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Recent Incidents That Put A Question Mark On India’s Democracy

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The political well-being of a nation-state is reflective of the social well-being of its citizenry. Indian democracy is unique. As our country’s political leaders adopted a democratic setup at its outset as an independent nation, the whole idea of it was mocked at by political commentators across the globe. India was considered too diverse a nation and Indians too illiterate as citizens to sustain a democratic form of government.

When India, unlike other newly-decolonised South-Asian and African countries, ensured a continuation of the democratic process by surviving Jawaharlal Nehru’s death, it was not just a national victory but a victory of the democratic spirit worldwide.

On 26 January, India celebrates its 72nd Republic Day. As nationalists hyperventilate, appropriating icons of the freedom struggle to make them their own, a sombre sense of introspection clouds our desire and ability to celebrate.

Intolerance, Intellectualism and Anti-Nationals

On 5 January, 2020, masked men and women, armed with sticks and stones, went around the JNU campus, beating up students.

On 5 January last year, the campus of one of India’s most respectable institutions faced a horrifying attack by a masked mob. Reflective of the anti-intellectual sentiment accumulated in the country over the years, this attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University somewhat legitimised the hounding of opponents of the ruling party as Anti-Nationals, Urban-Naxals and the Tukde-Tukde Gang. While the police inaction that followed was disappointing, the conspiracies floated on our nationalist news channels made sure that perpetrators of the crime were not held accountable.

The observable apathy of the Indian state and media-fuelled antipathy of the Indian society towards intellectuals languishing in jails on frivolous grounds today suggests that society is increasingly turning undemocratic. The mere criticism of hyper-nationalist ideas is enough for a person to be labelled as an anti-national. This sentiment is clearly in opposition to the ideals of democracy which call for engagement among different ideas and opinions.

Religion, Rights and Riots

Articles 25 to 28 of the Indian constitution guarantee freedom of religion to all. The Indian state adopted a secular form of government, as opposed to Pakistan that was explicitly formed on religious grounds. While the task of uniting different religious denominations together was daunting in itself, nevertheless, it materialised.

The word secular was added to the Preamble of the Indian Constitution to state explicitly that India does not subscribe to a state religion. This amendment to the constitution was held valid in the SR Bommai vs Union of India case.

The current state of India, however, is worrying. Communalism has seeped deep into Indian society. The ease with which the ideas of a Hindu-Rashtra are expressed and people lynched in the name of religion shows how communal hysteria has engulfed the masses.

On February 23, riots broke out in Northeast Delhi between Anti-CAA and pro-CAA protestors.

The North East Delhi riots were only a manifestation of the communal agenda that runs on news channels “Prime Time” every night. The passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act only opened what had been closeted for a long time; the idea of relegating people belonging to a particular community to secondary citizenship was brought to the mainstream.

As the de-facto head of the Indian state laid the foundation stone for the Ram temple’s construction, it must have invited chuckles from the secular spirit of the Indian state. Further, the passing of ordinances against religious conversion by many Indian states has facilitated state interference in personal matters of religion, much against the ideas of personal choice and individual liberty. These bogus ideas of Love-Jihad are eaten up by people who are on a daily dose of fake news and misinformation, spread through campaigns carefully run by the power-holding bigwigs.

As farmers who gathered to protest against the Farm laws are bracketed as Khalistanis, the country’s communal colours have come out in the open. The arrest of Munawar Faruqui on frivolous grounds was just another instance of the blatant misuse of power. We are only left to question, where is Indian democracy?

Caste, Class and Women

The coronavirus pandemic first showed its presence in India towards the end of January. The management of the crisis aside, the pandemic brought a humanitarian crisis that revealed the fault lines in Indian society.

With the hurriedly imposed lockdown came a migrant crisis to the fore that saw people from the bottom of the class pyramid being ignored by the state. As most of these people lost their livelihoods, many lost their lives too. As billionaires continued to mint money and were extended relief benefits by the state, the working hands were left to fend for themselves.

With the Hathras case, the caste divide in India was once again brought to the limelight. As the victim’s body was burnt in the pitch dark of night by the police, the incident’s nerve-wracking images made us question the social privilege enjoyed by a selected few at the top of the caste and class pyramid.

In casual state-supported patriarchy, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh reminded us that patriarchy is still alive and kicking with victim-blaming measures to control (crimes against) women.

As we enter another year of India’s existence as a republic, let us remind ourselves that democracy shows in a country’s institutions when it shows in its society. By relying on our past’s greatness, we cannot shy away from the persisting problems in our society today. Having disturbed the democratic temperament of our society, we are walking a tightrope between aristocracy and mobocracy.

Like one gentleman recently commented, does India have “too much of democracy”? As New Delhi marks the Republic Day with another parade, let us understand the importance of India’s cosmopolitan ethos.

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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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