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New India: Far From Being A Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic

New India, Naya Bharat, the dream all politicians have been showing us since 2014. Before 2014 it was “Shining India”, and before that, it was “Garibi Mukt Bharat” and whatnot. But are we truly progressing as a nation towards this “New India” we want and are we sure about what it looks like? If all incidents after 2014 are any examples, then maybe it is not only new but also an unrecognisable India. You must think, what am I saying, right? Ok, let me explain.

At the start of the new millennium, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam had written one of his most famous books, India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium. The India of 2020 is here; what has changed in the 2 decades since this book? Especially in the last 6 years? We saw some of the most historic, maybe not always in a good sense, incidents happen like mob lynchings, beef ban, demonetisation, GST implementation at midnight (trying to replicate the Nehru speech tryst with destiny), abrogation of Article 370 and decriminalisation of article 377, etc.

What is common in all these incidents you ask? It is that they all affected the idea of India, some for better, some for worse. In vision 2020, we were supposed to have eradicated unemployment and poverty, have gender equality (at least) in employment opportunities. Closing on the dream of the leader of the world, a new India, supposedly a progressive India. So, the million-dollar question is; where do we stand on this and what have we done in the last few years? We, the citizens, are what any nation is. So how have we changed/progressed?

India prides itself on being a secular nation.

We all learnt about the constitution while growing up and what it says, right? We promise to make India a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic”. Our forefathers made this promise and it was and is on us to fulfil the same. So, have we been able to achieve any of it? The answer is simple: no. Rather we are progressing towards a more intolerant and majoritarian country.

You might think that if a community is in the majority, isn’t it obvious that it will be the dominating force like Sunni Muslims in Pakistan or Buddhist in Myanmar? Yes, it is happening in those countries, but our India that was built on the foundation laid by our freedom fighters like Pt Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Sarojini Naidu and many others via the Indian Constitution and its famous preamble talks about a secular India: a nation which shall treat all religion and communities with equal rights and freedom from the government.

But what is happening in this New India? It is walking the same path of Nazi Germany or Islamic Pakistan by becoming a “Hindu” Rashtra. The concept that was derived on the same basis as Islamic Pakistan by Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s two nation theory based on religious. This idea has been propagated by the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The problem with adopting this belief of Hindu Rashtra is that it will also accept the segregation between the Hindu community known as Chaturvarnya, or in simple words, the caste system.

The India which every day is inching towards a Hindu Rashtra will strengthen the patriarchal system where women will be disempowered and will push the lower castes in the hierarchy towards secondary citizen status, along with citizens of other religions. Such an India will have defeated the purpose of so many fights for gender equality and equal rights and freedom and the very soul of our beloved socialist, secular, democratic, republic, pluralistic India. That is the reason I said that this new India is becoming unrecognisable for its citizens.

The current government passed the triple talaq prevention bill under the name of Muslim women empowerment. It was a welcoming step towards gender equality, but only if the real meaning was women empowerment which rather was dominating the Muslim male. If the government really wants to move towards women empowerment and prevent the injustice to the women with acts like triple talaq, then it should also think about Hindu women by preventing the issue of abandoned wives (which includes the Prime Minister’s Wife as well) or the marital rape issue across religions, because these issues also matter for women.

These past 6 years of India also attacked the eating habits with the infamous beef ban and the whole discussion around Gaumata (the goddess cow). This does violate article 21, which gives every citizen personal liberty which includes the right to eat whatever the person wishes inside the four walls of the house. It was and still is intolerant that humans lost their lives in the process of protecting the so-called Goddess.

The mob lynching incidents like Dadri in 2015 keep reminding us of the harsh reality for other religions in this new India, or may I say the Hindu Rashtra, or maybe intolerant India. This is an unrecognisable country for someone like me who grew up believing that India is a secular socialist democratic republic.

Kashmir has been in a perpetual lockdown since the abrogation of Article 370.

As on 5 August, 2020, Kashmir celebrated (?) the 1 year Anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370, which granted Jammu and Kashmir special status, and the lockdown which started with this so-called historic and brave (?) move. Is this the democratic way to progress and develop the valley?

This new India also witnessed a great increase in online trolling which targeted opposition leaders, calling Rahul Gandhi Pappu, or social activist Gauri Lankesh’s death and labelling anyone who doesn’t share the same views as the government anti-national, like JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. This is indeed a terrifying picture for not just the present, but also the future generations of Indians.

This New India is not the country which was created through our freedom struggle; this country does not claim the legacy of our freedom struggle nor the values that it gave us. This is not India, at least for me. As someone with deep trust in our foundations as a nation in the form of our constitution, I am asking you to take a pledge with me if you also believe in the same constitutional values as me. Take the pledge to make India a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic once again.

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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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