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A Tribute To The ‘Man Of All Seasons’: Pranab Mukherjee’s Political Career

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The entire nation grieves as former President of India and Bharat Ratna recipient Shri Pranab Mukherjee left for his heavenly abode on August 31, 2020. One of the finest statesmen India has ever seen, Pranab Mukherjee, fondly called Pranab Da, will be greatly missed. His great contributions and service to our country will be hailed by generations to come.

In a gigantic political career spanning over more than five decades — from being a Rajya Sabha MP to the President of India — Pranab Da brought in dignity and sincerity to every position he held and gave his utmost best to the nation. Prior to being elected to the highest office of the country, he’d served in several high ranking ministerial portfolios.

Before becoming of the most important and dynamic leaders of modern India, Pranab Mukherjee, who hailed from Bengal, served as a lecturer in Kolkata while working as a journalist for Desher Dak. He was also one of the founding members of the Bangla Congress, a regional political party formed in 1966 due to a split in the Indian National Congress.

Pranab Mukherjee With Indira Gandhi.

Mukherjee subsequently entered the main political arena of the country in 1969, when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi got to know of his intellectual abilities and savoir faire, offered him a Congress ticket to the Upper House of the Indian Parliament. Throughout the years, he was groomed by Indira and eventually became one of her most trusted political lieutenants in the party, owing to his brilliant thinking and decision making abilities. Hailed as the ‘Man of all seasons’, Mukherjee always came to the rescue of the Congress party and government whenever crisis struck, all thanks to his detailed knowledge of both domains of governance.

During his glorious and long political tenure, he served in almost all of the senior-most portfolios the Indian government had to offer. He has served as the Finance Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister among others, apart from occupying the highest constitutional position of the country. However, one position that evaded him, that too twice, was that of the Prime Minister.

Pranab Mukherjee and Rajiv Gandhi

Mukherjee, a man who possessed both practical skills and knowledge, could’ve done wonders to our country had he got the opportunity to serve as the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, he was sidelined and pushed to the periphery of the party by a less experienced and young Rajiv Gandhi, who became the Prime Minister. He wasn’t even given a Ministerial berth by Rajiv once he became the PM, and gradually, got expelled from the mainstream.

Eventually, Mukherjee founded another party of his own in 1986, the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress (RSC) in West Bengal. However, three years later, he reached upon a compromise agreement with Rajiv and the party was merged with the Congress. Further, following the UPA victory in 2004, it was largely expected that Mukherjee might become the Prime Minister due to Sonia Gandhi’s ineligibility. The party went with Manmohan Singh, a person who’d initially worked under him as the RBI Governor. It was under Manmohan Singh’s reign that Mukherjee was shouldered with various important portfolios, and Singh heavily relied on him.

From improving the country’s finances at a time the shadow of the IMF loomed over the country in the 1980s, to expanding India’s cooperation with the US and opening up the gates for India to participate in civilian nuclear trade, the list of Pranab Da’s contributions goes on! Even as the President, he didn’t confine himself to the ceremonial picture of the position, but brought in some real change.

Pranab Mukherjee teaching students.

He tried to democratise the presidency by reducing the protocols and restrictions imposed on guests invited to Rashtrapati Bhavan as well as celebrating and conducting most of the ceremonial Presidential events within the Rashtrapati Bhavan itself, so as to avoid disruption of traffic or any other inconvenience caused to the public due to the travel of the President.

Further on, he also became the first Head of State to teach school children during the final years of his Presidency by holding occasional classes for a batch of 80 students of Class 11 and 12 at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Thus, versatility, statesmanship, vision and exemplary intelligence are what come to mind when one thinks about Pranab Da, the leader who India will miss dearly!

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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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