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Why India’s Student Elections Must Be Free Of Political Pressure

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It is often said that, “Democracy and India are the two sides of the same coin.” India’s unique feature lies in the very fact that from houses to offices, almost each and everyone is found practicing the principles of democracy. Democracy demands an equal share of power and that is the reason, whenever an important decision is to be taken, opinions are taken from each and everyone who forms an essential component of that particular decision.

In fact, it falls under the ambit of democracy to ensure that the majority’s opinion gets the upper hand while formulating out the ultimate conclusion. And that process of voicing out is often done by way of voting in elections.

It is a well established fact that the process of elections has also made its impact felt in the ambience of educational institutions as well. And in a way it is good, because whenever we speak of democracy, it must be present in every sphere of life, including the educational institutions as well, especially when we are talking of electing the best students union or student body to lead the students of that particular institution. But the thing to be pondered upon here is: have the elections in educational institutions remained what students wanted it to be?

The answer to this question can be understood by not going too far, but simply by considering the students election in Assam, which generally takes place in the month of September across various educational institutions of Assam. The motive of elections in educational institutions is to form a strong and unified body that stands as the sole voice, wish, desire of every student studying in that institution, and also to create future leaders.

In fact, when a student comes out to vote for the leader of his choice, they silently wish in their mind that in times of adversity, that particular leader would come forward and help them to find ways to solve a problem. Not to forget the fact that whenever a students union is formed, its primary objective is to try and improve the ambience of that institution, help out the students in getting the best environment and infrastructure possible and most importantly to secure the identity of the students enrolled in that institution.

Supporters campaign in front of one of the polling booths for JNU student union election. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

All this can be done by simply amalgamating with the authorities in a synchronized manner – in terms of using the development fees paid by the students as well as in coming up with the best plans possible for improving the quality of the institution.

However, the sad news is that currently, things are not as healthy as it seems. The fact of the matter is that the elections in most of the educational institutions of Assam of late, have turned out to be a complete mess. And that mess somewhere down the line is created by political parties and pressure groups that indirectly enter into the institutions, nominate the individuals of their choice, and then try to play the game of dirty politics, in order to make their candidates win the elections and in the process stamp their authority.

Where there is the possibility of dirty politics, at that very juncture, democracy dies and dictatorship takes birth.

These parties and pressure groups who make their candidates win, not only promote them in an over-decorated way, but also try to destroy the image of their opponents, by coming up with false allegations most of the time. In fact, the situation gets so bad at times, that even an individual’s dignity is not spared, just for the sake of elections! And when we confabulate about campus democracy, people would never say no to elections, but most of the people would definitely question the need and necessity of parties and pressure groups in educational institutions.

Moreover, elections in educational institutions also means a monetary show off by parties and pressure groups, where free coupons of lunch and dinner are provided to the students, thus motivating them to vote for a particular candidate in order to make them win the elections. In this process, the concept of deserving candidates is completely forgotten.

And when there are elections happening in institutions, we more often than not face a scenario of quarrels and fights that destroy peace and tranquility.

Added to this is the fact that an educational institution means the unity of students. But because of the entry of these groups, the unity among students is disturbed, and it seems that the students of the institution are divided for every reason and cause. Moreover, the sense of hatred and constant cold wars against one another further degrade the scenario to a greater extent.

In fact, because of the divisions created by these pressure groups and political parties, the institution does not witness development, as most students are oriented towards showing their supremacy over the other.

Furthermore, after the elections are over, the winning party more often than not behaves like a dictator and the problems of the common students are often ignored or shown a blind eye. In fact, when in a single students union, there are members from different parties or pressure groups, a lack of coordination is often seen and that directly affects proper running of the union body and the institution as a whole.

It is a known fact that even ideological clashes between the students of an institution are also directly or indirectly brought on by these parties and pressure groups.

So, the point is that the learned members of the political parties as well as pressure groups should once again reconsider their decision of entering into the frame of educational institutions. Students are often regarded as the backbone of an educational institution, and if we can make the students free from any orientation or alienation, then development with peace and prosperity might be witnessed in the educational institutions.

Therefore, it has become really essential for the authorities of the institutions to take a bold step by laying down certain limitations or restrictions for the parties and pressure groups at the earliest. If the opposite is to continue, then the time is not far when things become completely uncontrollable.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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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.

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.

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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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