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#DemocracyAdda: The Battle For Bihar Has Gone Online, But How Ready Are We?

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Gearing up for State Assembly Elections, scheduled in October 2020, Bihar is the next battleground. Not just the pandemic, already existing issues, ranging from education, employment, gender, and more have now come under the microscope, with parties vying for voters’ attention. Who are the voters though?

a group of college students sitting together
Representational image.

As the youth takes centre stage, being added to the voter’s list every day, how do we make sure the young people are heard? In collaboration with Twitter, #DemocracyAdda brings the voices of youth in Bihar under the spotlight and connects them with their elected representatives to directly raise issues that affect them.

September 18 saw the second Live panel, focusing on the digital and social media push by various parties. The panel included Janata Dal United (JDU) spokesperson, Dr Amardeep, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP’s) Nikhil Anand, along with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) spokesperson Dr Nawal Kishore, and Indian Youth Congress’ Vaibhav Walia.

From how prepared the parties are in their social media and digital push in the run-up to the state elections, to how social media has been used to mobilise the youth and more, this live panel gave us a peek into what goes into the thought process of our political parties.

Dr Nikhil Anand, Bihar Spokesperson, Bharatiya Janata Party.

BJP’s Nikhil Anand started the conversation with his experience of setting up virtual communications during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Under our state president, Dr Sanjay Jaiswal ji, we reached out to many activists through digital media which proved to be worthwhile. We also made use of video conferencing. Initially, it took a little time for us to understand all this, but later we were able to reach our people,” he said.

According to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data, only 59 people out of every 100 people had a mobile connection, and Internet penetration in Bihar, by the end of 2019, was 32 subscribers per hundred people.

When the pandemic has made us all move online, how can we imagine the election process going virtual?

RJD spokesperson, Dr Nawal Kishore, said that despite low internet penetration in Bihar, efforts are being made to reach the masses. But the bigger challenge will be voter turnout amidst the pandemic. “Our biggest goal is to gather more and more people through digital media,” he said.

Dr Nawal Kishore, National Spokesperson, Rashtriya Janata Dal

Talking about how parties are trying to reach the older generations, Indian Youth Congress’ Vaibhav Walia spoke about how young people have become influencers in their homes and are helping elders make voting decisions in a digital age.

Vaibhav Walia, National In-charge – social media, Indian Youth Congress

How will you be able to listen to any youth issues of Bihar? How will they change their perspective? We asked the panellists. “Nowadays youth is well connected with social media. Everyone tells their friends and relatives from wherever they get information. Things travel. Nowadays the strongest social media is WhatsApp, after that, people are well versed with YouTube. We make one-minute videos or any graphics and take them to the people,” said Indian Youth Congress’ Vaibhav Walia.

The audience members piped in with many questions, from the use of social media, to the state of progress and development in Bihar, and more. Will women’s access to health and healthcare become a priority for parties, asked Saumya Jyotsana, highlighting how menstrual health is a big issue. BJP’s Nikhil Anand assured that they will work towards making it a part of the public agenda.

Many people listening in had one very pertinent question: What about fake news?

How can citizens protect themselves from fake news amidst the online campaigns?” asked one audience member.

Fake news is spreading a lot these days, and voting will be even more troublesome. In such a situation, people might just spread fake news more. When the state of education in Bihar is not good, the literacy rate is very low. In such a situation, how will we know whether this is fake news or not? How will we be satisfied that the things you are telling are really true?” asked Mumtaz.

Fake news is a menace and I would like to thank fake news busting websites for making people aware of fake news,” replied BJP’s Nikhil Anand.

When asked if after voting and the elections, they will remain active on social media Or if it will become a one-way conversion, JDU’s Dr Amardeep said, “We cannot back down from this because we have the means to listen to people.

Dr Amardeep, President – Media Cell, Janata Dal (United)

Even after elections, if we want to stay connected to the youth, we understand that we need to use social media to communicate with them. If they air grievances online, they will definitely be responded to,” Dr Amardeep said.

The conversation also touched on what parties plan on doing to empower farmers in Bihar which is primarily an agrarian state. “Parties need to make a roadmap that ensures support to the farmers, special crops are built on and the middleman culture is ended,” said Dr Nawal Kishore.

Adding to this, Vaibhav Walia spoke of the (now passed) bills pertaining to agricultural reforms, and how they are working on spreading awareness among farmers and encouraging them to speak up, demand accountability from the government.

Bring the conversation to an end, we asked the panellists if they think social media provides a level playing field for all parties and candidates, considering the amount of money often spent by parties.

It is not a level playing field, but the regional party is the original party. They live and work with the people and are connected to them beyond social media,” said RJD’s Dr Nawal Kishore.

If you speak the truth, then the budget doesn’t matter. It will reach the people,” added Vaibhav Walia. BJP’s Nikhil Anand said that there is some level of balance with social media and that it is a “new lesson and experience for all of us on running election campaigns in a new way.”

What do politics and elections mean for the youth? The advent of social media, and the way the pandemic has changed our lives, have left its mark on how campaigning and elections work. Has it made the whole process more democratic, or has the playing field been made more uneven? These are some questions we hope to answer, and more, in the next editions of Bihar’s #DemocracyAdda. Stay tuned!

You can catch the full discussion here:

Youth Ki Awaaz would be continuing to raise issues and creating dialogue around the upcoming Bihar Elections through a series of features and interviews with leading political leaders for the State as a part of Democracy Adda Bihar. Be a part of the conversation here and follow live updates on Twitter #DemocracyAdda.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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