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Indian And American Crisis Are Facing An ‘Identity Crisis’. Can They Get Back On Track?

What comes to mind when one hears the phrase ‘India and the U.SA.’? Well, back in the day, the phrase brought to mind many things such as the potential benefits of their combined economic strength, American technological prowess improved and worked upon by Indians both in India and the US, and so on.

But most importantly, it brought to mind their efforts and commitments of being open to diverse opinions, cultures, etc. This is particularly true in India’s case. Meanwhile, New York is famously dubbed as “a melting pot of different cultures.” This was evident through the policies and actions of their respective governments. However, this is all a matter of the past.

Let’s Make Our Democracies ‘Great Again’?

In contemporary times, the phrase brings to mind the fact that the two greatest democracies of the world have fallen prey to populism. They are led by eccentric, erratic, and Machiavellian leaders who got elected based on their skilful use of rhetoric. It was premised on the idea of making their countries “great again.”  It implied that the country was going through a period of social, economic, political, intellectual, and moral decay and that only they could alleviate and propel their nations to former glory, often based on a romanticized and skewed notion of history.

One might ask the reason behind this renewed interest in the leaders of our nation and those of the ‘Free World’. Well, this is because this populism spells a threat to the future of democracy in the world. India and the US are considered to be the harbingers of democratic values. Their example has inspired many other nations and hence, it is a moral duty to not go astray from this path of leadership.

The American Dream is a glorified concept. But is it open for all?

India is shaped by many ideals. However, in my opinion, the most important ideal that has shaped India has been its acceptance and tolerance of diversity. Throughout our history, we have interacted with people of varied beliefs, cultures, faiths, etc. who have found a peaceful home here. Our modern culture is heavily influenced not just by our indigenous tradition (which in itself is diverse) but also by the outside world.  This synthesis of variety is what lends us our identity, our individuality. It has also led to the acceptance and tolerance of varied perspectives, ideologies, and criticism against one’s actions. We have a rich tradition of debate and discussion. They have flourished and enriched our intellectual life as a nation.

modi
Representational image.

Attack On Dissent In India Is Alarming

However, in present-day India, all of this is under threat. In recent times, there has been a rise in ethnonationalism in the country where people belonging to one community/faith/ideological camp seek to rule over, discredit and disenfranchise people who are not in alignment with the former. This goes against the spirit of diversity which makes India what it is/ has been in the past. The current dispensation is severely against minority groups be it ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities. It is deeply anti-intellectual and erodes the spirit of inquiry. This is evident from its attack, both physical ones and via policies, on scholars, activists, and institutions.

Examples of this are replete in both academia and independent media. It blames previous governments for their current shortcomings. It shuns criticism by enacting draconian, colonial-era laws against people whom the government thinks are antithetical to its ways and aims. The latest addition to the list would include the arrest of scholar Anand Teltumbde and Kashmiri journalist Masrat Zahra. Please note that this state action is continued at a time when Covid-19 is plaguing the nation.

The story in the US is quite akin to the one in India in some aspects. Even there the administration is against people of different races, nationalities, etc. and seeks to empower majoritarian supremacists. People used to look up to America as a sort of haven, a paradise. This idea is represented in the notion of the American Dream. Personally, it is a bit bizarre (that’s a separate story). The Dream is a belief that people a chance at success in life and that with hard work, anyone can improve their pre-existing material and social conditions.

It heavily praises the “goodness” of American capitalism but it also implicitly states that it is open for all; it is not exclusive for the Whites. It assumes the availability of opportunities for everyone to be equal. This belief led a large number of groups to migrate to the U.SA. for “a better life.”

Is The American Dream Open To All?

However, this is now history. Cut to 2017 and you have someone like Donald Trump at the helm of what might be the most powerful and influential job in the world. This appointment has ushered in a new era of xenophobia and corruption in everyday American life. Incidents of hate crimes targeting religious and ethnic minorities have been on the rise ever since the new administration took over. This has sent a rather grim note to the people: American Dream is only for the true White American males.

The conviction with which one saw America in the past as a land where freedom, equality, and opportunity for success were not just ideals but the everyday reality is and has slowly been deteriorating.

Another area where one can see America’s identity crisis has been its role in international affairs.  Ever since the end of the Cold War, America has dominated global issues. It has been an influential player in international institutions, forums, etc. It has fostered strategic relationships with other countries based on “mutual benefit.” However, this has been undermined in the recent era. Under the new administration, the U.SA. has shifted towards protectionism and quit key organizations such as UNHRC, UNESCO, and pulled out of the Paris Accord Agreement.

The latest addition to this list of upheavals has been the recent decision to cut WHO funding at a time when American healthcare is in shambles and the world is suffering due to coronavirus. This signifies two things. Firstly, it has continued its routine of undermining global institutions. Secondly, it marks a strict departure from its once-acclaimed, self-assumed role in matters of international exigency. This marks an evident change in the world order, something that can have disastrous consequences.

I will leave the reader with 2 thoughts as I finish my article.

One: For American politics, there is a blog titled “The Weekly List” which notes the unusual happenings in American democracy. Its prediction is rather dire: Authoritarianism is taking over and democracy as we know it is dying a slow, lingering death and hence it is necessary to take note of every incremental thing that would lead to its ultimate end. This is in America. Should we in India too have this list of sorts where we have a record of everything that is unprecedented and reeks of authoritarian proclivities?

Two: The power of example has always fascinated the world and is very influential. This is a tenet of the idea of Soft Power (the man who invented the concept has himself said that under Trump, American soft power has diminished). With rising right-wing, populist regimes all over the world from Turkey to Russia and so on, isn’t it incumbent on both India and the US to get back on track so that the world can follow since we are considered to be the “greatest democracies in the world”?

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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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