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With No ‘Social Security’, Can Indians Transform India?

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The current Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the deep structural socioeconomic disparities in Indian society. The false neoliberal logic that economic growth is desirable in society as an end in itself because slowly yet surely the accumulation of wealth will trickle down to the lowest and most marginalized sections of Indians has been proved to be a hallucination induced by elite economists and policymakers.

The reality which most Indians experience today proves that the path of neoliberal economic growth taken by our country has deepened social and economic divisions between those who already had much, to begin with, and those who have lost the precious little that they had before the neoliberal assault on their lives and livelihoods began. This is evidenced by the unprecedented accumulation of wealth by India’s elites on the one hand and the loss of livelihoods and the creeping impoverization of the poorest and most marginalized Indians on the other.

The ongoing pandemic has lifted the veil off the fantasy that the engine of economic growth will nudge citizens out of poverty into a secure and stable middle-class existence. The global economic crisis today is the worst that the world has seen since the Great Depression. When we include the projected impact of global warming into this equation, our common future is one filled with uncertainty and risk rather than safety and security. In this predicament, it is clear is that the mantra of business, as usual, can no longer hold.

Representational image.

A History Lesson All The Way From America

A sober realization of this difficult fact will help us in posing better questions and accepting better answers than we are presented with currently. History is testament to the fact that every crisis is also an opportunity and contains the seed of regeneration and it is up to us to decide which path leads to the security and welfare of us all. When we turn to history we see that the hardships suffered by Americans during the Great Depression resulted in the New Deal and the creation of a social security net for all Americans.

The government actively intervened to ensure that American citizens were protected from the vagaries of life in a capitalist society and provided with a minimum set of social protections. A social safety ‘net’ was created to catch those who were most likely to fall through the cracks due to poverty and other disabilities. Those unable to earn their livelihood because of the loss of job were provided unemployment benefits until they entered the workforce again.

Those diseased due to unhygienic living conditions and malnutrition were provided affordable and adequate healthcare, the disabled were guaranteed a minimum income so that they do not have to beg on streets, and children unable to go to school due to lack of money were educated by the State free of cost.

In doing this, the government ensured that the citizens of the country became physically, socially and mentally healthy and active so that they could remain productive workers. By ensuring that their basic needs were met, the American government created a strong, able and healthy workforce that was required to rebuild the economy left devastated by the Great Depression and avoided the social conflicts that could have destroyed American society.

This short lesson in history provides us with a clear path to a future which is less depressing than our mangled present. However, all of us will need to shed our parochial self-interests and focus on the collective good as empowered citizens of a liberal and democratic nation. A country cannot be expected to grow and provide for the needs of the populace if the masses are hungry, illiterate and divided among themselves. The creation of a universal social security net for all Indians irrespective of religion, class, caste, gender or any other identity is the most important task ahead.

Migrants walking home after losing jobs in cities due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Why Indians Needs A Social Security ‘Net’

This will ensure that every Indian citizen will be provided by the government with basic public goods like education, healthcare, and security of livelihood and income so that Indians can live a dignified life no matter where they are located in the social hierarchy. To achieve this end, the empowered citizens of the country need to support and push for the implementation of the right to food, right to health, right to education and right to work for all Indians, to be funded by the taxes collected by the government.

We also need to acknowledge that the global climate crisis will have severe ecological and economic consequences for India in the coming decades. This realization must inform policy decisions which do not look at economic growth alone as the panacea for all our social problems. The environmental disasters unfolding with greater severity across the world will wipe out many economic gains.

The humans of the 21st century have no other option but to exist in harmony with nature and this demands that we do not look at nature as a resource to be exploited for our consumption alone. The deepening crisis of our present civilization demands global actions and responses working together with people, institutions and governments from all over the world. We can be a part of the solution to both the ecological and economic crisis rather than become the problem if we choose to do so.

The New Green Deal movement is a tiny shoot that has emerged with immense potential in reshaping the socio-economic relations that can enable the required transformations needed to ensure that our collective future is less threatening and dangerous than our precarious present. The current crisis continuously overwhelms our individual abilities and efforts to ‘cope’ with the challenges before us and leaves us too tired to even think of a better and more secure future.

Universal social security is the foundation which can create socially empowered citizens who able to transform India and take on the dark forces of destruction that threaten our common humanity.

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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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