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Is ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ Achievable Or Just A Distant Dream?

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The idea of indigenous or Swadeshi is not new and was used for the first time by the leaders of our freedom struggle who issued a clarion call to boycott foreign goods and adopt Swadeshi goods as a way to root out the British Empire from the Indian soil.  As the world grapples with COVID Prime Minister Modi has given a call for Swadesi for making India economically independent amidst prevailing geoeconomic uncertainties across-the-board created by the pandemic.

Indigenization is the act of making something within the country with the help of native manufacturers and workers. It is high time we collectively reduce dependency on other countries for our needs. But various factors determine whether it is easy and practical to move towards the Swadeshi model.

It is to be noted that whenever there is a pressure of adopting indigenous products on public, Fast-moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) is the first, or perhaps the only, sector they find wherein it is easier to switch their respective choices as indigenous alternatives are easily available. A day after Prime Minister’s speech, social media was flooded with posts comprising an incomprehensive and erroneous list of foreign and Indian goods. Erroneous in the sense that people, in general, have limited understanding of things around them.

Most people are unaware that Peter England, Louis Philippe, Van Heusen, Havells, Allen Solly, Monte Carlo, Belmonte, Oxemberg, Yardley, Provogue, Da Milano, Luxor, Munich Polo, Flying Machine, La Opala, Spykar, Ray and Dale, Eveready, Franco Leone, Madame are all Indian brands and Indulekha oil, Taj Mahal and Taaza tea, Annapurna salt, Hamam and Lifebuoy soap are all produced by Hindustan Unilever Limited in which Unilever holds 67.25% equity.

Similarly, many of us don’t know that Fiama Di Wills is an Indian brand and Gudang Garam is Indonesian. The point here is that it is not easy for people to understand the nitty-gritty of business around them. For instance, Flipkart, in which Walmart holds 81.3% stake, is an Indian company but registered in Singapore due to obvious reasons. Roughly, 95% of the stakes in the company belong to foreign-based shareholders. Many of us don’t know that Glucon-D was recently sold to Ahmedabad based Zydus Cadila by a US-based company, Kraft Heinz, since both the names are alien to us.

Government’s Stance Is Contradictory

It seems contradictory on the part of the government that favours a liberal FDI but talks about indigenization now and then. The fact is that we are in a state of complex interdependence, a term coined by Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, that the idea of complete indigenization seems highly difficult, if not impossible. We are living in the time when Jio Router is Made in China and Redmi Note 8 is Made in India.

Despite being an ardent advocate of indigenization, I strongly believe that the situation will remain more or less the same, no matter how hard we try to adopt indigenous goods in the FMCG sector. The reason is that India is heavily dependent on other countries when it comes to consumer electronics be it smartphones, laptops, computer accessories, AC, refrigerators, washing machines, TVs, printers, speakers, headphones, and so on.

Indian smartphone brands like Karbonn, iBall, and Lava are struggling very hard to stay in the market and compete with their Chinese counterparts. India simply doesn’t have an adequate consumer electronics manufacturing environment. We are struggling with outdated chip technology, unavailability of a semiconductor fabrication plant, microprocessor units, displays and panel manufacturers, and most importantly lack of research and development.

Chinese smartphone companies Vivo, Xiaomi, and Oppo have their patents registered while Indian companies are continuing with outdated technologies and are heavily dependent on outsourcing. They buy phones from lesser-known Chinese OEMs and make minor changes in design. The same is the case with laptops and other computer accessories like printers, speakers, etc.

In short, when it comes to consumer electronics, our companies such as Voltas, Onida, Micromax, BPL, Videocon, etc lag behind products of China, USA, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. The same reason can be applied to our defence production where indigenization remains a dream.

How Is ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ Achievable?

indigenous industries need to be promoted
Values of quality and affordability must be overpowered by the idea of Swadeshi accompanied by inherent nationalism,

There are two ways the Swadeshi model can work. Either Indian products become competitive in the market or there is a change in consumer behaviour as a response to the call made by the Prime Minister. However, it is unrealistic to expect a sudden change in the choices of consumers.

For this to happen, values of quality and affordability must be overpowered by the idea of Swadeshi accompanied by inherent nationalism, which is highly unlikely to happen since consumer behaviour doesn’t change so easily and abruptly.

People accede to the appeal of their leader only to the extent their comfort zone allows.

Apart from the affordability and quality, another factor that shapes choices of consumers is the branding or marketing of a product. We need to introspect how Patanjali, Himalaya, Hamdard, and Dabur made ‘herbal’ their ISP and captured markets worldwide.

Old monk is especially known for its unique product design, cheap price, and superior taste which made it one of the most popular dark rums in the world. Similarly, Amrut whiskey is considered as one of the best single malts.

We also need to see how FabIndia became a common name in global markets. Its success story tells us how local is made global. But it is uncommon and hard to see such examples in India. As of now, a total of 361 products have been assigned GI Tag in India including Channapatna toys of Karnataka, Mysore sandal soaps, sandalwood oil, Kangra Tea, Santiniketan leather goods, Nirmal furniture of Telangana, Nashik valley wine, etc. These local products can become global if sincere efforts are taken by the authorities concerned. But these things don’t happen overnight.

It doesn’t require extensive research to suggest that indigenization is usually beneficial for the economy. Globalization can’t be ignored since it is the harsh reality of today but it is indigenization which will eventually ameliorate our socio-economic profile. As I said earlier, it is not wrong to choose quality and affordability over the vague idea of Swadeshi in the globalization-led era.

However, it is not impossible also to choose indigenous products over foreign-made goods when the qualities of both don’t differ much, for instance, using Wildcraft over American Tourister and Puma, Milton over Tupperware, Good Night over Mortein and Eveready or Surya over Philips.

In the meantime, companies need to address quality inconsistency issues while moving ahead with market and product expansion. The government has to play its role by reducing control and excessive bureaucratization, adequate spending on R&D, branding of products and provide a favourable business environment in the country.

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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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