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“The Supreme Court May Or May Not Save The Constitution, But People Of India Can”

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This post is also a part of YKA's user-run series, Excluded - Understanding the CAA and NRC, by Indian Civil Liberties Union, curated by YKA top user Sanobar. Join the conversation by adding a post here.

By Abhyudaya Tyagi

On November 25, 1949, as he addressed the Constituent Assembly of India for the final time, B.R. Ambedkar did not hesitate in acknowledging the limits of the constitution that he had just presented. The statesman left Indians with a warning, arguing that “however good a constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot.”

Unfortunately, Ambedkar’s warning has not been heeded, and attempts have been made to undermine the very principles behind Babasaheb’s constitution. The most insidious attempt to do this has occurred through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register for Citizens (NRC). The malevolency and the unconstitutionality of the CAA and NRC have already been established by scholars far more knowledgeable than this author. But it begs reiteration if only to counter the misinformation coming from the government and its preferred media outlets.

The responsibility of upholding the constitution cannot solely fall upon leaders and institutions, but must also lie with every Indian. Representational image.

Simply put, the Citizenship Act goes against the very principle of equal religious protection enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution. And at a more practical level, the NRC will exclude millions of people in a country with alarmingly low poor rates of documentation. Excluded Hindus will receive citizenship and excluded Muslims will be sent to detention camps. Their only crime will have been their poverty and their religion.

In ordinary times, one would turn to the country’s democratic institutions, hoping that they would help resist the dangerous intentions of this government. But in this extraordinary moment, almost all institutions have failed to protect the constitution and the fundamental rights enshrined in it.

This grand institutional failure began in Parliament, where such a fundamental alteration to Indian law was only debated for a day each in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. It continued with the Police, which launched a crackdown against protestors across India. Most of the media, the so-called ‘fourth estate’ of any democracy, has been woefully inept in scrutinizing the government’s claims and has instead chosen to villainise protestors. And perhaps most disappointing is the Supreme Court, which has continuously declined to stay the CAA.

In the face of such institutional failure, it is easy to adopt a tone of despondency. For in the traditional interpretation of the above Ambedkar quote, both the political and institutional leaders asked to serve the constitution have turned out to be a “bad lot”. Our democracy is in peril, and our idealistic constitution has been rendered rudderless by those asked to “work it”.

But there is a more optimistic interpretation of Ambedkar’s words and their application to our current politics. Perhaps when Ambedkar discussed those “called to work” the constitution, he was not only referring to political leaders but also the ordinary citizens of India. For the responsibility of upholding the constitution cannot solely fall upon leaders and institutions, but must also lie with every Indian.

Home Minister Amit Shah recently backtracked on his statement that NRC is about to come.

If institutions fail to provide checks and balances, then we have to resist the CAA and the NRC by whatever means that the constitution permits us. Such resistance in the face of institutional failure has already been exemplified in the massive demonstrations against the CAA and the NRC. The protests have forced the government to mount a tactical retreat with regards to the NRC.

On 4th February, the Home Ministry stated that that government has yet to decide with regards to the NRC, a clear reversal from Amit Shah’s earlier statement that the “NRC is about to come”. In that sense, dadis and nanis of Shaheen Bagh have proven to be more effective institutional checks than the Justices of the Supreme Court.

The students of this country have shown themselves to be more impressive adversaries of this government than opposition leaders in Parliament. Every single protester has reclaimed Ambedkar’s Constitution from the people who want to tear it apart and the institutions that were ready to enable this catastrophe.

But our resistance cannot be limited to protests and demonstrations. Eventually, the government will bring the NRC, perhaps through the backdoor of the National Population Register (NPR). And when that happens, simple dharnas will not be enough to save millions from the terror of detention camps. To prevent such horror, we will have to mobilize again, not on the streets of Shaheen Bagh or Jantar Mantar, but in the rather mundane alleyways of the Indian bureaucracy.

In recent protests, Varun Grover’s wonderful poem “Hum Kagaz Nahi Dikhayenge” has become one of the anthems of this movement. It carries an incredible message, as an idealist vision of a country where one’s identity is not determined by the papers that they can display to a government bureaucrat. But at a practical level in the current political circumstances, we must switch to a different message. We must ensure that every Indian, regardless of education or income, can show the necessary kagaz (document). For while the revolutionary spirit of “Hum Kagaz Nahi Dikhayenge” is admirable, the marginalized simply do not have the option of risking their freedom for a slogan.

After all, the insidious designs of the government concerning the NRC rely upon making the process so byzantine that the marginalized will not be able to muster the financial and human capital required to navigate it. And in such a situation, it should be the duty of all conscientious citizens to help ensure that no individual is wrongly excluded from the NRC. The process will be frustrating, especially with state machinery that is both incompetent and malevolent. But this is also the most pragmatic option, especially when grandiose institutions like the Supreme Court have failed us.

The students of this country have shown themselves to be more impressive adversaries of this government than opposition leaders in Parliament. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)

Modi and Shah may be able to control the proceedings of Parliament, but they cannot control every small bureaucratic office in the country. And in that lies our strength: the ability to mobilize large groups of skilled individuals who can help navigate the bureaucracy and ensure that each individual can procure the prescribed documents.

The incarceration of even one innocent person to a detention camp will be an indictment, not only of our leaders and our institutions but also of our society. And thus it is the responsibility of every privileged citizen to stand with their marginalized compatriots, not only in protests but also in the chaotic bureaucratic mess that will follow. And it is only in that fraternal spirit that we can overcome the moral turpitude of our leaders and the complicit cowardice of our institutions.

The Supreme Court of India may not save the Constitution. But the People of India still can.

Abhyudaya Tyagi is a student of New York University, Abu Dhabi.

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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.

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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.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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