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Error 404: Democracies Throughout The World Are In Danger!

The world order crippling every passing day during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised several questions. Nothing can indeed withstand the eternity of time. Everything that has glory today will fade tomorrow in the face of the earth. Even though democracy has been considered the best form of government in modern times but the dilemmas of democracy have troubled the masses ever since its inception.

Jean-Jacques Rosseau wrote in ‘The Social Contract’, “If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men”.

In the current situation, the world is not only fighting a deathly disease and climate change but also fighting their incompetent and inefficient governments. U.S.A, Lebanon, Belarus and Brazil are the glaring paradigms of the breakdown of democracy during COVID 19.

Representational image.

An Account Of ‘Democracy In Danger’ Throughout The World

On 26th May 2020, hundreds of protestors in Minneapolis took to the streets in the response of George Floyd’s death. George Floyd’s death sparked the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement all over the world. The anti-racism movement in the USA has got a rallying cry of support from around the world. The pandemic has been changing people’s perspectives with every passing day. The U.S. protest was further fueled by President Donald Trump’s lack of empathy towards the incident.

Moreover, he had tweeted “LAW AND ORDER” dozen times when the anti-racism protest was going on which showed his sympathies with the police over protestors. The U.S. protest has led to the removal of statues of slave traders in the U.K. too.

Police brutality has always existed but COVID-19 has awakened a demand from the masses for police reforms. The faults of democracy came to limelight once again during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the Beirut blast which killed 178 people and an estimated 300,000 people were left homeless by the blast. The reason for the blast was 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port.

The Lebanese people took to the streets to demand proper investigation of the callous behaviour higher authorities. As a result of this, the government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned.  The government came to power on January after replacing previous government amid nationwide protests when Lebanon’s currency fell. However, the people were demanding proper investigation instead of the government’s resignation.

The thread continues with Belarus. Belarus saw the largest pro-democracy protest in its history one week after President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected which extended his 26-year rule. Around 6700 people were detained ever since the protest erupted. The protest is not just limited to citizens; at least a dozen Belarussian Police Officers have resigned and strikes have been held in the state-owned enterprises where thousands have refused to return to their work.

Parallelly, there have been protests against Brazil’s far-right President. Hundreds of indigenous women occupied a building of Brazil’s health ministry in Brasilia to demand better healthcare facilities for indigenous people, especially women. Members of the Kayapo tribe wearing their traditional attire blocked a main highway through the Amazon to demand help against coronavirus and an end to the deforestation of the rainforest.

According to Brazil’s National State Research Institute, deforestation in the Amazon forest soared more than 88% in June compared to one year ago. Protests against President Jair Bolsonaro has been going on for a long time. In June, there was a protest against him because the government stopped publishing death tolls of COVID 19 patients.

In politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship./ Representational image.

Democracy Throughout The World Poses One Threat: Majoritarianism

The major threat that democracy possesses is the establishment of a totalitarian government under fascist leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini. The direction of the country’s affair is based on the leader and their ideology in a fascist government. Hitler’s Nazism and Mussolini’s fascism were based on irrationalism and glorification of the past. The dictator often uses majoritarianism to dominate the minority groups.

Anthony Downs’ ‘An Economic Theory of Democracy’ (1957) explained the electoral process with the help of the economic process. He thought in the democratic election process, politicians act as entrepreneurs and voters act like consumers whose preference is based on which party’s policies will benefit them. Due to this, the political parties often frame their policies to appeal to the majority of the voters and as a result, minority communities’ issues are often unaddressed. However, Down’s theory has its criticisms too.

The breakdown of democracy during COVID-19 reflects the vices of democracy. The COVID-19 pandemic has awakened the masses to some extent to demand a fairer and inclusive society for the minority. The absolute authority of the leader and neglect of minority rights is reflected in the above examples.

Impartial journalism, constructive criticism, representation of minority groups, independent judiciary and avoiding idol worshipping of leaders are very necessary for the maintenance of democracy. Idol worshipping or hero-worshipping of leaders can bring destruction to any healthy democracy.

I would like to quote Dr B.R. Ambedkar from the Constitutional Assembly debates to explain it more vividly, “The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not ‘to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with the power which enables him to subvert their institutions’.

There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness.

For in India, bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship….”

Conclusion

Democracy is a very fragile form of government. If people following democracy don’t uphold the measures to curb its dilemmas, then it will soon fall prey to the villainy of democracy. Mass participation of people and far-sighted and reasonable leaders is very important to make a country’s democracy successful.

Most important of all, the representatives of the people should be made accountable through constructive criticism and proper political analysis of their policies; however, to make these possible countries following democratic form of government should undertake the herculean task of educating its citizens on voting rights, the constitution of the country, their rights which fall under the purview of law and laws which violate their fundamental rights.

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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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