70 Years On, Is India A Republic In The Truest Sense?

We are proud and responsible citizens of a republic, which claims the world’s largest democracy. I was a child when the idea of a republic got ingrained in my mind in the chapters of Civics as: of the people, by the people, and for the people.

On January 26, 2020, we as a nation, gear up to celebrate the 71st Republic Day. It is high time that introspection should be done.

Today, as a state, does India qualify for the words, “of the people, by the people and for the people?”

What Is A Republic?

A republic is a form of government in which a state is ruled by representatives of the citizen body. The sovereignty rests with the people, though who is included and excluded from the category of the people has varied. The term republic may also be applied to any form of government in which the head of state is not a hereditary monarch.

The persons whom we have chosen as our representatives to head the state, run the government and make policies for the development of the nation as a whole, do they really carry out their responsibilities without any selfish goals and vested interests?

India in the past few years, has received a reputation which no Indian might feel proud of. The corruption levels are touching a high, the GDP is low, the unemployment index is high, and we are notorious for being as a nation where the safety of women is at utmost risk. Is this the kind of republic dreamt by the makers of our constitution and our freedom fighters?

One one hand, India is the world’s youngest country. On the other hand, unemployment in the nation is at a 45-year high, according to NSSO.

What Issues Plague The Indian Republic?

The current unemployment graph is a reality check which the government needs to take serious action against and bring a stop to tall claims and propaganda. I would like to share the trauma of someone I know personally, who has faced the brunt of the recession which the country is facing due to the economic policies and demonetisation from close quarters.

This person belonged to a farming family in a remote village. He worked hard in the farms and studied in the village school. Aspiring for a better life, he not only finished his schooling, but also cleared the entrance exam for engineering course. With an engineering degree from a reputed institution and dreams in his eyes, he got a placement in a large indigenous manufacturing company. Years rolled by, and his life got better. He was now making around 40K monthly.

However, as soon as the economic downfall of the nation began, it hit major industries and his company was no exception. He was laid off from the job with an advance salary of only one month, along with 400 other employees.

Now, as an engineer who used to earn 40K, after a lot of job hunting, he is trying to meet the expenses and liabilities of his family by selling flowers in front of a temple in Pune. He is not alone. There are lakhs of Indians who are undergoing a similar terrible situation.

The canteen wala of the manufacturing unit is scared that if the employees are laid off like this, how will his businesses survive? Especially because he has taken a heavy loan to establish his own setup. The factors in economic development are connected to each other in a chain. If one is affected, the other one is bound to get hit.

Similarly, I recently came across a circular that no Omni-vans or autos shall be allowed to commute for ferrying school children back and forth. Only registered school buses can be employed for the transportation of school students.

On one hand, this kind of change ensures the safety of school children but at the same time, a grave question arises about the future of these auto-rickshaw and van drivers, most of who have purchased their vehicles through bank loans. They will not be in a position to pay their EMIs and sustain themselves in the market. Does the state have an alternative policy to ensure the future of these people who will be losing out jobs due to change in policy?

Skilled and unskilled labour, both are facing a drought of jobs. The increase in unemployment results in a rise in crime rate, corruption and lower GDP. Disguised unemployment is another issue which is often neglected.

In today’s scenario, as the common man is the one who suffers the most, his voice and protest should reach out and contribute to bringing out a change. Ironically, today our attention is directed more towards the issues which are religious or communal in nature. The basic needs of a citizen are neglected and before he could raise his voice, he is misled in the cobweb of divisive politics.

Though, as a republic, elections successfully take place in our country, but the EVM machines are casting a grave question on results. While many countries in the world are doing away with the EVM system and returning back to paper ballots to bring back transparency,, India is still sticking to the controversial method.

To make a republic successful and dynamic, the first and foremost requirement is the awareness of the citizens of the nation, which can be achieved only through education. For a proper education system, sound financial policies are needed. This brings us back to the necessity of employment generation.

A free voice, alert citizens and a fearless atmosphere can bring the nation on the path of becoming a republic in the true sense. I hope with the kind of awareness which the students have shown in the recent times of crises against the imposition of CAA and NRC, we can emerge as an exemplary republic to the world in the 21st century.

Happy 71st Republic Day!

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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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