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Opinion: Rajiv Gandhi Is A Young Dream That Is Shining Brighter Than Ever

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Rajiv Gandhi was an outsider in politics, his political life, accidental. An accident born out of a marriage between sheer social privilege and shattering personal trauma. As Sanjay Gandhi, his younger brother ignored his constant warning to wear proper shoes in the cockpit and lost his life untimely in an air crash in 1980, Rajiv Gandhi had to step in as an MP despite his reluctance to politics.

Rajiv’s major responsibilities in the initial years included organizing the 1982 Asian Games and working as the general secretary of the Indian National Congress. What was ahead of him was much more compelling. Four years later, at the age of 40, on the eve of the assassination of his mother, Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India.

Gandhi portrayed himself as the young prime minister of a young democracy. A prime minister who had dreams, but unlike these days, he didn’t have the privilege to dream exclusively in verbal format.

PD:SSB/July, 1985, M32RG/A64(I)
Photo taken on the occasion of signing a memo of settlement on Punjab issue between the Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi and the President of Akali sant Harchand singh Longwal in New Delhi on July 24, 1985.

Gandhi Gave Power To People

Gandhi aimed at a responsible and representative government and took concrete steps to merge ‘Gandhian Swaraj’ into the political structure of India. He was instrumental in giving constitutional status to Panchayati Raj with a uniform three-tier system where one-third of the seats were to be reserved for women and separate reservations were earmarked for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Gandhi didn’t bulldoze a structural reform in a day. He introduced a ‘responsive administration program’ as part of a 20-point program. He went to rural and tribal areas and workshops for district magistrates were conducted. He also conducted meetings with chief secretaries of each state. It was after four years in 1989, he called for Panchayat Sammelan in Delhi.

It was in the same year that he also made our democracy younger by lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 which ensured better participation of youth in determining India’s representatives. He was convinced of our democracy’s need for full involvement of our population to move forward which means we can’t leave half of our population in the process. Along with strengthening laws prohibiting ‘Sati’ and dowry, he ensured political representation in nation-building. A historical anti-defection law was made against the deception of political leaders.

He Was Also The Architect Of Digital Revolutions

 Rajiv Gandhi is known as the architect of digital India with IT and telecom revolutions. In 1984, he established the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT). Indian telecommunication networks brought connectivity between villages. Public call offices which are best known as STD booths were established in villages.

It could help industrial growth and the daily lives of people. In 1986, under the guidance of Sam Pitroda, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) was established.  It was introduced in public governance.

Computerization of the railway ticket system was one of the major steps.  Seeds of India’s new economic policy which happened in the early 1990s were also been planted during this time with a reduction in imported taxes and tariffs on computers and telecommunications.

He identified IT as a potential tool to democratize and decentralize administration and to eliminate power brokers from the system through the transparency which technology offers.

Digital interlinking of ministries and departments was initiated. One of the most insightful efforts was to make computers friendly to Indian languages. The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) was set up at Pune in 1988 for this vision.

Building Technology For Health And Immunization, Along With Social Development

Rajiv focused on building an indigenous base of science and technology for self-sufficiency. National technology missions were created in 1987 with six missions.  Technology Mission on immunization which was launched by Gandhi is instrumental in India’s success over Polio.

His vision was to cover six vaccine-preventable childhood diseases such as diphtheria, pertussis. tetanus, tuberculosis, polio, and measles with special emphasis on polio.

While it is discovered that polio vaccines were almost entirely imported, plans were made to establish manufacturing facilities. Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Corporation Limited (BIBCOL) was established in UP in 1989, which now supplies 60% of polio vaccines used in India. Existing facilities in Pasteur Institute (Coonoor) and Haffkine Institute (Mumbai) were upgraded.

It was with the suggestion of Rajiv Gandhi that Sam Pitroda opened a dialogue with the NGO, Rotary International which played an important role in the Pulse Polio Campaign.

Technology Mission was also extended in the areas of drinking water, dairy production, oilseeds, literacy, and telecommunications. In 1987, India was importing one billion US dollar worth of cooking oils each year and even now India is the number one producer of milk. In terms of literacy too, India has progressed.

Gandhi Also Had Great Vision For Educational Reforms

In 1986, Rajiv introduced a new national policy on education. Scholarships, recruitment of a greater number of teachers from SCs, incentives to poor families to send their children to school regularly, development of new institutions, and providing housing service were some of the steps taken to “remove disparities and to equalize educational opportunities”.

It called for a child-centred approach in primary education and launched ‘operation blackboard’ to improve the infrastructure of primary schools.

The vision of providing an opportunity for growth at a faster pace for children with special abilities irrespective of their economic condition was behind establishing Navodaya Vidyalayas.

One of the biggest steps taken in higher education was the expansion of the open university system with the establishment of Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU) that happened in 1985. The UGC NET, JRF initiatives to assist students in higher education were also of this era.

Specific Steps For Rural India

Welfare schemes like Indira Awaas Yojana were introduced to help rural poor in housing. He tried to address the need for prioritizing both the preservation of the environment and the livelihood of farmers. National Wasteland Board was set up in 1985 to bring 5 million hectares of land every year under fuelwood and fodder plantation. Emphasis was on developing a nationwide people’s movement for afforestation.

In 1987, India was affected by a severe drought, with Odisha being the most affected state. The news came in that people in the state were selling children because of hunger. A lifesaving KBK project was implemented to help three worst-affected districts of Odisha. It had a comprehensive vision with providing jobs to youth, food for the elderly, complete cropping solutions to the farmer.

As An International Leader

In 1988, Rajiv proposed a world free of nuclear weapons and an ‘Action plan for ushering in Nuclear-weapon free and non-violent world order’. He had a three-step plan for nuclear disarmament that was global, universal, and non-discriminatory. Rajiv re-established ties with China after the war of 1962. He became the first PM in 30 years to visit.

Indira Gandhi with her sons, Rajiv and Sanjay. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

It helped to open the Chinese market for Indian companies, Bollywood and yoga became the largest cultural export to China. In the same year, Rajiv negotiated with Pakistan to gradually deploy troops from Siachen, and along with Benazir Bhutto, he had discussions for permanently settling Indo-Pak conflicts. Africa Fund was set up in 1987 by India with nine members to fight apartheid in South Africa.

Our youngest PM committed mistakes too. He stepped into the game of religious appeasement in politics and couldn’t master it. The inexperienced leader has failed to keep a lot of close ones intact.

He and the country have paid the biggest possible price for the foreign policy in Sri Lanka, though it had goodwill. But he was a PM who contributed profoundly in the short span of five years and had a constructive role in shaping modern India.

At a time of stagnation, undemocratic centralization of power, inconsiderate overnight reforms, the demonization of neighbouring countries for internal political mileage, lack of a concrete vision, and insensitivity to suffering, Rajiv is shining more than ever.

He was just 46 and would have been 76 by now. There are no ifs and buts in history. But an inevitable sense of loss will ponder India when she looks back at Rajiv Gandhi from the present.  We as a country have to start marching from where he left unfinished with his vision of ‘Sadbhavna’.

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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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