“Public Opinion Is The New Rule Of Law In Our country”

Commitment to the rule of law provides a basic assurance that people can know what to expect whether what they do is popular or unpopular at the time. – Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

It will not be wrong to say that public opinion is the new rule of law in our country. According to one definition, “Public opinion consists of the desires, wants and thinking of the majority of the people. It is the collective opinion of the people of a society or state on an issue or problem. This concept came about through the process of urbanization and other political and social forces.”

In November 2019, after the alleged murder and rape of a female veterinary doctor in Hyderabad, an atmosphere of anger and revenge arose across the country. The incident saw mixed reactions; from unequivocal calls for women’s safety to violent calls for the lynching and castration of the accused.

Students from different organisations hold placards to protest against the Telangana government after a rape case of a veterinary doctor in Hyderabad at Parliament Street in New Delhi. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

The public discourse was dominated by “instant Justice” (revenge); throughout mass media and social media, questions pertaining to the safety of women in India were rampant.

The same four accused in the case were killed in a police encounter, after they allegedly tried to escape, by attacking the police with stones and sticks.

The due course of an incident should have pointed fingers at the police but what we saw was a mockery of the Constitution of India and rule of law.

The bodies of all the accused were allegedly kept lying at the encounter site for two hours and people started gathering in large numbers, celebrating and cheering the police action with flowers and sweets.

The joy and celebrations that followed the deaths of the accused were disturbing.
Even political representatives of the people, members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, who took an oath to abide by the Constitution of India and leaders of political parties, praised and applauded the Hyderabad Police’s “strict action”.

Those seeing this incident as justice, and those who believe it will deter heinous crimes, are either mistaken or lack basic civic sense.

The rule of law is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as; “The authority and influence of law in society, especially when viewed as a constraint on individual and institutional behaviour; (hence) the principle whereby all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes.”

Rule of Law should not be firmly rooted in public opinion but should be little ahead of it.

In the midst of all this, what remains to be seen is the accountability of authorities, pertaining to women’s safety in India and whether the due process will be followed.

BJP’s women wing members celebrate the encounter of four accused in Hyderabad rape case by offering sweets to police at Durgadbail Circle in Hubballi on Saturday. DH photo / Tajuddin Azad.

What about other lesser-known rape and murder cases, with less media attention?

Justice in India is media-driven through media-manufactured public opinion. We, the people of India, seem to have lost faith in the Indian criminal justice system. We want efficiency, accountability and zero tolerance against crimes.

I believe the Police Force is biased and corrupt because they lack accountability and the Judiciary is overburdened, because it fails the purpose of deterrence of crimes, and is likely on the verge of collapse.

Unless there are an expeditious judiciary and well-functioning police infrastructure, who are both principled on justice; the dream of orderly society seems like a bizarre joke.

Crime deterrence is essential for the stability, security, and development of a nation but it cannot be achieved in isolation, through police encounters, public lynching or unjust prosecutions.

Reports of lynching keep pouring in from different parts of the country. The use of arbitrary power is often considered as a plague to the Rule of Law. Constitutional limits on power are the essence of democracy. What we need is “a government of laws not men”

“You have to accept the rule of law, even when it’s inconvenient if you’re going to be a country that abides by the rule of law.” Jesse Ventura

Hence, we can say, we have gone wrong somewhere. We have our priorities and values mixed up. We gave importance to mere projection and jingoism.

What can be done? In a quest to find solutions to this problem, society should imbibe new ways and means to improve the criminal justice system, and simplification of procedures.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, justice hurried is justice buried.”

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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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