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The Politics Of Tejashwi Yadav And The RJD: Social Inclusion, Justice and Empowerment

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In a few days from now, Bihar will be heading for its Assembly Elections and all political parties in Bihar have already begun making their pitch to the people, with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) taking the lead with its digital election campaigns covering every booth and constituency of the state.

A few days ago there was an uproar when Amit Shah was addressing the party cadres and workers in Bihar and West Bengal, as the opposition was up against the centrality of virtual rallies and themes in the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

The RJD, under the direction of Tejashwi Yadav, launched Garib Adhikar Diwas in line with the party’s vision and objective of inclusive development. They called the virtual rally of Shah a poll gimmick, aiming at enriching their prospect of benefitting from the pandemic. The same was followed when major decisions of surgical strikes and demonetisation in 2016 were being highlighted by the political dividends of the right-leaning party in pursuit of power.

In this regard, it can be pinpointed how the BJP, under Modi-Shah duo, has transitioned from what it was during the Vajpayee-Advani era, where there seemed to be some internal space for dialogue, dissent, deliberation and compromise. This is not clearly visible in the present-day functioning, hierarchy and structure of the party.

Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav

The party intently expresses its realist Machiavellian penchant for bold and sharp populism, using rhetorics and polemics as an instrument to perform public good by catering to the aspirations and interests of the people. But this shouldn’t be viewed as absolving the regional satraps from their basic and moral responsibility of providing a clear blueprint of resource allocation and distribution viz a viz policy management and programme implementation.

On the contrary, consultation on seat-sharing seems to be falling behind as a clear consensus is far from being reached, drawing a lot of assumptions and presumptions. Tejashwi Yadav, who was the Deputy Chief Minister in Nitish Kumar’s Cabinet, in the grand alliance government should have tried to rework a strategy for roping in the constituents of the grand alliance playing a crucial role in reviving the political fortunes of the RJD in a state where caste and community claims and aspects matter the most.

The disgruntled faces in the likes of Jitan Ram Manjhi, Upendra Kushwaha etc. would have definitely consolidated the voter base of the RJD, thus systematically affecting any challenge from the BJP-JDU combine in the state. Lalu Prasad Yadav could have played a vital role in pleasing the disgruntled RJD MLCs who recently resigned from their posts, heavily lashing on the ineptness and inexperience of Tejashwi Yadav in keeping the flock together.

The RJD has also been accused of compromising with its ideals of social justice and empowerment by making an attempt in reaching out to the influential and dominant upper castes in the state. What better explains the resignation of Raghuvansh Prasad Singh from the post of National Vice President of the RJD, as he was considered a close Lalu aide having represented the Vaishali constituency of Bihar!

Why was he miffed with the party and how will it impact the RJD? These are some of the pressing questions standing before Tejashwi Yadav who, as a leader of his party, apart from being an administrator, will surely have to attend to. There is no denying the fact that Lalu being the unabated leader of the RJD, his presence, advice and guidance will always inspire the party’s workers, cadres and supporters.

Taking a cue from this inspiration, the RJD, under its young and dynamic leader Tejashwi, should find ways to plug the loopholes by creating a second rung and brass of leadership committed to social empowerment and inclusive development of the poor, vulnerable, destitute and the marginalised. This will help the party expand its base and footprints in constituencies where it finds itself relatively weaker in comparison to other political parties in the state.

I also believe that an understanding of alliance and coalition of the RJD with the Congress, HAM, and RLSP, well keeping in mind the focus of caste and community arithmetic in the state, will provide a counter alternative that have willingly given up on the credentials of Nitish Kumar. Since 2005, Kumar has been knows for his chosen interest in switching alliances based on his faith in the poll outcome, as he did with the BJP before rejoining it in July 2017 after parting away from the RJD.

Nitish charged the RJD of acute lawlessness, high handedness of governance and rules of conduct, sounding his displeasure over Tejashwi’s elevation as Bihar Deputy CM. In simple and plain terms, Nitish and the BJP have been allies since 2005, and Nitish has been very much with the NDA except for a few, holding the portfolio of Railway Minister.

Unlike the RJD and BJP with a disciplined cadre and voter base, the JDU can be seen appealing to the personal profile and image of Nitish Kumar in all likelihood, thus distinguishing Nitish’s prowess, posturing and manoeuvre as a leader with administrative ability and insights.

I would like to sum up my write-up in the view and hope that Tejashwi would be able to rechristen his efforts and spirit in the direction of strengthening the foundation of the RJD by envisioning and intertwining the concept of inclusive development with social justice and empowerment of the downtrodden.

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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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