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What Will Biden’s Presidency Mean For India?

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Biden Has Managed To Knock Trump Out

Biden’s win has come after a lot of ugly online and offline sparring and endless charades and trials from the very partisan US media.

Joe Biden is now confirmed to be the 46th President of the United States of America. He has defeated the incumbent, as it stands at current count, by 290 electoral college votes to 214, with 270 required for an absolute majority.

Coming in the backdrop of the incumbent’s catastrophic and deliberate mismanagement of the ongoing pandemic, this election was of particular significance, both from the US and a global perspective.

Biden’s win has come after a lot of ugly online and offline sparring and endless charades and trials from the very partisan US media. Both the campaigns fought bitterly against each other and that involved a lot of mudslinging. However, the feud between Biden and his opponent in the election, current president Donald Trump has some history, with Biden once challenging Trump to a fistfight on Twitter, which the latter, never one to let go of an opportunity to be petty on social media, gleefully responded to.

While that punchfest never materialized, it seems that in a figurative sense, at least, Biden has managed to knock Trump out, Trump’s very convenient forewarning about the election being “rigged” if he didn’t win notwithstanding. Now, after most of us have wasted 4 years having to pay mind to a disgraceful spectacle of some of the most abhorrent expressions of human nature, whether or not he eventually vacates the White House gracefully is left to be seen. There is a predictable rule when it comes to Trump, if he is not winning, he is whining. Just a week ago, this was what he was tweeting:

The feud between Biden and his opponent in the election, current president Donald Trump has some history, with Biden once challenging Trump to a fistfight on Twitter.

Trump couldn’t have been expected to accept an election defeat and move on any more than a pathologically petulant and vindictive bully who has finally got some well-deserved comeuppance could have been.

Even Greta Thunberg managed to take some time off from her campaign against climate change to school Don on anger management and to make him eat his own words. What’s more, 45 has cultivated and empowered people on the political fringes for the last four years, some of them managing to grab lawmaking authority, and now he will be seeking to reap benefits.

As things stand, Trump supporters – many of them armed and very dangerous – who have spent the last few years suckling on post-truth and Trump’s implicit and explicit encouragement to violence, are refusing to accept defeat. Right now, legal challenges and bids for a recount are ongoing, but given how heavily armed the country is, there could be serious escalations to violence if things turn sour.

But let’s focus on the winner right now, as the lame-duck squatter in the White House claims to like doing.

One of the first American lawmakers to introduce legislation on climate change

A well-documented list of indiscretions and gaffes notwithstanding, Biden is decidedly a much more mature and knowledgeable individual than his opponent. That aside, he is a lawmaking veteran, a legislator for five decades, with a chequered political career behind him.

Some of his political positions over the years have been very controversial, especially those on criminal justice that influenced his legislative proposal in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, where he was keen on being seen as “tough on crime”, a legal paradigm that has affected black people disproportionately over the years.

This fact was front and centre in opponents’ pitch against Biden throughout his presidential campaign, especially during the Democratic primaries. It achieved greater significance after George Floyd’s murder, which triggered a #BlackLivesMatter wave worldwide, and renewed passion in the unfinished project of securing true justice and equality for black people.

The fact that he picked Kamala Harris as a running mate probably had a lot to do with his campaign’s desperate attempt to improve his anti-Black image. If there is one thing that Biden has on his side, it’s that he was one of the first American lawmakers to introduce legislation on climate change, and therefore can be expected to reverse the damage, both actual and potential, wrought on the environment by the machinations of the denialist vultures in power over the last four years.

He is likely to sign the US back into the Paris Accord, which the country officially exited a few days ago. Since the US is by far the highest per capita industrialized, sizably populated emitter of carbon in the world, this will be of particular significance.

However, given that Biden is a “moderate”, he is unlikely to back progressive legislation like the Green New Deal, sponsored by Democratic Party Congresspersons Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, which would fast-track upgrades of technology and environmental legislation to meet IPCC’s rather desperate 12-year deadline in 2018 to save the world from the effects of temperature rises to 1.5<sup>o</sup>C due to climate change.

What Does Biden’s Presidency Mean For India?

So, if there is a peaceful transition of power in the US come January 20 next year, what does a Biden presidency portend for India? In terms of international relations, some expert opinion suggests that Biden would be much more amenable to greater multilateralism than the incumbent.

Multilateralism is important for many reasons. One among them is that it facilitates democratization of the process of decision making on international fora, to the extent possible in a fundamentally unequal world with complex political landscapes.

It is also important because of the simple reason that it achieves positive global results. It has helped the world achieve many major milestones, like eradication of diseases like smallpox, for example.

The Paris deal itself was the victory of multilateral, multilayered efforts to counter the menace of climate change. Relevant for the times we live in, we desperately need functional multilateralism again to help build global and local distribution networks for the COVID-19 vaccine when it eventually comes about.

It will be difficult for India to argue its way back in the club, a mature President who believes at some level in multilateralism could be pursued more meaningfully.

There are enough vaccine inequalities in the world already. India has officially always been in favour of multilateralism and has always sought resolutions through the use of multilateral and international platforms.

After the pointless devastation that had been wrought on the foundations of multilateralism in the last four years, there will likely be a swift reversal of that trend with Biden in office.

It must be noted, though, that the current Prime Minister of India seems to believe that personal bonhomie between the leaders of nations will strengthen relations between said nations. That is not likely to work in a paradigm defined by rules-based multilateralism, which Biden is likely to be committed to.

In terms of trade and commerce relations, Trump’s commitment to diplomatic petulance, coupled with the Indian external affairs ministry’s failure to push its trade interests, meant that India had lost its “developing country” protection under the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) last year, meaning raised tariffs on imports to the US from India.

While it will be difficult for India to argue its way back in the club, a mature President who believes at some level in multilateralism could be pursued more meaningfully. In terms of foreign policy, India has made a definite shift towards the US camp in the last decade or so.

The US has made India the centre of its operations in South and Southeast Asia, in a bid to counterbalance China’s rising dominance within the region. While many tend to argue that this strengthens Indian security, especially maritime security in the Indian Ocean region, others tend to argue that the US is essentially using India as a pawn in their war games with China.

No matter the pretense of the Raisina Dialogues, India is at best a middle-grade military power, that too heavily dependent on imports from countries like Russia, Israel and the US itself.

India’s rise as an economic power built mostly on service sector boom, as well as small things like faulty GDP calculation has motivated these delusional exercises, but the fact that India’s economy has experienced a massive slowdown since around 2018, and is now officially in technical recession means that glow is fading away.

With Trump having all but demanded full allegiance to US superiority from the rest of the world, India had all but committed itself to being a vassal state to Trump’s America. The next US President is unlikely to do anything that “hurts US interests”, so that movement might not see much of a change under a Biden presidency. However, resort to open threats and unhinged stuff masquerading as diplomacy is likely to see a swift demise.

There have been speculations that Biden’s Vice-President Kamala Harris, who has Indian roots herself, might speak out forcefully against India’s perpetration of human rights violations on its own people, especially Kashmiri Muslims.

Harris was vocally critical of India’s violent and crude nixing of Article 370 last year. Biden has referred to Kashmir on his “agenda for Muslim Americans” in his campaign documents. This has led to a lot of nervous nail-biting in the statist camp – where human rights are seen as repugnant to India’s mystical “national interest” – but once again, since Biden is a political moderate like his presidential forebear Obama on such issues, team Biden-Harris is likely to tread lightly on hurt statist sentiments, which in the world of posh diplomacy weighs heavier on messy stuff like unknown human lives.

But Kashmiris who have been deprived of life and dignity by India’s violence, compounded by Hindutva’s malice, will desperately hope otherwise. They would be rather disheartened, however, if they discovered what Biden might potentially have in store for Palestinians living in territory violently occupied by the Zionist state that is Israel.

A commitment to “protect” Israel against supposed “international hostility” is essentially a disingenuous attempt to deny the power disparities that exist between Israel and Palestine. Obama, towards the end of his second term, had a very public and ugly disagreement with Netanyahu on Israel’s aggression in West Bank, and the latter sought to profit from Trump’s Islamophobia.

Biden is unlikely to reset to late Obama normals with respect to Palestine given his commitment to moderation, but there will be some tension since Biden does talk about Israelis and Palestinians as equals. In a similar way, in “New” India, talking about Muslims, especially Kashmiri Muslims, as equal citizens might hurt certain fragile supremacist sentiments in power. Only time will tell.

To finish, since these are troubled times for democracy itself, regardless of how Biden’s presidency turns out for India, I would like to channel my inner Thom Yorke:

 

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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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