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Amidst Sinking Democracy And Polarised Media, One Hope Remains: Constitution Of India

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In the year 2021, we will be celebrating the 71st year since our country’s independence when the Constitution came into effect. Whenever we hear the word “Constitution”, we remember the basis on which our country was formed and in what way the country will be governed. In order to understand this statement, it is necessary to go back in time as once Mr Shashi Tharoor had said: “If you don’t know where you come from, how will you appreciate where you are going“.

Using the same analogy, how will we know the importance of our democracy or Constitution when we don’t know what led to their establishment?

It was in the year 1947 when we won independence from the British colonial rule and finally it was on us to decide the path of the country. As the lawmakers took the role of governance, it was decided that India will follow a democratic path where each citizen will have the right to lead a progressive life. This would be fulfilled by the drafting process of our Constitution which will guide the country towards progress. Eventually, it was on 26th November 1950 when the Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly. It was drafted considering the diversity of citizens with Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar as its architect.

Representational image.

Fast-Forward To 2021

At a time where still there are many countries where authoritarian dictators have come and gone, India has always continued with its democratic process despite several challenges. This has been recognized by several individuals who have held positions of political executives in countries as well as international organizations and even executives of China who have resisted the idea of a democratic system citing their population size.

Initially, many individuals, including Former British Prime-Minister Sir Winston Churchill, were not optimistic about democracy surviving the day in India. But they were proved wrong because of the conscious efforts of our political leaders.  The consciousness that the democratic system in India needs to be preserved and this was very well stated by our Late. Former Prime-Minister Hon. Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his famous speech “Sarkarein aayengi jayengi, partiyan banegi-bigdengi magar desh rehna chahiye, iss desh ka loktantra amar rehna chahiye” (New governments will be formed, but the country should remain and so should its democracy). This does not mean that there were no attempts to harm it, irrespective of which political party has been in power at the centre.

As stated earlier, the political executives had the conscience to preserve the democratic system but it is also true that politics or governance is a mixture of all sorts of people where some actually intend to develop our country and some who have vested interests. Their objectives cannot be fulfilled by following a purely democratic system hence their interests force them to violate it. This has been extensively observed in the past few years where various ways have been used to violate democratic values, especially during citizens’ protests or disagreement with the government’s decision.

Every government tries to avoid a protest like scenario but it is the way in which they deal with the situation that shows the intent of the political executive. In a democratic country, protest is the right of every citizen to display their dissatisfaction. It is the respective government’s responsibility to address the citizens’ concerns.

But in recent years, it has been observed that whenever there are protests, the political executives term the protesters as people backed by foreign powers or anti-national elements. Their biggest tool is the media with government inclinations as well as the party IT or social media team.

In the recent protests that have taken place, be it the anti-CAA protest or the one against the farm laws, it can be seen that the protesting citizens were being termed as anti-nationals by the political executives and a similar pattern was observed during the protest of farmers against the newly introduced farm laws. It was seen that when the Central Government’s narrative was on backfoot, the protesting farmers were being termed as misinformed or backed by hostile forces. With such instances, a perception might develop among citizens that the democratic system is falling apart and it is a reality. But at the same time, we should also never forget that it is our responsibility that democracy prevails and the citizens will have to make efforts to ensure it.

india youth protest
We as citizens should never forget that there will always be attempts to subdue the democratic process in order to fulfil various vested interests but still, our Constitution is in place. Representational image.

‘We, The People’ Need To Come Together

We as citizens should never forget that there will always be attempts to subdue the democratic process in order to fulfil various vested interests but still, our Constitution is in place which can be used to protect our rights. I have come across many people who say that they intend to shift abroad because they think that democracy will eventually be curtailed but I always reply that although our democracy will be attacked, we should still remember that we have our Constitution which entitles us with rights.

But for that, the citizens, as well as the individuals belonging to political echelons, need to be vigilant because when needed, even the political executive pitch in the values of democracy or press freedom. This was very well observed when TV anchor Mr Arnab Goswami was arrested in Mumbai on charges of TRP Manipulation as well as a suicide case. Here too, the political executives assumed to be close to Mr Goswami came to his support citing press freedom and democratic principles.

What I am trying to say is that even in this sensitive period, we have our constitution that can preserve our rights. The biggest example was the decision of our judiciary which has ordered a stay on the farm laws passed by the Central Government.

In addition, the judiciary had also instructed the Central Government to take the impending concerns into consideration. This proves that still there are avenues which protect our rights from getting violated and this is why we should strive to protect them. Because till the time there are such avenues, we still have the chance to raise our voices or express our opinions because this is a privilege many are not subjected to in many parts of the world. That often results in their voices or movements getting suppressed.

There are many instances where it was our Constitution which protected the citizens and even the Government had to retreat. That is the most significant feature of our country which is recognized by every citizen and this is the reason that when it comes to nation’s interests, each one of us binds together leaving aside our differences.

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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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