Revisiting The Idea Of ‘India’ Enshrined In Our Constitution

In the summer of 1947, an ancient civilization took its first steps towards becoming a modern nation-state. The stabbing wound left millions on both sides of the newly formed countries dead and bitter. No sooner was the flag of this nascent nation hoisted from the ramparts of Red Fort did begin the process of transforming India into a republic while keeping intact—the idea of India.

Our founding fathers, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azaad, B.R Ambedkar and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, had the difficult task of steering a new nation in a direction that would ensure that this great ancient civilization was not destroyed by the forces of casteism, sectarianism, and totalitarianism.

The constitution of India that came into force on 26th January 1950 ensured that every time the country seemed to succumb to religious hatred, divisive tendencies or caste-based violence, the constitution stood guard to ward off any blow that was targeted at the idea of India.

So What Is This Idea Of India?

The idea is almost five millennia-old, and I first understood about it from the works of Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore. Today, the idea of India survives, unlike other ancient civilizations like Greece or Mesopotamia. Modern India was shaped by it. On reading the constitution, we realize that the idea of India is inclusive where the rule of law is supreme, and no one is above the law.

Father of the Indian Constitution, Dr Ambedkar.

Every caste, religion, language, the region is equal—this was a change for a historically unequal society. And India even adopted universal suffrage, where every Indian above the age of 18 had the right to vote much before the west. B.R. Ambedkar said, “In politics, we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, because of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?”

Moreover, B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the constitution, was, as a child not even allowed to sit in the class. Even his touch was considered ‘impure’, and yet, he went on to become a proponent of equality advocating that every Indian irrespective of caste, creed, religion or sex is equal.

We, The People Of India

This was the modern, secular democratic India that our founding fathers envisioned. The idea of new India superimposed the old: a new nation accepted the diversity of its people, for the people, by the people and in support of their dreams and hopes. Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned a mixed economy with scientific temper along with equality of opportunity.

India’s secularism was based on showing respect to all faiths—non-interference of religion by keeping it a private affair and equal opportunities to all religions. Tolerance and acceptance of every faith and religion was a pre-condition for a functional democracy. He urged the people to believe in themselves and in their capacity to build a nation.

Even at the height of power, he maintained democracy through a constitution based on civil liberties, a government elected by universal adult suffrage, free and fair elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary. He wanted to leave behind a country that could be properly governed by the people at every level beginning from the Panchayats. He believed in the power of the people. In 1960, he declared, “In India today, any reversal of democratic methods might lead to disruption and violence.”

Throughout the first few decades, there was much uncertainty whether this newly constituted modern democratic India that was once made up of hundreds of kingdoms and communities would survive, but it did, even when few other countries fell apart.

The Indian identity remains complex, we continue to speak different languages, religion that was once thought to remain in the realm of the private is now in public, we are yet to move towards a uniform civil code, foods which are banned in one state continue to be delicacies in the others, we continue to dispute over water and blame each other for causing smog and making air unbreathable, we have moral police telling women how to dress and when to marry, casteism is yet to be completely eradicated, inequality plagues and there is educated unemployment us, but then, every time we shrug off any blame. We are like this only.

We remain a billion strong country that is at the moment facing the challenges of economic slowdown and agitations over the newly drafted Citizenship Amendment Bill only heightened by the lack of employment, access to education, clean drinking water, increasing pollution, and ever-escalating violence targeted towards women, hate crimes and lynching and a weakening rupee.

The task ahead seems to be a gigantic one, and democracy needs to be strengthened. This republic day, it time we take the pledge to look ahead and build a nation of aspirations, dreams, and opportunities that is greater than the sum of its parts. In the words of the Prime Minister,

“As we move towards a new India, we have to ensure that no person, no region is left behind.”

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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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