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‘This Republic Day Will Be A Sad Day For Me, And I Believe, For Several Others’

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This Republic Day will be a sad day for me, and I believe, for several others. I had expressed my anger and anguish on several occasions, sometimes using Twitter. The latest is in a review of a book Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India’, by K. S. Komireddi (Context/Westland Books). The review was brief. Yet, I believe it has summed up the present political and democratic crisis in India. The review appeared in The Hindu of 12 Oct 2019. I reproduce below an extract:

“Komireddi’s India under Modi cannot be understood without reference to Gujarat under Modi. He was chief minister when communal riots killed more than 2,000 people. At the very minimum, his political career should have come to an end at that moment; instead, a dozen years after the riots in Gujarat, Modi was the contender for India’s highest political office, and he was being applauded as a competent leader. Failing to stop the riots was not a disqualification in Indian politics; it turned out to be a prelude to success.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah after a landslide victory in Lok Sabha elections 2019 at BJP HQ, New Delhi

Komireddi drives home the fact, as perceived by some that Modi’s achievement was of an epoch-making magnitude. It heralded the birth of a “second republic”, meaning India founded in 1947 by Congress was dead, and Modi who had drained his youth propagandising for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, would wield the largest democratic mandate in more than a generation to recast the republic in the mould of his indurated ideology.

Central to this ideology is “hegemonic (coercive) homogenisation” of the Indian people, through political manoeuvres, parliamentary legerdemain. This is partly evident from the emphasis on ‘one’ since 2014: One nation, One tax; One nation, One ID (Aadhaar); One nation, One language; One nation, One election, and so on.

The demonetisation move, which wiped out 86% of the currency in circulation, was Modi’s sinister masterstroke. Though Manmohan Singh rubbished the decision as “organised loot, legalised plunder”, the likelihood of diverting huge amounts to BJP’s coffers for electoral use and financially draining other political parties—sort of a scorched earth policy—has yet to be probed.

In the midst of a majoritarian drive, it is relevant to recall what B.R. Ambedkar said in his speech after the Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949: “Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution; what we will have to say is that Man was vile.”

Before concluding, a note of caution by Komireddi: “India will leap to a point from which return will become extremely difficult if Modi remains in power at the head of a government with an absolute majority in Parliament… If he succeeds, Hindu nationalism will become the official animating ideology of the republic.” Modi succeeded and remains in power for the second term.”

The happenings in Modi’s second term are visible to all in lurid and ghastly details. The Aadhaar enrolment caused a lot of hardship to millions of people. Worse still was demonetisation, which caused untold hardship and misery to millions of people and many of them died under duress. Other items of the insidious Hindutva aka Moditva agenda now under implementation, or are likely to be implemented have caused an unprecedented groundswell of protests, which are mostly spontaneous, and mostly by India’s youth, our proud ‘millennials’.

Home Minister Amit Shah

It is heartening that they protest as a secular fraternity irrespective, caste, creed, language or region. Their vision and action will shape India’s future. The macabre threats by an abrasive, aggressive, boorish Home Minister Amit Shah to implement CAA, come what may, followed or paralleled by NPR and NRC, are highly devastating and apocalyptic, to say the least.

As he was Modi’s henchman in Gujarat in 2002, planted him in Parliament deliberately to take the Hindutva agenda to its irrational, destructive dead end and finish forever the India of now where all of us live and are proud of. If this happens, India will lose a lot, of which the most important will be all the rich attributes of democracy which we still have, though some of them have become moribund under Moditva.

Let there be no mistake, the NPR, which was done in 2010 and provided the database for the Aadhaar project, was primarily an unpardonable transgression of the UPA government. The Modi government has used it to its advantage. That the NPR-NRC-CAA are aimed at smoking out rudely and violently India’s non-Hindus and truss up those who still remain in India into a Hindu Rashtra is already evident to all discerning citizens.

This is more so if we remember that on all available occasions, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat waxes eloquent that India is a Hindu Nation. All said, the Modis, Shahs and others of their ilk are products of the RSS and in all what they do the RSS chief calls the shots. While it is true that nations big or small have gone through upheavals of cultural and political power-plays from time to time in India, the present is the worst since Independence.

Apart from highly articulate, well informed and committed youth, mostly college and university students, who else would have joined the fast-evolving “Indian Spring”? It is sad to say that we do not see much reaction from our opportunistic politicians, barring a few exceptions such as in Kerala, and some other states, which firmly believe in the prevailing social and cultural diversity and do not want their citizens to suffer because of some hot-headed Modis and Shahs.

Apart from highly articulate, well informed and committed youth, mostly college and university students, who else would have joined the fast-evolving “Indian Spring”?

The media to some extent, albeit selectively, focus on the Modi-Shah harmful agenda and their ramifications and on the protests by the youth across the country. But what about India’s judiciary? It works in ways which are seemingly partisan, reactionary and lacks a sense of time and urgency. We have seen this in the context of Article 370. We are seeing it now in the context of the NPR-NRC-CAA racket. We often use the adage that judiciary grinds like god’s mill. Even if that is the case, if it is insensitive to the nation’s priorities in a difficult time such as now, the judges will do well to join the Modi-Shah bandwagon.

Lastly, the latest issue of The Economist has two important and well-thought articles on India:

1. Intolerant India: Narendra Modi stokes divisions in the world’s biggest democracy;

2. Protests in India: Narendra Modi’s sectarianism is eroding India’s secular democracy.

I urge all those who are against the Hindutva-Moditva project of the RSS’s Hindu Rashtra trying to be implemented through the sinister plans of Modi-Shah to read these articles as well.

I wish our protesting youth well and all success.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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