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The Changing Face Of Indian Democracy: Who Is At Fault?

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The British, who came to India in the early eighteenth century in search of trade opportunities, eventually went on to dominate and colonise most of the Princely States of India. The lack of unity among the Princes made things easier for the British. Recognising the dangers, Jhansi Rani, Tipu Sultan, Hyder Ali and Pazhassi Raja, among others, came forward to oppose the British military. Our economy was exploited under the British rule. Over time, Indians began to react consciously as they experienced the ill effects of slavery. The result was the Indian National Congress.

Subhash Chandra Bose formed the Azad Hind Fauj/Indian National Army (INA) in protest of the policies of the Congress. Communist movements sprang up in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Bengal to oppose the feudal landlords who had joined the British Empire. The goal of all was liberation from imperial rule. There were no other political goals.

As a result of the long tolerant struggles led by Gandhiji, India was liberated from slavery through revolutionary means and non-violence. As part of the ensuing power struggle, India was divided into two — India and Pakistan. Both countries are still suffering from the ill-effects of the q947 Partition.

After India got its independence on 26th January, 1950, we became an independent sovereign secular democracy. We chose the parliamentary democracy political model that also existed in Britain. Parliamentary democracy is different from a presidential democracy, in which people elect a president. The president’s policy is governed by the legislature elected by the people. People have the opportunity to choose the leader by judging who should govern them and by assessing the governance, knowledge, chastity and honesty of that person.

Legislators elected by the people to the parliament have the power to control policies of the president-elect and overthrow the president in the event of any abuse of power. Power does not exist in a political party with a majority in a parliament. In such a democracy, the opportunity for political domination is diminished.

On the other hand, in a parliamentary democracy, the government is led by the majority political party. The political party that gets the majority decides who should be the Prime Minister and who will be the Chief Minister of each State. Governance is in accordance with the policies of the ruling political party. Being a political party with a majority in parliament makes it difficult to oust the government.

Democracy might become a political dictatorship if it does not contain the necessary controls. This is exactly what is happening in the Indian democracy now. The fact is that when we drafted the Constitution for a parliamentary democracy, even the basic principles of democracy were forgotten. The formation of the Indian democracy brought together people of different languages, castes, religions and cultures under one umbrella, in consequence also bringing the oppressed into the mainstream.

On the basis of such arguments, the inclusion of caste and religion laws in the legal system was fraught with contradictions, resulting in contradictions in the Constitution and legal system. Equality was essentially abandoned. Centralised governance, instead of a decentralised one, gave way to democracy as bureaucracy could not integrate in accordance with the democratic system of governance. As a result, bureaucracy of the colonial rule remained intact and no rules and penalties were defined to keep bureaucracy in check. The inability to define regulatory guidelines for the formation and functioning of political parties provided an opportunity for political movements to mushroom.

nehru
During the first period of democracy, i.e. the Nehru era, there was no significant attempts to sabotage the democracy. Freedom fighters were at the helm of administration during this period. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Constitution does not define the qualification of the candidates contesting an election and does not define the right to deny or recall qualified candidates, or to disqualify those who engage in irregular activities. The people have been put in a dilemma where they have to select from among unqualified candidates who are being fielded by political parties for selfish reasons. The fact is that such flaws in our Constitution later gave political parties an opportunity to establish political supremacy.

During the first period of democracy, i.e. the Nehru era, there was no significant attempts to sabotage the democracy. Freedom fighters were at the helm of administration during this period. They were completely different from today’s politicians. Moral values ​​were held high. For these reasons, it was a centralised system of governance, but the bureaucracy was not exploited as much for selfish interests. Politicians were unaware at first that the Constitution gave them excessive power. This must have been a significant setback in the early days of our democracy.

In the early years of the Indian democracy, all State governments were led by the Congress party. The Congress had a large majority in the Parliament and the State legislatures as there was no other alternative political party. All the Congress governments that were to govern had the opportunity to address the shortcomings in our Constitution and bureaucracy. But they should not have been persuaded to rectify these existing deficiencies in the Constitution and the legal system with the realisation that these deficiencies would help them retain their political power.

They did not even try to remove the reservation rights enshrined in the Constitution or give equal rights to the citizens. Thus, the Congress, which itself helped liberate us from colonialism, also led the way in diverting our democracy to a political rule. The realisation that these inadequacies in the Constitution, the rule of law, and the system of governance would lead to the establishment of political power changed the course of political activity in India.

It started in the mid-1960s. It was during this period that our democracy got lost due to political movements and separatist activities that began within political parties. As a result, the social barrier of politics was lost and politics was reduced to mere power. With this, the only political thinking left was how to win elections and stay in power. Ideological political codes disappeared from political parties. Political activity now is only about winning candidates in elections in order to retain power.

With this, caste, religion and communal forces began to be appeased. It was here that the beginning of organised politics and hunting bank politics began in Indian politics. The state of emergency declared in the early 1970s may have been due to the fear that these changes in the political situation would damage power. Bureaucratic practices were improved during this period. Bribery practices and red tape in the bureaucracy were low. The reason for this was the fear of retribution.

But the fact is that it did not need an emergency. Although there were clear and precise rules for bureaucratic practices and penalties for any breach in an office, bureaucratic practices could have improved. But the political establishment knew that doing so would not allow them tho turn officials into their pawns. To this day, it makes no difference. Bureaucratic performance improved during the emergency, but the misrule of politicians was unbearable. Many opposition politicians had been imprisoned.

Today, the number of political parties contesting any election has increased exponentially. For many political parties, similarities are no longer an issue as they are unlikely to win or gain a majority if they compete alone. That is, power is the only goal. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

It is a reflection of the misrule of the ruling politicians that all petty politicians came together despite the lack of principled similarities, and the ruling Congress was ousted in the elections that followed the Emergency. This was the beginning of the Front governments in the Indian democracy. During this period, political parties formed their own trade unions in civil society and the field of essential services. This created the condition for strong political divisions among government officials. Politicians began to control the bureaucracy to protect their interests. This led to struggles in bureaucracy as well as essential services.

Governments lost control over them. Along with this political upheaval in the working class, the caste-religious regional forces that grew into organised forces formed their own political movements. The formation of such political movements was facilitated by the fact that the Constitution did not prescribe any criteria for the formation of political parties in a democratic system or for a political party to field candidates in general elections.

Today, the number of political parties contesting any election has increased exponentially. For many political parties, similarities are no longer an issue as they are unlikely to win or gain a majority if they compete alone. That is, power is the only goal. Even when facing elections as a coalition, these fronts do not have a clear majority in the Parliament, State Legislatures or local government bodies. This is what the current elections indicate.

After the election, it is only natural that there will be squabbles and horse-trading with other non-partisan parties to secure a majority in the government. The only goal for everyone remains power. When empowered, there is no collective responsibility. Political pressure increases with conflicting political goals. If these political pressures are not pandered to, parties and candidates in power might lose their regime. Because the only goal is power, it will yield to increasing pressure.

How does consistency come about here? How can justice be done? Should it be called democracy or political domination? In this situation, it would be more appropriate to call it a political rule than a democracy. Political domination in India is now at its peak. It is more terrible and dreadful than a monarchy or a dictatorship. In a monarchy, it is enough to fear the king, the bureaucrats and the landlords. But in politics, we must fear the government, the bureaucrats, senior leaders, caste and religious leaders and the goons who feed them.

Thus, the horror of a situation that should frighten everyone in society is beyond thought. Political rule has no value for the rule of law, common law, court decisions or moral values. The great Indian culture has disappeared from our system of governance and society. For how long will this continue? A return to a functional democracy from today’s political dictatorship is not an easy task in present day India. All democratic activities from the making of the Constitution onwards will have to be redefined. The political community and caste-based organisations that recognise the pleasures of power will not allow it. The only way is to become self-aware.

Respond accordingly. Any system that responds will change. But for that to happen, people must become aware and we must lose the political equation and the power of caste-based organisations.

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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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