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Opinion: India Is Democratic On Paper, But It Was Rarely Ever A Democracy In Practice

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Democracy is the flaring essence of India or at least was heretofore? Or was India always under the pretence of being a democracy? This question is probably too insolent, or too disparaging to be bought into a flowing political or even existential discourse in most free countries.

Time and again, this question has been shot at, maimed, run over, incarcerated, heckled or simply always been vilified in overt and covert ways by people, cultures and collectives.

In ceremonial terms, democracy is an apparatus for governance in which people have the authority to choose their governing legislation. Who people are and how authority is shared among them are core issues for democratic theory, development of countrymen and the making of a constitution. Some cornerstones of these issues are freedom of assembly and speech, inclusiveness, equality, membership, consent, voting, right to life, and dignity and minority rights, which by and large dictate the rule of existence for this political apparatus in various countries around the world that adhere to this political apparatus for governance.

However, particularly in India, democratic institutions and their framework have been tailored around India’s historically and culturally intrinsic state of affairs, divisions and circumstances. For instance, the annihilation of various forms of discrimination rooted in caste and religion is one that has been at the crux of democratic remedial concerns.

Other than that, reservations and safeguards for citizens belonging to culturally, religiously, socio-economically and demographically disparate classes, castes, tribes and minority religious groups are also intrinsically unique to the Indian condition of democracy. This again pertains to unique pre-dating circumstances and situations that required democratic remedies, presumably.

Representational image.

A major part and parcel of the mammoth democratic apparatus in India is the Right to Speech and Expression that constitutes the flesh and bone of the democratic apparatuses in all democratic models of governance around the world. The Right to Speech and Expression in the Indian framework of democracy had been vested as a Fundamental right to all the citizens right after the Indian Constitution came to existence and has been etched as integral to the law of the land.

However, its clarity and definition has gotten more ambiguous and blunt ever since its conception. India commemorates the Freedom of Expression each year with a heightened censor of communication and aesthetic expression, incarceration of dissenting voices, rising intolerance to deviant opinions and overall, through an annual augment in populist and Orwellian 1984 nightmares that bleed the nation saffron, day by day, voice by voice, thought by thought. Freedom of expression has been nailed to a pillory in broad perversion of conscience.

On the monumental 15th day of August last year, India commemorated 74 years of Independent home rule from British imperial precedents and tyrannical colonial imposition. However, much has changed from the five-year plans or the onset and protagonistic prognosis of democracy after the British set their foot off Indian soil, till this present standpoint of the centenary. This change can be called upon as rather imperative to legitimise freedom in the eyes of people, rather than projecting the actual dumbfounded state of affairs at the bourgeoisie helm of a few “inheritors” of the national movement.

What Should Be Done And For Whom?

No soul can gainsay to the fact that the Constitution of India is conclusively a marvel of statesmanship. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly gave birth to the marvel of a document in the form of a gospel that was adopted on the 26th of January, 1949.

On the eve of January 26, all the members in the Constituent Assembly would have been overwhelmed with joy to have drafted a path for a flourishing and a crown-stone-like Independent nation which was about to take flight.

india flag

Little did the assembly stalwarts know that their vision of a free, just, fundamentally structured and an equal India would get reduced to a glimmery chimera of impending fantasies that lay itself to rest the moment Ambedkar sat his pen and perhaps breathed its last only over the gallows of martyr revolutionaries alone.

Seventy-four years later, the country still staggers through incessant misery and desolation that cleverly garbs itself in the plain white mirage of shameless glitter and drooly First-World fantasies that mock 80% of the country which still lies and fends on the bits and bones of the past. Simultaneously, audaciously and without any stern conviction to indelibly change the abysmal status quo, we prefer to keep milking the collective benefits of doubt in the realm of reform and dissent with signboards with the clique of “Justice/ Equality” written on it.

While momentary remedy seems scrumptiously befitting, rather it’s like combing the hair of a growling froth salivating beast in order to not make it look too dangerous. Cheap theatrics of reactions alone push the marginalised further into the doom margins and the void of destitution and agony while we deafen the nation with empty slogans of India.

Further on, the rendition of an Independent India becomes, by the same token, even more bleak in the cacophony of orthodox, dogmatic, and regressive dictions of a theatrical called “the tricolor republic and the occasional shades of grey”, where the audience has been lamenting at it and at the same time, has been hooting in celebration since aeons at the many climaxes and endings lit in blinding bright lights that miraculously unfold one after another. I wonder who made us buy the tickets to it?

Let’s not throw the baby out with bathwater after all, and praise the undying tryst of our nation in search of something that is best of both the worlds and caters to the few as well to the many. However, the tricolour entity walking the tight string is in a tiff to balance both worlds on its shoulders to the other end, but for how long? Perhaps, only the person on the other side of the bare ground know.

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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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