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Does The BJP Have An Upper-Hand In Bengal?

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As the assembly polls approach Bengal, things are getting out of hand for the ruling TMC with one or the other factor going against the party. The BJP has high stakes in the Eastern state and is fighting tooth and nail to set its foot in Mamata’s bastion.

The Growth Of The BJP In West Bengal

The conch for the Bengal polls was blown in 2019 itself with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat preparing the ground for party workers and BJP cadres in the state. Since then, not only Mohan Bhagwat but also Amit Shah and party chief JP Nadda has made multiple visits to the state. The BJP has cadres across the state and members from the TMC are switching to the party as well.

Suvendu Adhikari’s defection from TMC to the BJP might be the one that hurts the TMC the most.

Though the party has made inroads with members across the state, the focus of the BJP is narrowed to North Bengal where the saffron party is eyeing the crucial SC and ST votes in Bankura and Jangalmahal.

Bankura has 12 Assembly seats in the 294 seat West Bengal assembly. It is the same reason why BJP made inroads in the last Lok Sabha polls in 2019 capturing 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats. According to the Election Commission (EC) statistic, the vote percentage of the BJP has increased significantly to 20 percent in the Jangalmahal districts. Similarly, in the 2018 Panchayat election, the BJP increased its vote share by 27 percent in Jangalmahal districts which was once a bastion of the left as TMC suffered a massive setback at Jhargram, Purulia, and in Bankura.

As the TMC faces strong opposition from BJP, its leaders are breaking away from the party to join the saffron brigade. After Arindam Bhattacharya and Shuvendu Adhikari, former minister Rajib Banerjee has joined BJP. Adhikari’s joining the saffron fold has the potential to upset the Trinamul applecart as his family holds influence on up to 35 Assembly seats. If the defection can disbalance TMC is even half of these seats, then the magic figure of 148 will be a distant dream for Mamata’s party.

Left-Congress And AIMIM

While the contest in Bengal remains between the two stalwarts, left and Congress remains a crucial alliance. The left and Congress recently announced that their coalition will contest the elections in alliance in the state. Though the party doesn’t hope to be a leader or the majority party after the elections but can pose threat to Mamata as it will bank on the anti-BJP votes.

To add to the anti-BJP forces, AIMIM has also announced to contest the elections in the state. Since the state has one of the largest proportion of Muslims in India and the Hyderabad-based party has made its roads inwards in Bihar, it can be a potential factor in Bengal as well.

AIMIM has already started making preparations. Owaisi has met West Bengal’s young Muslim leader Abbas Siddiqui to throw up speculations of a new front ahead of the 2021 State Assembly election.

Mamata Banerjee faces a battle to ensure religious minorities don’t abandon her party for AIMIM.

Owaisi, who had confirmed that he would field candidates in Bengal after his party’s success in Bihar elections last year, is on a two-day tour of the poll-bound state. Meanwhile, AIMIM had been able to strengthen its organization at the ground level to an impressive extent since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The districts of Murshidabad, Malda, and Uttar Dinajpur will be litmus test since Owaisi will be a (minor) factor in the districts. However, TMC has maintained that Owaisi being an Urdu-speaking Muslim will not be able to garner votes among the Bengali-speaking Muslims.

The Enormous task ahead for Didi and her Trinamool Congress now to ensure that the AIMIM does not manage to convince the religious minorities in the state from abandoning her. For if even a part of that number does, the situation may become disastrous for Mamata Banerjee. Attach to the anti-incumbency factor that can plague any government after a decade in power, and the party may face a tough time

Mehvish Siddiqui is a student of political science at Jamia Millia Islamia. She writes on politics, culture, and gender. Views expressed are personal.

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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.

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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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