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The Irony Of Systematically Excluding Despite Being The World’s Largest Democracy

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At midnight on August 15, I received a text from a friend wishing me “Happy Independence Day.” I couldn’t wish him back without saying “I don’t feel free.

With so many happenings in India this Independence Day, I couldn’t help but question this independence we Indians so proudly claim to have.

With fear and shame, I am reminded of the words of Ramachandra Guha who writes in his book India after Gandhi,  of a cricketer and tea planter who predicted that “chaos would prevail in India if we were ever so foolish to leave the natives to run their own show. They are still infants as regards governing or statesmanship. And their so-called leaders are the worst of the lot.” And yet India triumphed, the Constitution stayed firm and secure, and within the broad embrace of democracy, the concept of Indian nationhood blossomed and matured, despite divergences in society, despite the divisions of religion, caste, language, even ethnic variations.

But, slowly, creeping termites have made their way into our shrines of democracy. The sacred holy book, the Indian Constitution has been made into a mockery for rulers to bend and twist its words to legitimise their sin with impunity. At a time like this, I am reminded of the great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda who writes “every nation has its sorrow.” He would know as he came from the land where democracy slips away like sands through fingers; such land is India; my motherland. We have become an unhappy land of unhappy people.

India claims to be the world’s largest democracy. But India just has shapes of democracy. There is a monopoly of power in India. We are forced to choose between stability and democracy. This is a false dichotomy. Those who advocate this have learned nothing from history as world history has shown us, again and again, a total top-down concentration of power no matter by which individual or party is disastrous.

This has only brought tension and unhappiness; an unhappy nation can’t possibly be. An unhappy nation would only bring chaos, death and misery with it. On this day, as we chant the sermons for the great Bharat Mata and parade on her soil for the freedom we have given her, we have turned our eyes from it’s bleeding head. A part of which is bleeding profusely.

Posters and placards seen as members of various Left parties and their supporters protest against the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. (Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The preamble of India says that “people are the sovereign.” Sovereignty means that the power is in the hands of the people. If that is true then why would the powers be snatched from the hands of people of Kashmir, whom India regards as its ‘integral part?’ If democracy means “will of the people” then how could the Indian government trample upon it so mercilessly and with so much legitimacy? Where a part of its citizen is suffering such humiliation, rest of India is celebrating their Independence. This humiliating existence where a part of an Indian citizen is reduced to nothing. How is this even theoretically possible, when India claims to be a democracy?

The ideology of the government has penetrated to such an extent where it has become all-pervading; every institution is infiltrated by this ideology. Whether you call upon the atrocities of government or demand your right to free speech and criticise the very state that we, the people have made, we would be branded as the ‘enemy of the state’ or most commonly labelled as an anti-national. We would be shunned by our own fellow brethren and sisters of the Indian state.

While as in the case of Kashmir, allegedly an ‘integral part’ of the Indian state, their demand for self-determination, their assertion of their right and identity – you would not simply be branded but declared as a ‘separatist’, threatening to break the fabric and diversity of India. The institutions of the state have normalised this tyranny in Kashmir by socially constructed narratives, that has seeped into public consciousness and has become part of normal Indian discourses. This normalisation of the violence in Kashmir over the years; by destroying the rights of Kashmiris to the extent that today when the forced union has happened no one has questioned the legitimacy of it.

Legally Speaking

Academicians and legal luminaries have pointed out the unconstitutionality of the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35(A). Article 370 can be abrogated but only through a constitutional amendment or the people’s consent. Therefore, the presidential order brings forth the stripping away the rights of people of J&K, laden with illegalities.

The second view is that; with the Constituent Assembly being dissolved, no executive authority can exercise the power conferred on the Constituent Assembly to decide on the Article. Article 370 has no mentioning of any time period during which the article is to operate like Article 369 (5 years), the reservation for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities (10 years), English as the official language of union (15 years). It’s a permanent provision as stated in 2016 and reiterated in 2017 judgement of the Supreme Court. The same cannot be amended as the very condition of the amendment cannot be naturally fulfilled due to the rule of omission. In any case, it requires a parliamentary amendment of the constitution and cannot be performed in the name of ‘modification.’ It amounts to the colourable exercise of power because it does indirectly what cannot be done directly.

The attitude of the common people is that J&K is treated as a special state and has been given a lot of concession which in turn is discriminatory towards rest of India;  this reeks of ignorance and double standard. The problem is over the past decades, no government has sensitised India to the unique situation of Kashmir. There is a lack of dissemination of information that, if there is Article 370 in Kashmir, there is Article 371-A for Nagaland, 371-B for Assam, 371-C for Manipur, 371-D for Andhra Pradesh, 371-F for Sikkim 371-G for Mizoram, 371-H for Goa.

All these Articles grant special rights and privileges to these states depending on their culture, society and history. This inadequate sensitisation of the society has given rise to hostility and doubt amongst people, with the result that J&K’s special status is perceived as a weakness and political fallout. The hegemony has been generated in mainland India through exclusionary politics which is in play here with the breeding of hate through mainstream media and generating fake grievances of the majority community.

Every time there’s a discussion over the Kashmir issue, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits would come into the picture to demonise Kashmiri Muslims or discriminate women and refugees. If the whole problem lies in this, then the government of the day could have made efforts to resettle Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. In that way, it would rejuvenate the syncretic culture of Kashmir. Article 14 could have also been extended to Article 35(A) if the ending of discrimination towards women and refugees was the end to be achieved. The reservation for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities is already existing in the state. There’s still some 10,000 households of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs who reside in the valley. But again, why would we bother to know about it, those are again nothing but minuscule numbers, right?

While we can give arguments and counter-arguments, cite case laws to substantiate one’s point, what we tend to overlook is, in this whole exercise a seed has been planted to corrode the basic structure of the Constitution.

The very idea on which our forefathers have built the democratic republic of India and ended centuries-long subjugation of British Rule; that democracy will mean the ‘rule by the people.’ The sanctity of law can be maintained so long as it is the expression of the will of the people.

A scene from Srinagar. Civilian life has been dotted with the presence of armed forces for decades in the valley, serving as a pressing reminder that the state is under constant siege. (Photo: Kashmir Global/Flickr)

The emphasis on democracy here is important. Looking at historical records would prove that Lohia, Patel and Ambedkar, all were in favour of the referendum by giving the right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people. But no media channel probed the historical records to uncover the lies and inaccuracies that have been told to the people of the country in the name of such leaders.

I would not even go into the ‘development’ arguments behind this move; while every other state of Indian Union is underdeveloped economically and socially, clutched in the vicious cycle of poverty that the same needs to be extended to Kashmir which in terms of human resource development, comes at 27 while rest of India is 18. The government is viewing the Kashmir issue with a narrow lens; if it thinks that it could maintain the peace by military might by keeping its own citizen under a communication blackout.

The Question Of Being Muslim

The opening up of land to outside purchases would bring an influx of new settlers and with them the threat of dispossession of locals. Many scholars have argued that it would turn the Kashmiris into a second class citizen. With the Modi government’s promise to implement the NRC that would send the refugees of neighbouring countries of India back to where they came from; Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2018 would bring Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, Sikhs, Christians, Zoroastrians into the CAB umbrella giving them legal status, categorically only eliminating Muslim refugees.

This fear is not completely unfounded and further aggravates the paranoia and fear of the minority community in mainland India that BJP government has planned to turn India into a democratic supremacist state, wary of a community which doesn’t share ethnic ties with it. This legislation is analogous to the Israeli policy of promoting migration of Jews from all over the world to settle in Israel.

A Jewish Israeli Scholar, Sammy Smooha defines ethnic democracy as “an alternative non-civic form of the democratic state that is identified with and subservient to a single ethnic nation.” He said that this is best personified by Israel which is based on Jewish and Zionist hegemony and the structural subordination of the Arab Minority who are currently 20% of the population of the Jewish state. He says that this type of ideology makes an essential distinction between members and non-members of the ethnic nation. “Non-Members are seen as undesirable and threatening – as agents of biological dilution, demographic swamping, cultural degeneration and security risks.”

The Modi government’s step of bringing of Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2018, and the bifurcation of Kashmir which is the only Muslim majority state in India lies hidden behind a broader agenda to turn India into a Hindu nation, where Muslims would live as an “undesirable” and second class citizen at best. It is one of the characteristics of ethnic democracy that it creates a “de facto but the very real hierarchy of citizenship, in which some are full, first-class citizens and others are second class – at best.”

Ethnic democracy does not totally discriminate or exclude the community that are seen as undesirable. As in Israel, Arab minorities are entitled to cultural and political rights and Arabic is officially recognised but there’s the supremacy of Zionism and assertion of the primacy of the Hebrew language. Through formal and informal policies, it ensures that the Arab Community remains ghettoised in deprived enclaves, relegated to what is in effect second-class citizenship. In India, Muslims are the victims of the same shared ideology. Whether it is living in deprived enclaves and ghettos like Juhapura or Batla House, to not being able to eat the choice of food they want, to wear what they want – without being reduced to the symbol of being oppressed, radicalised or orthodox.

On the other hand, the Hindutva ideologue erects bust of the likes of Savarkar. The Savarkar who declared in 1938, that “the Hindus are the Nation in India and the Moslem minority a community” just as “the Turks are the Nation in Turkey and the Arab or the Armenian minority a community.” The same Savarkar who somehow has earned the same stature to be glorified equally with Bhagat Singh and Bose.

There’s a common view among scholars that India is a ‘model of inclusiveness.’ An average Muslim would laugh at this. What choice do they have? They have memories of riots and lynching. Can an average Indian Muslim demand for anything without being asked to ‘go to Pakistan?’ The question that arises is: would Kashmir have been subjected to the same kind of treatment, would the autonomy of its people ripped away from them if it wasn’t a Muslim majority state?

Would the Kashmiris have feared for their economic and cultural safety if the Muslims in mainland India had been living a fearless life? Kashmiris wouldn’t have to clutch to their cultural and religious identity so dearly if the majority community would have been accepting towards the differences and diversity of India. They wouldn’t have been on the receiving end of so much apathy if this pious nonsense of India being a ‘multicultural, multiethnic, inclusive’ state would have been followed and extended to people equally.

The idea that India is truly the “most diverse and inclusive nation” is promoted by those who are never in the position to know how India excludes.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Kashmir Global/Flickr.
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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 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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