My First Visit To The Parliament: A ‘House Of Representatives’ Without The Representatives!

On the 135th birth anniversary of the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, on December 3, 2019, I had the privilege to visit the Parliament, for the first time, to see how it looks and functions, first-hand.

Based on a recommendation, I was able to get a pass to enter the building of the highest law-making body of our country. The time allotted was from 2 p.m. to 2:40 p.m and accordingly, accompanied by my litterateur classmate, Ajay Anurag, I reached the destination much in advance, full of curiosity and alacrity.

The Parliament. Representational image.

I took a metro train from Vaishali to reach the Central Secretariat metro station from where the parliament is just a furlong. Soon, after I checked out from gate number five of the station, I was stopped and asked to show the entry pass. The security staff I bumped into was Laxmi, whom I appreciated for her righteous duty, and who, in turn, gave me a wide smile.

My entry at the first security check was allowed upon the presentation of the pass and my Aadhar (ID) card. At the second security check-point, I saw the visitors lined up in two different queues: one to deposit mobile phones and another for those without one. The second queue was rather smooth, and I chose that one to proceed further after handing over my phone set to yet another journalist friend, Manish Kumar Sinha, who had joined us only to return to the Press Club nearby.

Everyone was supposed to deposit their mobile phone sets before entering the next gate. Following the norms, I reached the next security check that included frisking. I was also told not to carry even my wallet from a certain point, by the security management staff.

The security staff, performing their official duty said, “Only three things are allowed: entry pass, identity proof, and cash.” It was written on a piece of paper that was pasted on the adjacent wall. The rest of our belongings had to be deposited at the security check. I asked for a token of objects I had deposited with a mention of details, but I was denied the same, saying that they did not have a system for the same. I feared to lose my belongings and multiple cards that I was carrying, from my driving license, voter ID, PAN and debit/credit cards.

What began to run through my mind was that if I lost any of them, I would not be able to claim the same in a court of law, because of a lack of evidence. I can’t prove to anyone if I deposited the same at the Parliament. Hence, it was all a matter of faith and trust while depositing these articles.

The Parliament. Representational image.

At the next entry, I was told not to carry even a pen, my visiting cards, and even a single piece of paper. All I had was deposited there, conforming to the security rules. Passing through the multiple security checks in adherence to norms in this place, I was able to secure a seat on the bench, on the upper floor, from where I could see the MPs speaking, with my eyes. So nice, so good! I was ushered to the seat by the staffer, mostly using sign language.

The moment I entered, I found and heard Muthuvel Karunanidhi Kanimozhi, the Hon’ble MP representing Thoothukudi constituency, speaking in the House. One by one, I could hear half a dozen of the members reading their papers within the specified time limit. The good part was that these MPs were raising developmental issues pertaining to their respective constituencies. BJP MP Ravi Kishan drew the attention towards the extension of UPSC in his constituency.

In-between, instructions for the MPs were often repeated by the Hon’ble speaker, to request them to stick to the text submitted to the Chair in advance for the August purpose. The medium of communication was either English or Hindi. I could notice the leaders from the cow-belt speaking in Hindi, whereas those from the south preferred English.

However, MP Nishikant Dubey, from Jharkhand representing Deoghar (Godda), had submitted his paper in English, but spoke in Hindi with the permission granted under the current system. He wanted a DRDO extension in his constituency.

Seeing all this, I got reminded of my college time, of an incident that happened 30 years ago. One of the professors, perhaps to win hearts and minds of the students, announced in the class that he would be dictating a set of eleven questions; out of them the five were sure to tally with.

Representational image.

Interestingly, in a battery of examinations, there used to be a set of 10 questions, and only 5 needed to be answered. The teacher’s claim was often correct considering past records, which I had heard from the seniors. Most of the students were content and happy. On the flip-side, the classroom was almost empty with thin attendance. They only waited for the day to get the ‘guess questions.’

It stands to reason why I got reminded of my college time. I saw the lower house of parliament almost half of the seats remained unoccupied, reasons best known to the absent MPs. I can say, I saw the ‘House of Representatives‘ without the ‘representatives.’

Parliament sessions are generally conducted for a limited number of days in a given year. Even for such a small period, the House often goes without full attendance, given that their absence does not affect their salaries, allowances and other benefits, including pension.

The MPs are entitled to pensions out of the amount of tax collected from citizens’ hard-earned money. On the contrary, the scheme of pensions for government officials has been almost abolished. The case in the private sector is more alarming, where the amount of wage is deducted pro-rata for their absence and late arrival.

This is what I observed on my maiden visit to the Parliament. Hats off to the security personnel who work very diligently, keeping us safe, including members of the parliament.

In hindsight, I have one more thought: Can’t we have a one card-system in place of multiple cards as mentioned above? Carrying all of them at times is cumbersome and they can be synced into one.

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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.

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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.

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 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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