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Is The Indian Middle Class Seeking A Work-Politics Balance?

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I was a sworn Marxist in college, so much so that I once told my professor I wanted to be an activist. I could hardly imagine a life outside of actively fighting, and I didn’t know how else I could live— because rampant typecasting mandated that I view the world as holding itself from spilling over the edges through watertight compartments. With this pretext, fighting becomes confined to people within academia, journalism and practitioners of other social sciences, while people working within corporate jobs and holding other kinds of employment are excluded from this realm.

Reading Marx from a postcolonial perspective, especially in the Indian subcontinent, requires the reading in of class, caste, gender and sexuality subtext in addition to post-colonialism.

A large part of this perception is shaped by the idea of political complacency first proposed as a phenomenon by Marx, where he lays out that people get so preoccupied with commodity fetishism that they allow themselves to be subjugated by a system—because the subjugation is in itself seen as adding value to their lives or adding value to their perceived lives. This is the reason members of the middle class write themselves out of mass political movements and seem to hold up the status quo as being desirable.

This is where my worldview divulges from his. The problem is not that the (Millennial) middle class (working class not engaged in manual labour) is politically complacent for the sake of complacency, but that they have allowed themselves to be lulled into this sleep as a defence mechanism, and the additional factor of motivation is an important variable to this reading.

Traditional ideas of Marxism—where work is seen as undesirable and cultivation of all aspects of one’s personality is ideal—could not catch on with me post-college, despite my positive predisposition towards Marx and leisure. These aren’t the lifestyle choices my society is capable of supporting. Far from fully-automated luxury communism, we fight tooth and nail for the simplest of assignments to make money in an attempt to not drown in a community of equally qualified skill holders. I agree this is not a critique of Marxism as much as a critique of capitalism, but it is a critique of Marxism propagated in a way that doesn’t embrace intersectionality and demonises people, who do not commit full time to the noble pursuits of information and ideas.

Reading Marx from a postcolonial perspective, especially in the Indian subcontinent, requires the reading in of class, caste, gender and sexuality subtext in addition to post-colonialism—since the Indian subject is a mish-mash of all these influences and cannot be viewed through the single hued lens of Marxism. In fact, dealing in ideas itself is a mark of economic privilege in this economy.

As has been well established, there is a fixed quantity of resources to go around⁠—be it natural or economic, by virtue of which, overconsumption of these resources by the developed world—in spite of its lower population—implies lower quantities available for consumption by the developing world despite its considerably larger population. When people are forced to stand in line for their ration or are subjected to the daily reality of job scarcity, not feeling emotionally fulfilled by their occupation falls towards the bottom of their list of concerns making them vulnerable to exploitation by current or potential employers.

The Indian middle class is trapped between fear and aspiration and is stuck in an endless loop of an intra-class war for much-coveted upward mobility. Though their educational qualifications place them above non-university-skilled labour pay, they are sustained at minimal pay to maintain this insecurity, producing workers seeking jobs over careers, and deepening the sense of alienation from meaning. Money is seen as a demarcator where the ability to identify the rich by name bestows the state of wealthiness with a perception of reinvestment of meaning, a decrease in alienation, and shorter working hours allowing time to pursue leisure adding to its aspirational quality.

And everybody begins to run the rat race, which is a neat trick of Capitalism exploiting sociology.

In this attempt at escaping their circumstances, not only does the middle class grow willing to step on others, but also begins to gravitate towards neoliberalism instead of reading the problem right. However, as you might have gotten the hint through all that text above, the uni-fold of Marxism is not the solution. If anything, it adds to the stressors of a generation already grappling with the immorality of a situation they found themselves in, asking them to be moral through it, while also imposing upon them anxiety they ought to feel, should they be acting in self-interest.

The rejection of this anxiety is not a rejection of empathy—a quality we all need if we are to survive the pan, but a rejection of ill-conceived morality with regard to the situation. Additionally, economic mobility of a marginalised group within the middle class only allows them to better negotiate their terms with the forces of the Brahminical Patriarchy, but not if they see spaces of discourse and activism closed off to them for the sole reason that they chose to participate in a system with a profit-making motive.

Capitalism ought to be critiqued for how suppressive it is towards the marginalised more than any other section of society. However, toxic enforcement of not partaking in personal wealth accumulation is counter-intuitive to sustenance and scarcely helpful towards any revolutionary cause.

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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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