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Congrats Mrs Gandhi: You Lost The Election In 1980 And We’re Suffering Today

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Congrats Indira Gandhi.

We live in a polarised country that has a clear dichotomy: fervent supporters of our dear prime minister who place him on a pedestal and the rest of the country which decries him and his rule with the same passionate fervour. Love him or hate him, in 2014 he accomplished a feat that no party had since the Congress 1984 – they won a majority as a singular party. He then achieved it again in 2019, offering such few seats to the opposition that it was rendered redundant.

PM Narendra Modi: Love him or hate him, in 2014 he accomplished a feat that no party had since the Congress 1984 – they won a majority as a singular party.

The twenty-year period where the diverse nation was ruled by tense coalitions, the autonomy and independence of state governments, the rise of the BJPs right-wing Hindu nationalist agenda and of course the downfall of India’s political establishment and the political royalty who ruled it can all be traced back to one individual.

The divisive ironwoman of India who first became Prime Minister in 1966: Indira Gandhi.

The second longest-serving prime minister, daughter of the longest-serving Indian prime minister and mother of the next prime minister was a force to be reckoned with.

Elected to the highest office at a time when women were still fighting for the right to vote in many places around the world, she ruled by draconian decree, abusing systems and institutions built up around her family.

While today, critics decry the BJP’s gross violations of democratic institutions and their destruction of the separation of powers, the very man leading this charge seems to have happily relegated his grandmother to the mists of time.

The explanation for the BJP’s brazen attitude towards electoral law comes from a singular action of Mrs Gandhi. Breaking election law and the moral code of conduct resulted in Mrs Gandhi’s election result being declared null and her appeal to the Supreme Court losing in an even more embarrassing blow. Deciding that the people’s will, law and the constitution were puny mortal things in front of a great Gandhi,  she took the arbitrary step of declaring an emergency and firmly cementing herself in power by snatching it from everyone else.

Indira-Gandhi-By-Mohit-Bansal-Chandigarh
The divisive ironwoman of India who first became Prime Minister in 1966: Indira Gandhi.

This autocratic coup de tat rendered the checks and balances of democracy irrelevant and plunged the future of our democracy into the precarious situation it is in today. Of course, there was resentment and anger to her actions, the press was muzzled, the courts restricted, and the constitution itself amended. The election of 1980 was a brutal referendum on Gandhi with the Congress losing its first election ever to an upstart coalition helmed by Gandhi’s very own deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

He went on to establish the first-ever coalition government. This was, from its very inception, a laughable idea with political parties on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum uniting in their common hatred against Gandhi. This failure of a government did two critical things: first, it leads to the creation of ‘Congress offshoots’ – ideologically similar regional parties that are headed by those who left the Congress which reduce the INC’s power – and second, it set the stage for 1984 and the return of the autocrat.

India Gandhi, now a far cry from the rousing figure of political unity she had been in her first campaign was deeply polarising figure stepping to take back her throne on the broken backs of the Desai government. This final election was monumental for she was fated to die, assassinated by her own bodyguard in October of 1984. That death marked a unique turning point, having two radical impacts which would ripen through 1984 and 1989 and finally come to fruition following that fateful election.

In 1989, riding on the sympathy of his mother’s death, Rajiv Gandhi rose to power winning over 400 seats in a manner never seen before and hopefully never seen again. The scandals of the Rajiv Gandhi era and a fear of returning to an Emergency lead to a crushing defeat with Rajiv dying while running his campaign. The two pillars, which were the guiding pillars of Indian politics till 2014, of Gandhi’s legacy had finally been built: the power to the regional parties and the death of Congress.

With the Congress having split and no other party yet powerful enough to take on its mantel, 25 years of uneasy coalition governments followed. Regional parties thrived, building rabid fan bases and choosing to represent state not country thereby locking out the bigger parties while simultaneously being unable to form a majority due to the lack of a message of broad appeal. States like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal developed strong regional identities and became virtually unwinnable for the national parties.

Meanwhile, the Congress was decaying, headed by an uninterested Gandhi family stuck in a prison of their forefathers making. While the elite kept them in power, no one else found a path to power and support for India’s political royalty waned.

The stage for 2014 was set for a showdown between the two largest parties: the Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party. The Congress party filled with yes men for the Gandhi family was no match for the formidable duo of Shah and Modi who crafted a message of broad national appeal. Distilled from the party’s core Hindutva belief, a Hindu majority desperate for united leadership after the unstable governments of the past decade voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP.

Now we’re governed by a nationalist party that is slowly dismantling the institutions of our nation. We have leaders who wield considerable influence in states and effectively lock out other national parties but cannot mount a challenge against the BJP. And we have the opposition party which is led by a circus of resignations, reappointments and sham party elections that render it incompetent and ineffective in questioning the government.

Congratulations Mrs Gandhi, you have locked a singular party into power for who knows how long. It’s just too bad that the sky is saffron, not blue.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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