This Republic Day, Let Us Reclaim The Indian Constitution

My idea of India this Republic Day, the 71st anniversary of the Indian Constitution coming into force, is to reclaim the Constitution of India.

Over the last few years, I have felt the safeguard of the Constitution becoming weaker, thanks to the misadventure of our governments and its aides, chipping away at our constitutional protections, bit-by-bit.

The last five years have seen many small and big changes that our government has done to the pillars of the Constitution – the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary; impinging on their autonomy. All this has led to us moving closer to being a totalitarian state.

India’s global ranking in the Democracy Index, in 2019, slipped 10 places, to 51st.

The 2019 Democracy index’s global ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit has stated that India has slipped by 10 points to rank now at the 51st position. India, the world’s largest democracy, is now categorised as a “faulty democracy.” This slip can be credited to the erosion of civil liberties in India.

Electoral Bonds

PM Modi.

A few changes to our set-up includes the introduction of electoral bonds, with total opacity for corporate funding of the political parties. No doubt the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained a lion’s share of the electoral bonds, while common individuals are legally bound to be financially transparent and accountable.

Right To Information Act 

Indian activists shout slogans during a protest against the changes in the Right to Information (RTI) Act near the parliament house in New Delhi on August 6, 2013. The Indian Cabinet cleared the proposal to keep political parties out of the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI). Following the clearance, an ordinance to amend the RTI Act will be prepared to declare that political parties are not public authorities. AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN (Photo credit should read RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Right to Information (RTI) has been one of the best things to have happened to Democracy in the recent past. However, recently the government has diluted the provisions of the RTI. Through amendments, now the government controls the tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of services of Information commissions. This would impinge on the impartiality of the Information Commissioners.

Chief Of Defense Staff

PM Modi Ramlila Maidan Speech
PM Modi.

The key feature of our democracy has been the power balance so that no one can misuse it. The defense services were headed by the President for this reason. However, now with the establishment of Chief of Defense Staff and National Security Advisor, both of whom report to the Government, rather than the president, I feel that the PMO has been ‘centralising‘ power under it.

Governors/ Lieutenant-Governors And Speakers

Another key feature of our democracy, which has now been sabotaged evidently, is the post of the Governor and the Speakers. Both these posts were supposed to be non-partisan, however, with appointments of Governors from the ruling party background, the Governor has seemingly become the Centre’s agent, creating party/coalition imbalances in the federal structure.

This was amply evident when, post-election, the Governor seemingly favored one party/coalition over others for inviting to form the government. Similarly, the role of the Speaker when it comes to the disqualification of MLAs has come under scanner, leading to the judiciary suggesting reforms in the process. The way the government misused the Jammu and Kashmir Governor’s rule, making it a substitute for an Assembly while abrogating provisions of Article 370 and 35A, was a classic example of hijacking democracy.

The entire valley went on a long term communication blackout.

Ideological Appointments

Another example of how autonomy of educational institutes has been ransacked, is by the political appointment of Vice-Chancellors and other administrative posts. The current crisis between students of various universities and the government is a manifestation of this damage. It seems like those who ascribe to the Hindutva ideology are appointed to various posts, even as the government is seemingly purging those who oppose its ideology.

A Media Meltdown

(L-R) Union Home Minister AMit Shah and PM Modi.

The media is an important watchdog in the overall schema. However, with the corporatisation of media, and the nexus of corporates and government, the media has become a tool in the hands of the government to further its propaganda, to silence its critics and to create jingoism and distractions, away from the issues of national importance. Rather than questioning the government, the media often ends up pulling the opposition in the dock.

Data Transparency

One of the ways by which the performance of the government is assessed is by publishing data of various parameters at a regular frequency. However, a trend that we have seen in the recent past is either fudging the data, delay in the publishing of data, altering the parameters to project a rosy picture or even canceling certain surveys. The way the government has played with the GDP figures has been shameful, nationally and internationally.

Internet Shutdowns

Representational image.

In the ‘digital age’, especially with the advent of social media, the government’s transparency and our ability to question them are supposed to increase. Things that mainstream media often failed to report were brought to the fore by citizen journalists. No doubt then the government has found it convenient to suffocate the internet. India has the infamy of having the maximum number of internet shutdowns last year.

Judicial Jeopardy

For representation purpose only
Supreme Court of India.

The judiciary is often the last hope against the bad laws passed by the government. However, the government has been increasingly trying to jeopardise the autonomy of the judiciary by interfering in the appointment of judges and their powers.

The faith of the common public in the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court has been eroding day by day. This has been very evident by the incongruity of conclusions and decisions in the Babri Masjid case and lackadaisical attitude with reference to challenges to the Abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and amendments in the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Citizenship Amendment Act

Anti-CAA protest
Attempts by the government to play around with the constitution has come to the fore, uniting a diverse group of protestors against the establishment. Representational image.

Nail-by-nail, the coffin of constitutional security has been sealed. The final nail was thought to be the Citizenship Amendment Act and its dangerous combination with the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens. Making religion a basis for granting fast-track citizenship was a shameful disrobing of the secular nature of our constitution.

With these small changes over the period of the past few years, the government has diluted the protections offered by the Constitution. This change has been so slow and surreptitious that most people have either not noticed or not bothered about it.

Credit: Gaurav Kashyap Dutta/Twitter.

However, as the country has been gripped by the resistance against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the looming dangers of the NPR and the NRC, these attempts by the government to play around with the constitution has come to the fore, uniting a diverse group of protestors against the establishment.

In conclusion, there cannot be a more opportune moment in the history of Independent India to accept the dangers to our constitution and reclaim the constitution to ensure that its safeguards and balance of power remains as it was envisioned by the founders of the constitution.

Long live the Constitution of India!

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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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