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Opinion: What Made India An ‘Electoral Autocracy’?

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It is very perilous for any democratic country to change the meaning of freedom in a negative way but what is even more fatal is when the people of the country are not aware of the changing ways of freedom. It is the responsibility of the media to inform the citizens, but I feel that the media has been controlled by the government, due to which the information has been automatically limited.

Recently, a non-governmental organization ‘Freedom House’ in the US, released a report which said that India is no longer a free country but a “partly free” country. The report was made on the basis of several criteria, including standards such as press freedom, judicial freedom, civil liberties, political rights, and so on. The Freedom House report reveals India’s picture that India’s media and other independent organizations are supposedly unable to do under the pressure of the Modi government.

This report was made on the basis of incidents that happened in 2020, which shows to me that even during the Coronavirus era, the Modi government, along with the Supreme Court, took several decisions in an ‘autocratic’ manner and conspired to suppress opposition voices in the country.

social media protests
Representational image.

In recent years, there has been an unlimited increase in cases like treason and sedition in the country, such charges have been levied on a large number of people. A repeated pattern can be seen in most cases.

According to a report by the Varieties of Democracies (V-Dem) Institute, 7,000 people have been charged with treason since the BJP came to power, most of whom are its critics. There are many students and activists who are facing the case of UAPA, including Sharjil Imam, Umar Khalid, Varvara Rao, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson.

The farmers of the country have also been arrested under the UAPA after the Red Fort incident of 26 January, which can be clearly said that the government is not only hiding its failure but also crushing the voices standing in the protests.

Sweden’s Varieties of Democracies (V-Dem) Institute has expressed concern over the state of democracy in India, saying that democracy has weakened there. The 2021 report states that ‘electoral totalitarianism‘ is emerging in India, it is equal to Pakistan in terms of sentencing and worse than Nepal and Bangladesh.

The report talks about a particular pattern, according to the report, first, the media is controlled and the academic world is drawn. Along with this, in order to increase polarization, political opponents are abused and propagated using governmental means. After all this, the foundation of democracy – elections and institutions are hurt.

According to V-Dem, India is a country with electoral autocracy, this conclusion vindicates Bertrand Russell’s statement in which he said that,” Democracy; the fools have a right to vote. Dictatorship; the fools have a right to rule.”

A common man subscribes to newspapers and news channels for information from his limited income, but they are unaware that they are being polarized.

People say that robots are slowly replacing humans due to technology, but they do not know that the media in India is establishing humans as robots which are driven by specific ideology or group. The propaganda of hatred is being spread indirectly through newspapers and news channels, the common man is being implicated in it.

Most newspapers in India, which have access to the common man, only show news of particular men, but take money from the common man, who thinks ten times even before taking a toy for children. It is a different matter that he does not think even once while giving the subscription payment because he feels that this medium is providing him news and information.

I feel that the Indian government’s actions had already led to India being ranked 142 in the Global Press Freedom Index, but now the Modi government is also moving towards regulating digital media and its content. The Modi government has also passed guidelines for digital media content, which is set to have a negative impact on alternative media.

The biggest example of pressing down on the voices of the alternative media came when Mandeep Poonia and Dharmendra Singh, journalists covering the farmers’ protest, were arrested by the police (which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs).  In January 2021, cases including UAPA and sedition were filed against 16 journalists. With five arrests in January, this year has already witnessed the highest number of arrests of journalists since 1992 in India, according to the CPJ.

According to The Hindu, India’s score of 71 on the citizens’ political rights and civil liberties indicator was relatively high. However, the country’s press freedom index score of 45.33 was relatively low. In India, I strongly feel that the freedom of journalists seems to be more curtailed than the freedom of citizens.

To me, it feels like the news channels are under orders to reduce the coverage of the farmers’ protest till the Bengal elections. It can be said that the journalist has become a puppet who dances at the behest of the government. There is no doubt that practising journalism in India is a risky job, and the government has done a long process of ruining the democratic structure by misusing the judiciary and the media.

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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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