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Opinion: Is This The India We Wanted When We Elected This Govt?

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It is really appalling to see a new issue spring up every other day in our country. Especially at a time when every issue out there, is an agenda item for major political parties to politicise for their own advantages.

The country has witnessed a continuous string of anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests over the last couple of months: December 2019, January 2020. Source: Reuters

In recent days, we are witnessing an intriguing phase in Indian politics. And, it is our fault, to begin with. We have allowed a mandate so large to the ruling party, that no dissent seems significant, and the Indian legislative system has been reduced to a mere organ, for ratification of government drafts and bills.

This is definitely an India closer to the post-colonial idea of India than the future we believe we can achieve. India of the future would stay away from social hierarchies that invariably lead to social injustices. In other words, caste, religion, race, sexuality – none of these would matter, because they should not influence public opinion. These lead to divisive arguments, which is the primary target for the saffron-clad oligarchy up top, to impose their far-right nationalism.

If we critically examine the doings and wrong-doings of the current government. representing current India, we will find that for anyone but a Hindu Brahmin, the result is strikingly similar to one of the most prominent PG Wodehouse sayings I’ve ever heard.

It would resemble the fate of a man “searching for a leak in life’s gas pipe with a lighted candle”. But, advocating anything else, is for someone who is blind to the political reality, existent under this atrocious regime. Especially when we are at a political paradigm that is far from civil. During the time I take to discuss the uncertainties, there will be around 8 rapes, 15 deaths due to hunger, 4 million tweets from BJP IT Cell employees, but no positive change.

It is also perhaps the amount of time it takes to clear 2 football-field-sized lands in Amazon, Brazil and reject over 1000 immigration applications illegitimately in the United States. But, as an Indian, what I am most concerned about is the sheer nonchalance of the current regime towards public opinion, let alone, public dissent.

Most of such pseudo-democratic dictatorships around the world, including China, and DPRK, have this particular trait. The shameful trait of shutting down public dissent. At least, in the other two cases, the leadership is honest.

There was a time where this dissent mattered. It could shift paradigms in public affairs. At least the new India we envisaged as a democratic youth coalesce, is where it would.

We pride ourselves over the ability to grow economically but we have the worst wage gap with the top 1% possess over four times the wealth of the nation’s bottom 70%. We believe we have eradicated hunger but we still rank 102nd out of 117 nations, in the Global Hunger Index.

The top 1% possess over four times the wealth of the nation’s bottom 70%.

We have the best medical colleges but the worst rural health standards and one of the highest deaths due to mistreatment. We believe in our education but we were ranked 72nd out of 77 nations in terms of standard of education and employability by PISA. – Programme for International Student Assessment – who went on state that most grade X students are incapable of solving class V arithmetic problems and write in more than one language.

We call our India, our motherland, but we have a Gender Inequality Index Score of 56.2, which translates to 95th position out of 129 countries, which is in the bottom of the Asia and Pacific regions.

We have one of the largest national coastlines but we may run out of drinking water by 2030. We apparently lead the race towards cleaner alternative fuels but we just had the worst air quality in our national capital, in decades. It was so bad that no air pollution index could accurately read the levels of suspended particulate matter in the air. So bad, that people resorted to breathing fresh oxygen in elite bars.

India boasts one of the largest industrial markets and was considered the fastest-growing Asian economy, until Bangladesh took over, while the rate of unemployment shot up beyond compare.

We are one of the largest e-waste generators in the world although, amidst the cry for a ‘Digital India’, the Internet penetration rates remained mostly unchanged in the past few years.

We are building townships on natural bio-filtration units such as wetlands; for instance, in Kolkata itself, the New Town, Rajarhat industrial complex is built on the space for East Kolkata Wetlands, one of the largest natural bio-filtration plants, in the world!

We have one of the lowest forest coverage area-to-land ratios at around 21.5%, we still choose to exploit these natural reserves. Instead of building stronger, more just, resilient institutions, we built statues and temples.

Mumbai, India, May, 2019: People stand in a queue with their utensils as they are facing water crisis at N R Nager Diva East Thane, on May 17, 2019, in Mumbai, India. In just one week, 800 more villages and hamlets have been added to a list of areas depending on tankers for their daily water needs, as the stock in Maharashtras dams fell to 14.85%. (Photo by Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Instead of reaching out for the East and West with both hands, we decided to reach into our chest cavity and rip out our heart and lungs, absolutely decimating the Indian idea of unity in diversity, the idea of India that is secular and progressive, leaving behind a corpse sans a heart and lungs, covered in gross de-colourised blood and pieces of meat.

I covered all the 17 sustainable development goals since I began addressing on behalf of the youth coalesce, but, we are yet to find out where we, most potent economy in the world, the largest democracy in the world, lead. But yes, someone must lead the way. So, the question is, who will?

So, come to think of it, although we have a new India this new year, it is definitely not the one we wanted when we elected this Government with the largest mandate in the history of elections.

We are walking towards the imperial ideas of divide and rule, colonisation based on class, caste and religious interests, among others; at a time, we could have driven a flying car into the future of understanding the multi-cultural, heterogeneous idea of India, realising its inherent heritage and values that have developed over the ages.

We could’ve had a plural society based on the multi-cultural beliefs of individual rights, secularism, progressive economics, internationalism. But, we instead have a communal society where public discourse is stirred up from long spans of indifference by communal hatred. This idea of India is a mirage. It presents us with a false consciousness about where the water is while we walk barefoot in the sands of a desert.

This idea of India lures us but doesn’t quench our thirst; our thirst for patriotism, our thirst to grow, our thirst to be a superpower, our thirst to be a promising sovereign socialist secular, democratic republic.

The idea of India that quenches this thirst, the idea of India that is an oasis, is still eight miles away while the idea of India, the youth can lead us to is the one where we don’t need to look for an oasis to quench our thirst; but rather, an idea where the water flows as free as it does in an ocean. An ocean of culture, heritage, diversity, unity and growth.

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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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