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Understanding The Business Behind Lobbying

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On March 28 2018, the representatives of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee called for a meeting with all opposition leaders to demand that the government announce a nationwide debt waiver scheme and guarantee remunerative prices for farmers’ produce. Members of this umbrella body of farmer groups had previously met senior opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, Sharad Pawar, Tariq Anwar, Farooq Abdullah and Sharad Anwar. In hindsight, if we look at this event from a political perspective, meeting these opposition leaders was actually an act of lobbying – so that these leaders could voice their demands at a time when the private member bill by Lok Sabha M.P. of Swabhimani Paksha Sri Raju Shetti and Rajya Sabha M.P. of CPI(M) Sri K.K. Ragesh will be tabled in the Parliament.

In 1995, the United States of America’s Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). The purpose of the legislation was to cultivate greater transparency and accountability in federal lobbying practices by requiring lobbyists to register and make specific disclosures to the Congress about their activities and interactions with American legislators. In India, lobbying tantamounts to bribery and why shouldn’t it be? We have witnessed events where big corporations gave away crores of rupees in making anonymous political donations, paying off credit card bills of journalists and even sponsoring jets and choppers to political parties for their electoral campaign.

There are times where lobbying is misused to provide an undue advantage to corporations or powerful individuals. Image source: Getty

The symbiotic careers of Adani and Modi is an open secret. The case of 1,500 crore syphon to offshore haven against the Adani group has been brought by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Enforcement Directorate until the investigating officers were forced to step down. There are other stories of crony capitalism and lobbying. In November 2010, Radia Tapes shocked the world when transcripts of Nira Radia, one of the most influential lobbyist, with some of the most powerful politicians, corporates and journalists came out in public domain which included big names like Kalanithi Maran, Kanimozhi, A. Raja, Barkha Dutt, Prabhu Chawla, Vir Sanghvi, Suhel Seth, etc. This controversy showed how Nira Radia used her connections to tilt the auctions of the multi-million dollar license contracts in favour of her clients. Other cases of lobbying include Essar leaks which brought into the politician-corporate nexus in how the crony capitalists manipulate the government and judiciary for their vested interests. But these existing acts of lobbying in India go unheard as all of these happen behind closed doors far away from the attention of Parliament and common citizens.

During my conversation with a Greenpeace activist in Delhi, he said, Nation Clean Air Programme for India is a new success story. Along with protests and petitions, we also have to lobby with politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and every influential people who feel the same about this issue just like we feel about it. The one who sits to make laws can pass whatever legislation they wish. In this cocoon of power, they forget about our community’s issues.  Lobbying helps in influencing some influential people and groups in the power to voice for the interest of our cause in Government or in Parliament.”

Lobbying efforts work to establish relationships with these officials. When a politician feels like his communities are in-sync with his/her beliefs, it becomes easier to vote on causes that benefit the communities. There are times where lobbying is misused to provide an undue advantage to corporations or powerful individuals, thus the need for disclosure comes forward. BJP Minister Sri Ravishankar Prasad spoke out about lobbying and reduced lobbying to be an understatement for bribery. On the contrary, Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo introduced Disclosure of Lobbying Activities Bill as a Private Member Bill in the Lok Sabha which defined the term lobbying as, “an act of communication with and payment to a public servant with the aim of influencing” legislation or securing a government contract. The Bill requires the lobbyist to register with authority and declare certain information.

However, the law must not legitimise bribery or corrupt malpractices since it creates scope for prioritising windfall gains of private businessmen or corporations over public interest works. Lobbying should only include those activities that can further the beau idéal of participative democracy.

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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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