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Not TV, Social Media Is The Biggest Battleground For The Upcoming Elections

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First and foremost, it is an undeniable fact that the media has always played a vital role in every election starting from 1951. During the first couple of elections, there was not much prevalence of media, especially electronic media. Pamphlets, posters, banners, newspapers, etc. were used to woo voters. The culture of political campaigning began on a serious note during the 1971 general election, when Indira Gandhi used the slogan of “Garibi Hatao.”

It was an era when the radio was evolving at a rapid pace and the television had just been introduced to general masses. Further, when we talk about the popular “India Shining” campaign by Vajpayee or “Achhe Din” by Modi in 2014, the media has always played a leading role in the propagation of their slogans. But why is the 2019 election different from the earlier ones?

This, in my opinion, is because the media has witnessed major changes with the course of time: technologically, professionally as well as ethically. Even if we compare the upcoming election with the preceding ones, the media has witnessed huge growth. According to an IANS report, the number of Internet users in India was around 25 crore in 2014. Today it is 55 crores; smartphone usage has crossed the 40-crore mark; Facebook has nearly 30 crore users active on a monthly basis in India, WhatsApp has over 20 crore and Twitter approximately 3.4 crore.

In the 2014 election, Rahul Gandhi did not even have a Twitter account, but today he has 88 lakh followers, which is nowhere close to Modi, who has 4.3 crore followers. Anyway, the times have changed and television media no longer dominates the information dissemination scenario.  So here, we can go with a basic premise that unlike the 2014 general election, which in my opinion, was fought on the television, this upcoming one is being fought on social media.

For representative purpose only.

Now a question may arise, why should we call social media platforms ‘the biggest battleground?’ Because this particular form of media incorporates all other forms, whether we talk about print, electronics, the internet, etc. In other words, we can say that on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube we can have access to all types of content that is being disseminated by traditional media.

As we all know, the demographic dividend, i.e. working age population [youth] is about 64%, and substantial numbers of them are primarily dependent upon social media for information. It is not only the youth, but people across all ages these days that are active on various media platforms. So, certainly the content which is circulated through these platforms influence the mindset of the people.

But the youth is way more vulnerable to social media, as it is almost addicted to it, and according to me, shows less maturity in interpreting messages in multiple ways. So this group is an easy target by political parties for increasing their vote banks.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has already proved  how  social media can play an enormous role in manipulating the election verdict. The scandal played a significant part in inciting public discussion on ethical standards in the context of social media companies, politicians, etc. Consumer advocates made a case for greater consumer protection on online media and the right to privacy and filters on misinformation and propaganda. As expected, this scandal had a major impact on Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016, the Mexican election in 2018 and many more.

Social media which has facilitated the freedom of speech and expression is also a huge platform for fake news, trolling and manipulated content. It  has indeed become a blessing for the political fraternity, with less investment and more profit. Realising the importance of technology, every political party has its own IT cells run across the country, propagating agenda and garnering people’s faith.

Every political party is busy trolling each other, and no one cares about the misinformation flooding the social networking sites. Usually, I find that the viral content in these platforms is short, biased and strong in nature. And today’s youngsters have no time to question or verify the consumed content, which results in manipulation of their minds. We want more information within a short span of time, without knowing that much of it could be misinformation or simply lack of information.

Keeping in view the adverse impact of social media on election outcomes, the Election Commission of India has issued a handful of guidelines for the use of social media by the 2019 candidates and parties which includes pre-certification of ad. As a result of this, Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can now run only pre-certified ads. SMSes sent in bulk and voice messages will also require pre-certification. Apart from sharing the expenses for online campaigning with the Election Commission, the political candidates will also have to share details of their social media accounts. An app called C-Vigil has been developed which will allow citizens to report violations confidentially.

The guidelines set up by the election commission sound nice, but the implementation is still under scrutiny. Further, the commission has not clarified any specific penal provisions for violation of those guidelines. Although the menace of fake news through social media becomes severe during the election, it has become an integral challenge for the democratic set up in digital era. And this certainly needs immediate attentions and a permanent solution.

The German parliament in 2017 voted for a law that included the provision to levy fines on major social media enterprises such as Facebook and YouTube, given their failure to remove hate posts within a given time. Facebook has introduced a tool in Germany that allows users flag suspicious content, this will be monitored by a team of 700 employees in Berlin.  Why can’t such initiatives be taken in country like India too? If this menace of fake news circulated via social media platforms is not sorted out, the democracy would continue to be a kingdom of blind people, ruled by one-eyed kings.

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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.

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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.”

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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