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Can The Indian Democracy Survive Another Modi Term?

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India is the world’s largest democracy with a population of over 1.2 billion, spread over an area of 3.287 million sq. km. With almost 1600 spoken languages, 2000 ethnic groups, and with people from the 9 most recognized religions, India is one the most diverse nations in the world. In a country like ours, an efficient political system, with responsible and accountable leadership is essential. We have a democratic form of government, and in a democracy, it is necessary that the people vote and do so responsibly. Our constitution gives its people the right to vote irrespective of their religion, caste, economic status, gender or sex. 11th April 2019 will mark the offset of the 17th Lok Sabha elections.

11th April 2019 will mark the offset of the 17th Lok Sabha elections. Image via Getty

With the upcoming elections, I want to throw some light on certain issues through this article.

India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. As this data indicates, India is a country of the youth. The youth has a vital role to play in deciding the nature of politics, the future of politics, and thus, the future of this country. The problem, however, is the ignorance and indifference of people when it comes to politics. It is as a result of this mass political unconsciousness of the people and the youth, that democracies fail.

The common notion is that politics does not have any role in our lives, and that thinking about it and talking about it is simply an utter waste of time. However, the reality is vastly different from the common notion. Politics has everything to do with our lives. Our education – what we get to learn, what we get to teach, what our jobs are, how much we are to be paid for our jobs, our healthcare facilities, the prices of the things that we are going to buy, it’s the reservation quotas we will have to deal with, the colleges we will go to, the amount of taxes we are going to pay, our future pension plans, everything is decided by political bodies, figures, and the nature of politics.

Even though politics literally control our lives most people, and especially the youth chooses to be ‘apolitical’, because it’s easier to stay within their comfort zones. Thus, it is rightly said that for them, ignorance is bliss. Well, what happens when people choose to remain ignorant about politics? When they are too lazy to let go of their privileges and come out of their comfort zone and remain ‘apolitical’?

Here’s a glimpse of what the situation of our country is right now:

The party that is in power has members who say that the voting rights should be taken away from the entire Muslim community, who comprise about 15% of the population. The hate speech by the party politicians has increased by almost 500% of what it was under the previous government. In most cases, the targets of hate speech have been the people of the Muslim community and other minorities of this country.

In Maharashtra, the names of 40 lakh voters, 17 lakh of which are Muslims and 10 lakhs of which are Dalits, are missing from the voting lists. Hate crimes against Dalits have reached a new high. Dalits, SCs, OBCs are being ostracized, they are being denied their right to education. In certain backward areas of the country, they are getting lynched simply for their desire to pursue education. Dalits and Muslims comprise about 70% of the mob lynching victims.

Today, a new kind of violence is haunting India, a term, probably never heard by millennials before 2015; cow vigilantism.

Today, a new kind of violence is haunting India, a term, probably never heard by millennials before 2015; cow vigilantism. People are being beaten to death for eating beef or for wearing leather. As many as 97% of these attacks were reported after the new government came to power in May 2014, and about half the cow-related violence – 32 of 63 cases – were from states governed by the same political party when the attacks were reported. And very surprisingly, most of the victims turned out to be Muslims.

Farmers whose hard work is the reason we have food on our plates, are not getting paid their fair share. In certain states of the country, they are being made to sell onions and potatoes at about Rs. 1.04/kg. The farmer suicide has reached 12000 per year. That’s 1000 every month, and thus, about 33 every single day. The government is still quiet about this matter and has done nothing to improve the situation

Manual scavenging is still legal in our country. Those working in the stigmatized industry face acute challenges, given their low social status and abysmal working conditions, which expose them to death-like situations or life-threatening diseases, and one manual scavenger dies every five days but the government hasn’t taken any action for the betterment of the situation.

The Army, whose name the government never fails to use in their rally speeches to stir the nationalist sentiments among the people, the army who is politicized constantly and is used as nothing but as pawns in their political agenda, is being underpaid. The government creates an image as if it truly cares about the army and wants to protect its integrity but the facts are clearly against it. The army is being deprived of basic human working conditions and privileges but surprisingly enough, the government which poses as the protector of the army has not said anything about the actual problem it is facing.

When it comes to the issue of women, India is now officially the worst country in terms of women’s safety. 106 is the average number of rape cases filed every single day in India, 4 out of 10 of which are minors. Moreover, government agency data has given proof that almost 99% of rape and sexual harassment cases go unreported. Members of the ruling party are taking advantage of the established patriarchal system and are campaigning by promising that they will bring back child marriage if voted into power. Marital rape, even after 72 years of independence, is not a crime. Women who cook mid-day meals for school children are paid the menial amount of ₹37 only, which probably does not even help them afford a three square meal every day. Human trafficking levels of India are off the charts.

It is one of the most significant phases in the history of democracy in our country, and also probably one of the worst ones. The government’s ultra-nationalist, casteist, xenophobic and communal nature is now directly violating the secular, inclusive, egalitarian and just provisions of the constitution which defines how the country is supposed to be. The government is campaigning about building a temple on a disputed land and thus taking advantage of the religious nature of the people of the country while shifting the focus from the real issues and the issues that actually matter.

The cabinet of ministers, including the prime minister is avoiding being held accountable for what they say or do.

In a country like India, with over 9 major religions, if a political party in power has communal and supremacist ideology towards a particular religion or community, the effects can be and will be catastrophic. It can lead to civil unrest, communal riots, and whatnot. Recognize the communal and divisive politics in play here just to pit one group against another for their vote banks.

It’s time we realized and accepted the reality that we are all Indians and we all deserve equal rights. The cabinet of ministers, including the prime minister is avoiding being held accountable for what they say or do. The prime minister has not held a single press conference since coming to power. The education minister said that Darwin was wrong, the health minister himself said that cancer is the result of past sins.

The media’s role in a democracy is to keep people informed, it is to make people aware of the government’s policies and laws. However, it is now controlled by big corporates and capitalists who take sides with the government. Today, news channels and newspapers do propaganda for the government or to simply defame people on live TV, and spread fake and fabricated news about the government’s deeds. Thus, the government is coming in the way of free speech which is essential for the democracy to survive especially in a country like ours.

46 journalists have been killed and government action has been taken against 27 so far for simply criticizing the government’s policies. Activists, journalists, lawyers, economists, and dissenters of the government are being labelled “anti-nationals”, “urban naxals”, “urban Maoists” for not agreeing with the government’s policies, for practising their constitutional right of protesting. They are receiving death threats for practising their right of freedom of speech and expression publicly, and are being told to go to Pakistan if they are talking about ideas like secularism and equality.

I would request my readers to fact check everything I have said above. Everything you see on the internet, or as WhatsApp forwards should be verified before believing, this should not be an exception either. There are tons of other issues that can be discussed, but this article is not about that.

The Indian struggle for independence was a long, hard and apathetic battle fought by our brave freedom fighters, who believed in certain ideas instituted in our constitution. But that does not guarantee our continued freedom. Democratic rights and freedom requires constant effort in order to be sustained. You might be one of those people who favour the economic policies and other agendas of this government and there is nothing wrong in having your own opinion. I cannot turn you into a secular, egalitarian, liberal-minded person through this one article. But my appeal to you is, this: Stand up for your own rights, stand up for democracy, stand up and hold up the supremacy of the constitution, for it is in danger now.

The democratic nature of this nation is in danger now. The secular, inclusive and accepting nature of this country is under threat. You can be a narrow-minded, conservative, casteist person, but do not think for one second that the government cares about you just because it’s favouring your religion or your class of people at this moment, it’s exploiting YOU the most; it’s because of people like you who have the liberty of being politically unconscious because of your privileges that they are being successful with their agenda. Do not think for one second that if this country is deprived of its democratic spirit, it will be favourable for you, no matter how you are inclined politically or what your political views are.

Your democratic rights are at stake too, your freedom of expression is at stake too. It’s just a matter of time before the government implements a law or policy that puts you in a bad position. Your future, our future, the country’s future is at stake now. Good people of this country, this is what our nation has come to. It’s too late to sit idle and be experimental while electing the government and let politics take its own course. It’s high time to get out of our comfort zones and our seemingly blissful state of ignorance and indifference and get involved.

Place your opinions. Make yourself aware of your constitutional and fundamental rights. Make yourself aware of the policies of the government. Question the powers that be. Discuss politics with your friends, listen to one another, exchange opinions, form your own opinions. It’s all on us now. Without you, without us, the country is doomed. Without you, democracy is doomed. Do not let yourself be subject to propaganda, do not let your focus be sidetracked when the government tries to stir your nationalistic senses by creating a fake atmosphere of war, or by any other means.

Be a nationalist if you want to be, be a patriot if you want to be. But make sure your patriotism or nationalism is also stirred when the farmers of YOUR country are dying and when the women of YOUR country are getting raped. And finally, vote. Vote, not because it’s your right, but because it’s your responsibility as a citizen of this democratic nation. Great things have happened in this country, and do not have anyone make you believe that great things will never happen to this country again.

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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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