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India: The Paradox Of Social Exclusion In A Nation-State

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Social exclusion can be understood as a form of discrimination or a systemic process whereby individuals or a group of individuals or a minority social community in a broader sense is relegated and subjugated to discrimination from a social system and is devoid of its rights and privileges. This kind of relegation is manifested through the idea of difference, which is predominantly antagonistic.

However, to avoid such systemic discrimination and exploitation, a state bears the responsibility to ensure equal rights and privileges to the people who are dispossessed or form a disempowered minority social group. A state is supposed to act against the processes and practices through which exclusion takes place. A state acts under a legal framework whereby every citizen belonging to nation-state have equal rights and opportunities.

There are constitutional provisions and sensitisation programmes run by the governments to inculcate the idea of inclusivity amongst people of myriad socio-political, economic and identity backgrounds. A modern nation-state like India ensures inclusion by promulgating equality before the law and equal protection under the law. Furthermore, it ensures affirmative actions like reservations to various minority communities. The whole concept of social exclusion primarily focuses on individuals or group of individuals who are excluded from what we attribute as a ‘mainstream’ of a society.

However, if the concept of social exclusion is to be carefully observed, the two words that formulate as a conceptual category are paradoxical. To understand social exclusion, one has to know how society is defined.

A society can be understood as a group of people with common territory, interaction, and culture and consist of people who interact and identify with one another. It can be broadly attributed as a group of individuals unified by relations or modes of behaviour which mark them off from others who do not enter into these relations or who differ from them in behaviour.

Society forms a subset of an entity called nation. The constituent elements that help the formation of a nation are a common territory or common race or religion or common language, common history or culture or common political aspirations or combinations of any of the elements stated above. An individual manifests or develops an allegiance to multiple identities like gender, religion, race or ethnicity.

The idea of the nation is supposed to subsume all such identities and adopt a majoritarian identity as the character of a nation. This majoritarian identity is often characteristics of the dominant elite in a nation-state. Thus, a unique characterisation that makes a nation-state of which society forms a subset is different from its neighbours and others is what is premised and leads to the idea of exclusion.

So even though the idea of ‘exclusion’ is not explicitly expressed in explicating a society but it indeed plays a definitive clandestine role in it. Every society works upon an idea of delimitation by ‘otherisation’ of certain identities that do not conform to the dominant structure or process of a society. This ‘otherisation’ can be manifested through institutions, languages, conventions, ethnicities or religion.

Therefore, the pairing up of the phenomenon ‘social’ and ‘exclusion’ is rather contradictory. Social exclusion as a phenomenon is used by a state to comprehend the marginalisation of individuals or a group of individuals within a society. However, the very understanding of a society is premised on a sense of difference from the rest and thus ‘social exclusion’ seeks to identify a phenomenon that itself is paradoxical.

The problem lies with such understanding is that this concept is used to comprehend the substantive effects of inequality and their ability to apprehend social, cultural and institutional complexities. The solution usually put forth is often economic that gives a sense of linearity to complex and multifaceted inequality issues.

So, for instance, reservations in government jobs were constitutionally promulgated in the case of India. It was done with the intent to economically strengthen the disposed and socially oppressed that will bring them to the mainstream of the society. However, even after more than seven decades of independence, caste as a social category has exacerbated and compounded into a socio-political character in India.

It is still a divisive force in Indian society which is used by the political elites for electoral gains. Now such political elites when elected, become an adjunct of the same ruling government that is an apparatus of the state. The internal border thus drawn within a nation-state by political elites are ironically assigned to work on an inherent paradoxical phenomena ‘social exclusion.’

So, what is the road ahead? Is a near realisation of Plato’s ideal state (that is premised on the foundation of justice meaning thereby to provide one with what’s due) as an answer to combat contemporary paradox in society? Not really, owing to its regimented, autocratic and elitist tendencies. The larger argument is to understand that there will be disaffected and disenchanted population in a state no matter how homogenised it is.

It is impossible to draft a nation-state where individuals possessing and manifesting multiple identities simultaneously be congruent with all other members of a state. The goal is to acknowledge the difference with a vocabulary that is not inherently paradoxical and perplexing. The term social exclusion struggles with a conceptual clarity amidst its use to locate and study the structure or process of exclusion within the framework of a nation-state.

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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.

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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.

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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, 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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