterlite protests highlighted that fact that the fight against discrimination and profiteering at the expense of people’s health will be a never-ending struggle. And we, the commoners, especially the working class, need to build more united and powerful movements to educate and mobilize the masses. The hope is, from these mass movements new leaders will emerge, who may be able to fulfill the aspirations of the poor and the ordinary, who seek livelihood opportunities, good education and quality healthcare. The new leadership must emerge from the grassroots level, that too from the mass movements built on bread and butter issues, not from the ruling clans or religious and caste movements.

But this is possible only when the people steadfastly stay united and don’t get swayed by the feelings that erect narrow domestic walls that divide them along the lines of caste, religion, region, or language. If they get swayed by them they will get nothing more than cows, shrines, statues and hegemony. And taking advantage of the situation the politicos and plutocrats will have a cakewalk in the garb of attractive slogans and colorful events.

4. Be Wary Of Misleading Narratives:

As elections are fast approaching, the common people must be wary of misleading narratives that are getting ready to hoodwink them. As the nation will start heading to the polling booths, there will be concerted attempts by the politicos and plutocrats to mislead the people by forcing the objective reality and rational enquiry to go on a holiday and press their colossal PR machinery into service. They will do this to spruce up their images as the messiahs of the masses to either come to power or retain power. Some tycoons have already started pitching in for incumbent regime showering praise it and talking about ‘continuity’. What the poor and the ordinary need is not ‘continuity’ but an enduring ‘change’. These false narratives are what exactly the people must guard themselves against and not get swayed by patently trivial matters.

Conclusion

People, instead of voting the Parivars, had better support grassroots leaders who have the ability to build mass movements on people-centric issues. Finally, if the people, especially poor and the ordinary, want a better quality of life they will get it. If they pay even the slightest attention to cow, they will get only cow.

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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.

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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.

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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