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We Shot A Documentary That Made Us Question: Is India The World’s Largest ‘Demockery’?

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Only 2% Of The People Had Ever Looked Inside Any Party Manifesto

We recently shot a documentary on ‘The Reality of the Indian Elections 2019’ and it was hard not to notice how politics has become more like a melodramatic episode of an Indian soap opera. We interviewed people across social and economic classes in Gurgaon, Delhi NCR, to get an insight into the mind of the voters. It was shocking to learn that only 2% of the people we interacted with had ever looked inside any party manifesto. Not unlike previous years, there was a sense of political illiteracy as people voted on factors such as religion, caste, and opinions of family and friends. The media gave the citizens of the country a true look into the politicians who would represent the country. Over the months leading up to the elections, criminal cases against politicians, ranging from corruption charges to rape charges, were brought to the attention of the public.

In 2019, the Association of Democratic Reform analysed that 918 candidates had declared criminal cases in their affidavits. There were 34 cases for an attempt to murder,12 for murder, 7 for kidnapping/abduction, 20 for crimes against women (including rape), and 10 for hate speech. People in power, from state ministers to cabinet ministers, have made such politically and factually incorrect statements that it makes us question whether the future of the nation is in safe and honest hands.

Secularism And Democracy Are Under Threat

The BJP has lived up to its reputation as a party of the majority and for the majority. On May 23, the long elections of the world’s largest democracy delivered a stupendous victory for the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A second term for a party which is pursuing a Hindu majoritarian agenda defying India’s secular constitutional order is bound to have repercussions on India’s socio-cultural fabric and institutional framework.

The BJP and its supporters are undoubtedly propagating nationalism designed to consolidate a fragmented Hindu identity by demonising minorities. Since the criminal justice system is broken and the rule of law is far from firm, perpetrators of crimes of various scale have not only enjoyed impunity but have also been able to infiltrate the political system. In January 2018, four senior-most judges of the Indian Supreme Court publicly warned citizens that the country’s democracy was under threat because of “the way the top court is being run”.

News of lynching in the name of “cow protection” has become a daily trend. They have created a cultural revolution of their own by Hinduising the bureaucracy and media and crushed the seeds of progressive movements in universities, cultural institutions and on the streets. Journalist Prashant Kanojia was recently arrested for speaking out against Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath. It is a shame that the world’s largest democracy is so fragile, that it has to suppress the opinion of its youth and go to the extent of dictating to its premier educational institutions on how those within them should think and what they should think.

Graphs From The Survey We Conducted:

 

Inaccurate And Inappropriate Statements Made By Politicians

In April 2014, while opposing the death penalty to three men convicted in a gangrape case, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav had said, “boys will be boys, they commit mistakes.”

In 2014,  SP’s state president Abu Azmi attracted criticism for his statements about rape survivors. He said, “If a woman is caught (in a rape case), then both she and the boy should be punished. In India, there is a death penalty for rape, but when there’s consensual sex outside marriage, there’s no death penalty against women.

In 2009, Former Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said that the best way to curb India’s population growth is to provide electricity to Indian villages so that couples spend their time watching TV instead procreating and increasing the population.

INC leader Rahul Gandhi recently made a remark in his speech that caught the nation’s attention “Poverty is just a state of mind. It does not mean the scarcity of food, money or material things. If one possesses self-confidence, then one can overcome poverty.”

Sakshi Maharaj a member of BJP said: “The concept of four wives and forty children just won’t work in India but it is high time that every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion.”

A Chief Minister of a prominent state said that “If one Hindu girl is converted, we will convert 100 Muslims girls…The way Hindu girls are insulted, I don’t think a civilised society would accept it…If the government is not doing anything, then the Hindus will have to take matters into their own hands.”(In an undated video, reportedly from a speech in Azamgarh).

These statements are broadly publicised by the media and as a result, it makes us question the competence and educational qualifications of such leaders. Not only are they responsible for shaping the future of the country but also have a huge impact on the youth of the country. This is why the education of politician plays such an integral role in the growth of the country.

Criminal Cases Against Politicians

India’s Supreme Court has refused to ban crime-tainted politicians from contesting elections, saying it has no power to do so but decriminalisation of politics is something that has become extremely necessary in India. With many politicians having criminal charges against them it makes us question where the future of our country is headed towards.

43 percent of the newly-elected members to the lower house of Parliament face criminal charges, up from 34 percent in 2014. Here are a few criminal charges against Indian politicians:

 Nitesh Kumar, mostly consistent Chief Minister of Bihar has faced charges of attempt to murder, rioting armed with a deadly weapon and unlawful assembly. The 1991 murder case against him was finally dropped, but one must consider just how adept Kumar is at weaselling out of sticky situations.

Uma Bharti has been accused of rioting, attempt to murder, unlawful assembly, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, criminal force to deter public servant, and statements conducing public mischief.

Lalu Prasad Yadav-After reports of alleged embezzlement of money withdrawn from animal husbandry department were tabled from 1990-95 Lalu Prasad Yadav ordered a probe. It was later found that the minister himself was involved in the siphoning of 450 crores from the animal husbandry department.

Conclusion

We must realise the importance of our vote and ensure that we safeguard our democracy by choosing capable leaders who do not infringe on the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion for personal gains or beliefs. It is time for India to rise to the top and certain people in the country are doing nothing but pull it back to the dark times the country has seen. The youth of the nation should not shirk off their political responsibilities. Instead, they must be encouraged to take up a career in politics and convert it from a game of power and wealth to a game of honesty and integrity. Governing a country like India requires both skill and patience, and the system to enter politics must become stricter to keep a check on the quality of our leaders. Former Union minister Yashwant Sinha quit the party and alleged that there was a “threat” to democracy under the present dispensation.

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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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