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Here’s A Book That Throws Light On The “Humane” Side Of Political Parties

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I left the subject of Political Science way back in 2014, but Politics as an issue never left me. Therefore, I relished the opportunity of reading this book Realpolitik: Exposing India’s Political System, written by my colleague and friend — artist and writer — Mamta Chitnis Sen.

As I stared at the cover page of the book, I thought, I would be presented with an analysis based on the writers own perspective, after her in-depth study of Political Parties in India. What took me by surprise was reading and hearing about the unique perspectives of so many political workers themselves, across the rank and file of different, divergent regional and national Political Parties.

What we get, thus, is not a typical top-down approach in understanding the system as a whole, but a beautiful patchwork of carefully interwoven stories of political workers from the inside — and their different motivations, ideas and temperaments — and how they manage to keep the wheels and the cogs of the Party running and, thus, by default, keep our democracy running.

The behind the scenes of political parties in a country like India has always intrigued the common man. We imagine a hell lot of political manoeuvres and manipulations, even extortions and crimes undertaken by the henchmen of crafty leaders who would do anything for power. Yes, indeed politics is a game of power, muscle and money. But how it is played out on a day to day basis is perhaps less glamorous and more “admin-based” (for want of a better word), as the heartfelt narratives of so many grassroots political workers tell us.

political workers
The top leaders have to personally invest in earning the loyalty of their party workers and failing to do so can have dire consequences on the elections.

In fact, quite contrary to our typical expectations, this book throws light on the “humane” side of those involved in a political party. Take for instance the example of a certain political worker from Republican Party of India — defined as a “foot soldier” by the writer, who traces his journey from stitching banners to marketing for important leaders to aiding in the formation of alliances. The book is replete with so many such foot soldiers that have started as humble workers and climbed the ladder of success over the years, that it astounds us.

Many who are in powerful positions today have shared their stories of starting with something basic as notebook distribution to sticking posters on walls, moving over to fundraising, mobilising loyal workers, resolving minor issues of common people — everything under the sun — until they catch the attention of the party leaders and are blessed with an election ticket. Many continue to work tirelessly for the Party, even after being denied one. Thus, the myth of all political workers basking in money and power is largely debunked and what we are instead served is a more realistic portrayal of their lives and circumstances.

In the carefully divided four parts and 11 chapters, the books also focus on the strategies these party workers employ to keep their Party victorious in elections, as well as to keep themselves afloat. Loyalty is essential when it comes to making or breaking a political party and alliances. The top leaders have to personally invest in earning the loyalty of their party workers and failing to do so can have dire consequences on the elections. The concept of loyalty, thus, finds its own space in the chapters of the book.

Why do some political workers continue to stick to one political Party for their entire life span, even after they are denied opportunities to climb the ladder of power? What makes a dedicated Party worker leave a party and shift his loyalties to another — sometimes a different ideological spectrum altogether? What is a greater pull? The political party or individual leader that they are following? These and many more questions are extensively discussed in the book.

What is interesting is that these issues of “conflicting loyalties” and “disillusionment of loyal workers” throws a very important light on why some political Parties are losing their stronghold and why some are rapidly gaining it in the new India. The inner functioning of the Party, thus, stands exposed before our eyes and many of the questions that may have come to our mind at the depleting condition of Parties are answered.

Also, an entire chapter is dedicated to understanding how women fare in political Parties. In the many interviews of women conducted by Mamta Sen, it is abundantly clear that the role of the majority of women who enter political Parties through their family or community remains partisan at best, and a very few have been able to go all the way up in controlling the power. The book provides bare statistics on the underrepresentation of women in the National Assembly.

The deeply entrenched patriarchal structure does not even allow women to have their own independent political opinion, leave aside, giving them a space to gain power. Most of the women, as they state in the interviews, content themselves as mere “female representatives” or mobilise other women for the Party. Many have also reported being under confident in handling unruly crowds and talking to men. Some who muster the confidence and try to make their way upward have too faced the backlash of having their character questioned.

These issues, which as a woman I had already guessed, sadly stood substantiated through the book. What was new to me, however, was that one female political worker said that it is cadre-based parties like BJP and CPI (M) rather than mass-based parties like Congress which are fairer when it comes to letting women represent and succeed (this intrigued me because a party whose ideological standpoint has not been very supportive of women’s liberation in general, is more open to women having power positions within the Party. Politics is full of contradictions — and Indian politics more so).

Here, I wished we could have heard the narrative of more women who have made it to the upper echelons of a political party and have also contested elections. How they navigated through patriarchy and asserted their agency to a breakthrough in the male-dominated bastion would have been interesting to read.

Other aspects like the importance of having a Godfather (or Godmother), the money involved in canvassing, political defections and their consequences are also covered in the book. One really good thing about the book is that it is not biased towards one particular bend of ideology or studies only regional or national parties. Diverse narratives from workers and leaders of diverse political parties — at both national and regional level are first pieced together and then divided according to different aspects. The focus is also on the commonalities between different parties as much as their differences.

Because the stories were rich in experience and emotion, I marvelled at the tactfulness of Mamta Sen in interviewing them and extracting their personal, first-hand, “inside” account of what is taking place. The dryness of a typical academically heavy, political analysis is not there in the book. It is raw and unfettered, perceptive and anecdotal and an interesting read to even those who are not intent on reading on political issues otherwise.

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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.

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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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