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The ‘Two Deep Cracks’ In India’s Development Story

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As the incumbent government moves towards experiencing what can precisely be termed as an ‘Economic Slowdown’, here are the two deep cracks they should look out for and ensure healing at the earliest.


The first plunge we take on is to show how wrong our nation has been for decades with the sentiments of the masses regarding electricity. To give a clearer picture, let’s begin with the best possible anecdote from a lesser developed country that I have come across in recent reading.

Phionah Yandereye has a small farm in one of the world’s poorest countries in Rwanda where she grows maize, beans, bananas, and coffee. She has built a small house and turned the old one into a chicken shed. Her dreams travel beyond her village quite exemplified by the posters of world leaders and countries on her room wall. She has electric light, not the kind of bright, leave-it-on light that people in developed countries take for granted, but a small solar panel connected to a wall-mounted battery which powers a radio and three LED ceiling lamps. And that is what makes her unique.

Indian farmers and youth from Vidharba, an eastern region of Maharashtra state, hold lanterns and placards during a protest to highlight their lack of continuous electricity supply in 2009. AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

She also uses the battery to charge her mobile phone and a portable lamp that she hangs around her neck. Although the lamps are relatively dim, they allow just enough light for her kids to study and also do not emit foul fumes of kerosene. Approximately 140 years ago, a genius called Thomas Edison had begun selling filament light bulbs with the hope that the world will see the light of the day in the future.

Unfortunately today, fewer than 1 billion people worldwide still lack access to electricity. Even though the Indian government is racing against time attempting to introduce electricity to every single village by 2019. Recent economic research shows, rushing to illuminate the world is a bad idea. Let’s understand why it is so. The traditional method of bringing electricity to the masses includes building power stations and transmission lines which is still prevalent in our nation.

Last year, the Government of India proudly claimed that it had connected every village to the power grid. We very well know the probability of that happening. For years, American satellites have been circling the earth while measuring light levels at night and estimating how much is human-made. One straightforward use of such data is to see whether a place has electricity. Brian Min of the University of Michigan has shown that the government’s ambitious plan to connect every village to the grid is less dazzling than it appears.

Many newly connected villages do not quickly light up, perhaps because the power supply is so unreliable. But that’s an ongoing debate and discussion we are all quite bored of by now. The crucial question here is: Why this unnecessary obsession?

To begin with, let’s probe into the intensity at which electricity benefits poverty. If electricity and light truly transformed people’s lives, it might make sense to offer massive subsidies for solar systems and grid connections or even to give them away. It might bring benefits that people could not have imagined. But there is little evidence of this. An extensive research study found that Rwandans, who were given solar lamps, responded by lighting their households more brightly, for more hours each day. They burned less kerosene, and their children studied a little more, especially at night.

But the adults’ working lives changed hardly at all. Neither the solar lamps nor the grid connection protected the people from poverty. A detailed study of rural Tanzania, where America’s Millennium Challenge Corporation built power lines and subsidized connections, found little effect on the adults’ welfare. “Offering cheap links cut the proportion of people living on less than $2 a day from 93% to 90%—hardly a transformation”. Children’s lives changed, but perhaps not in the right way. Those who were connected went from watching almost no television to one and a half hours a day and did even less housework than before.

Representational image.

Hussain Samad and Fan Zhang of the World Bank estimate that connections boost the spending of people in the top fifth of the earnings scale by 11%. People in the bottom fifth see a meagre benefit of 4%. The more significant danger for India is that a connection to the electricity grid often puts the utility company—and ultimately the government—on the danger front. Many newly connected households pay little or nothing for their power, either because the power company has a progressive tariff because people refuse to pay or due to theft of transmission lines illegally.

An ongoing study of Bihar by the International Growth Centre in London finds that only 10% of people think it likely they will be penalized for failing to pay their bills or for an illegal hookup. Electrification does reap benefits and countries will have to bring power to their people eventually and sustainably, but to spend a lot of scarce cash doing so now, in the hope that benefits will turn up one day, hardly makes sense.

The Second Myth: Agrarian Distress And The Provision Of Loan Waivers As A Solution

To get a clearer picture, let’s take an eagle-eyed view of the present investment data in agriculture. After years of stagnation, investment in agriculture witnessed a reversal of the trend with the latter rising at 10% in real terms between 2004–05 and 2012–13.

As against this, real agricultural investment has declined at 2.3% per annum between 2013–14 and 2016–17. Similar is the case of credit to agriculture that was increasing at 21% per annum in nominal terms between 2004–05 and 2014–15, rising from Rs. 1,25,309 crore in 2004–05 to Rs.8,45,328 crore by 2014–15. However, the growth in agricultural credit slowed down to 12.3% between 2014–15 and 2016–17, rising only to Rs. 10, 65,756 crores in 2016–17.

The hilarious bit here is that since time immemorial, every government has come up with the only solution to any form of farmer distress: Loan Waivers, be it suicides, rising input costs, or falling output prices.

Representational image.

It’s high time to go back to the past and decipher that agricultural loan waiver and subsidies do not benefit the poorest in rural India. They do little to relieve the indebtedness of the most vulnerable farmers who are either landless or possess smallholdings.

These farmers are not considered creditworthy and have no access to institutional credit. They are entirely dependent on the ruthless moneylenders who are bound to exploit them. Loan waivers do not alleviate the agrarian crisis that has deep structural roots in India’s economy, including uneven access to subsidies, skewed land ownership patterns, and degeneration of government-supported agricultural extension programmes.

Tons of news articles, brilliant editorials revolve around various economists providing solutions on these lines, but looking back at the utter failure of both these instruments decade after decade should render enough signal to begin thinking outside the box. It is high time!

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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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