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Are We A ‘Democracy’ If We Continue To Infringe The Liberty Of Dalits & Muslims?

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This post is a part of JaatiNahiAdhikaar, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more.

The year was 1950. On the 26th day of January, a newly independent India adopted its Constitution. A constitution that was put together through more than 2 years of arduous labour. And thus, India became a “republic”. 

The constitution entitles each citizen of this country to justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity. It provides aspiration to become a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic nation. 

Today after seven decades of becoming a republic, we must evaluate ourselves on these aspirations. And ask these very important questions.

Have we succeeded and to what extent in securing the ideals of our Constitution?  Are we on the path of becoming a nation-state as envisioned by our founding fathers? And have we shed the rudimentary, backward notions that held the citizens of our country hostage for centuries? 

Representational image.

Well, you may say we are on our way. We are an emerging India today and we shall become a New India tomorrow. And that we are economically the 5th largest country. And with an extremely charismatic leader, we stand tall among the world political leadership as well. Let me add in the large and influential diaspora, and we have the perfect recipe to become world leaders. 

All this is jolly good. But our social indicators tell a completely different story. We do not feature very well on reports such as the Global Hunger Index, World Happiness Report, Human Development Report, and the likes. Recently, we were donning the badge of the most unsafe country for women. Not long ago, the US International Religious Freedom report flagged the widespread harassment and violence against religious minorities. The latest National Crime Records Bureau report indicates an increase in the crimes against Dalits and tribal communities and Dalit-Adivasi women in particular. 

If even after 71 years the minorities in our country are being subjected to brutalities and atrocities, then can we call ourselves “democratic” or a “republic” in the true sense. 

After all these years we still conduct ourselves under the stronghold of structures of oppression such as caste, how then can we claim to be truly liberated? 

Dr Ambedkar in one of his speeches said: “Indian democracy is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil that is essentially undemocratic”. He says this based on the understanding of how deeply entrenched our caste biases are. Something we can all agree on is true even in today’s day and time. Babasaheb was surely an advocate of democracy for India. He strived to engender a political democracy at the root of which lies social and economic democracy. However, he was very well aware that democracy is bound to fail if we do not shed our caste prejudices. 

And today after 71 years of our constitution, we still fail to bring in a social structure that is based not on caste but equality, liberty, and fraternity. 

It is because we uphold this oppressive system of caste that practices such as manual scavenging continue to exist. People coming from Dalit communities are forced to dive deep into the city sewers, their women threatened to pick dirt or face violence. Their lives are lost cleaning this so-called progressive society’s gutters. 

We call ourselves sovereign even when a large population still remains enslaved to vices such as poverty, illiteracy, and more importantly caste. Ensnared in disparaging practices of manual scavenging and tacit forms of untouchability.

Sovereignty, today, has become the hegemony of the brahmins and the so-called upper-castes. 

How do we claim to be secular when temples are being built where mosques were destroyed? When our choices of food and dress and even partners are being throttled? The scholarship funds meant for minority students are trapped in scams but big money goes into building temples. And all this to pacify the intolerant majority populace. So then have we become a majoritarian democracy rather than a constitutional democracy?  

What freedom and democracy are we so proud of? The freedom that impunity of caste allows the savarnas to infringe the liberties and dignities of the Dalits-Bahujan-Adivasi and Muslim communities.

The democracy in which Muslims and Dalits are being flogged and lynched. Their lands grabbed. Their women considered easy pickings to be raped and murdered. Their sons and daughters pushed to end their lives due to caste-based oppression. 

It is time to face the realities of caste-oppressed people in our country. The so-called upper castes and brahmins must acknowledge their privilege and participate in changing the conversations around caste. Unlearn your privilege and relearn the principles of equity and social justice. And pledge to discard the undemocratic premise of caste. 

We, Dalits-Bahujans-Adivasis must stand up, speak up and raise our voices against caste and all caste-based systems. We must demand that the othering, gaslighting be stopped. We must put an end to the derogatory processes which make us feel invisible, small, and undignified. Let us break the shackles that bind our minds to centuries-old, unjustified, and appalling frameworks of stratification. Let us annihilate caste. For without annihilating caste, we can never become a truly sovereign, democratic, republic nation. 

I would like to end this article with Babasaheb’s thoughts on caste as he mentioned in his book ‘Annihilation of Caste’. 

Caste has killed the public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible. A Hindu’s public is his caste. His responsibility is only to his caste. His loyalty is restricted only to his caste. Virtue has become caste-ridden, and morality has become, caste-bound. There is no sympathy to the deserving. There is no appreciation of the meritorious. There is no charity to the needy.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Jaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writer’s Training Program. Head here to know more about the program and to apply for an upcoming batch!

This post is part of theJaati Nahi, Adhikaar Writers' Training Program, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz with National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Safai Karamchari Andolan, to demand implementation of scholarships in higher education for SC/ST students, and to end the practice of manual scavenging. Click here to find out more and apply.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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