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What Explains The Rightward Shift Of Indian Polity?

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Right-wing politics is on the rise world over. This is evident from the emergence of leaders such as Donald Trump in the US, Boris Johnson in the UK and Narendra Modi in India. Right-wing politics is hardly a new phenomenon, but its recent success at gaining mass support in many parts of the world has surprised many.

What Has Caused The Resurgence Of Right-wing Politics?

How far is the decline of progressive politics responsible for it? Has right-wing politics become popular only because there is a shortfall of progressive leaders with mass appeal today? Or are there other factors at play? Let us explore.

At least in the case of India, what preceded the rise of the right-wing in 2014 elections, can hardly be called progressive politics. To be fair, the UPA government did bring many progressive legislations such as the Right to Information Act 2005, the Right to Education Act 2009, etc. But these were motivated more by electoral calculations than any genuine dedication to the cause of progress.

The two terms of UPA were marred with a series of corruption scandals such as the coal scam, the 2G scam, etc. Further, Congress itself has been accused of practicing ‘mild Hindutva‘ on many occasion to further its electoral prospects. Opportunistic politics, not progressive politics, preceded the rise of right-wing politics in India.

Perhaps the emergence of the right-wing can better be understood by looking at contemporary economics rather than contemporary politics. Thomas Piketty, in his book ‘Capital in the 21st century’ has shown how the liberal economic order led to rise in income and wealth inequality across the world. Perhaps, people have turned to the conservatives because liberals have failed to deliver on their promise of growth and progress for all.

This seems to be the case in developed western economies like the US. Globalisation has led to manufacturing firms shifting their bases from developed to developing countries like China, Vietnam etc., leaving behind a disenchanted working class.

Has right-wing politics become popular only because there is a shortfall of progressive leaders with mass appeal today?

However, economic factors also do not fully explain the rise of BJP in India. After all, both BJP and the Congress differ little in their economic programme. Implementation of GST, which the ruling party has been touting as a major achievement, was originally proposed by the Congress!

To understand the rise of right-wing politics in India, we have to look further than contemporary politics and economy. We have to look at India’s history.

Hindu Mahasabha, the first organisation in India professing majority communalism was founded in 1915, more than a hundred years ago. The RSS was founded in 1925. There was a communal presence in the leadership of the INC as well. Lala Lajpat Rai talked of protecting ‘hindu interests’. On the other hand, there was Muslim League. Dominated by the conservative aristocratic class, Muslim League demanded special favours from the British to protect Muslims from dominance by the majority. The British, in their part, were more than happy to provide such a protection, in order to fragment the nationalist movement.

Thus, we see that communal right-wing politics has been present in India ever since the time when Indian nationalism began to take concrete shape. And this kind of politics found support among a section of Indian people too.

Then in 1947, came partition, perhaps the most calamitous event in whole of Indian history which took lives of more than 20 lakh people. Bifurcation of the country on religious lines created a huge rift between Hindus and Muslims. Bridging this rift was always going to be a great challenge for successive governments and leaders.

The young Indian state did make efforts on this front. Literature, cinema, nationalist symbols, all were employed to instil a feeling of tolerance and harmony among people. Children were taught about ‘unity in diversity’ and about historic leaders such as Ashoka and Akbar, who treated all communities the same.

But these efforts proved to be woefully inadequate. Political leaders of successive decades spent their energies in outmaneuvering their opponents and coming up with devious plans to acquire power. The herculean task of repairing the national psyche was left unattended. The wound of partition continued to fester.

Fast forward to today, the extent to which the Indian people have been communalised is clearly visible. BJP has come to power with an even bigger mandate. To lament now that the BJP is communal or the RSS is communal is meaningless. They have always been communal. The fact that the majority of Indian people today are communal, is a much bigger problem.

Therefore, to conclude, the of right-wing politics in India has more to do with its history rather than contemporary politics or economy. This is illustrated by the Home Minister’s recent statement in the parliament in response to criticism of the Citizenship Amendment Bill by the opposition, that “if the Congress had not divided the country on the basis of religion when India got freedom, there was no need to bring the Citizenship Amendment Bill.” The ghost of partition haunts the ruling party, as well as their millions of supporters. We cannot move forward until we lay this ghost to rest.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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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