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Why Is India Taking Sincere Efforts To Initiate Cultural Reconstruction In Nepal?

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India and Nepal are two major South Asia countries that have shared strong cooperation at every level of their relationship. The relation between these two countries dates back to the ancient period of 300AD when the Lichhavis of India settled there for the first time.

Even in terms of Hindu Mythology, Nepal and India seemed to have traced their roots to the popular Hindu religious epic Ramayana. But, keeping aside these things, the relations between the two nations have not been positive in the recent past. The relations between the two countries have been soured for various reasons since Nepal observed a political transition from Monarchy to Democratic-Republic.

PM Oli and President Xi
India is upset with Nepal getting close to China.

There have been some areas of contention over factors like security concerns and boundary disputes which have been quite an irritant factor-like staking claim over India’s Kalapani and Lipulekh passes to the unnecessary killing of Indian civilians by the Nepalese border police, rise in extremism like the movement of Maoist insurgents into each other’s territories and most importantly a water dispute.

The bedrock of diplomatic relations — the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship — is also being repeatedly questioned by the Marxist Government in Kathmandu. Getting attracted to China’s draconian steps in the name of soft loans, which in reality is a debt trap diplomacy, has left New Delhi disappointed for quite a long time.

But despite all these suppressive tactics, Nepalese citizens still favour India because of their cultural, social, and traditional linkages resulting from the rich heritage being shared for ages. In India, we have around 7–8 million Nepalese Nationals residing in various cities and states of India, around 26.88% of Nepalese students studying in Indian Universities, and most importantly, more than 35,000 Nepalese recruits serving as regular personnel in the Indian Army, which constitutes to be the second in terms of overseas military service after the British Army.

These Nepalese recruits are deployed in India’s most vital areas, at either the LoC or LAC, and have earned fame and popularity by attaining supreme levels of sacrifice. A popular example is Havaldar Bhim Bahadur Dewan, who posthumously earned the Veer Chakra in Operation Vijay during the Kargil War in 1999, and there are many more.

Apart from all these factors, Nepal is a land of Shaktipeethas with three out of 51 shrines at Guhayeshwari, Muktinath and Janakpur, and Jyotirlingas, along with being the birthplace of Lord Buddha at Lumbini. Even a few years ago, Nepal was globally recognised as a Hindu-majority state, but it has become a secular state since the inception of the Marxist government.

Since being a secular state with its government led by the Marxists, the country has witnessed a rampant rise in forced religious conversions and many such unfavourable changes, which has reached new and quite surprising heights.

But still, the Communist Government is believed to have supported activities secretly, which is posing a threat to the long-standing heritage of the traditional and cultural legacy that has been practised since time immemorial, and the citizens of Nepal do not accept it at large.

nepal kathmandu protest
Pro-monarchy protest in Kathmandu.

This situation was observed with daily protests by the people at Kathmandu, demanding the end of the Democratic Republic and restoration of that old Monarchy. Honestly, the restoration of the old cultural harmony will help win back the lost faith amongst the people.

As Nepal is home to 80.7% Hindus and around 10.3% of Buddhist populations, constituting the majority of the state, India is not leaving a single stone unturned. This comes as a strong and active step besides China’s aiding of draconian debt traps, and India is looking to reshape and win the emotional and sentimental beliefs of the common people.

Under Prime Minister Modi’s rule, India is trying to bring the rich cultural ties back on track, which is quite an important role. After the earthquake of 2015, the Indian government contributed $50 million to restore many of the cultural and heritage projects in Nepal. With the support of the Indian reconstruction projects, six out of the 28 cultural and religious sites have been reconstructed.

Currently, India is funding a reconstruction programme of three major cultural projects in Nepal at the cost of $246 million. The projects are the Jyestha Varna Mahavihar of Lalitpur, Shulighyang Gumpa and Shramathanga Gumpa of Sindhupakchowk District, for which an MoU has been signed by the Head of Development Partnership of Reconstruction Wing of the Indian Embassy of Kathmandu and the Project Director of the National Reconstruction Authority.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is taking up efforts to provide technical assistance to restore the Jyestha Varna Mahavihar temple. The Central Level Project Implementation Unit will take up the others.

Also, other contracts were signed for the conservation of other sites such as the Seto Machindranath Mandir, the Bhoomi Pujan of which was conducted on 28 February, 2021, by the Indian Ambassador to Kathmandu, Vinay Mohan Kawtra, Sushil Gyawali, CEO of National Reconstruction Authority, and Bidya Sundar Shakya, Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City. The Dharamshala Budhanikantha Mandir and the Kumari Chan and Kumari Niwas in Kathmandu, Nepal, which was damaged due to the earthquake in 2015, are also part of the Project.

Besides these efforts, various top-level Indian officials visited Kathmandu, like the Director of R&AW, followed by the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army General MM Naravane and the Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

These visits pose a major relevance and are important from the end of the efforts India is taking up in Nepal to create an equilibrium and strengthen the relations at a bedrock level. This will protect Nepal’s rich cultural and traditional heritage and create a cultural revolution within the state that might change the country in the future.

India’s move is very tactical in nature and the cultural and traditional base of Nepal is quite strong, which cannot be suppressed by any political or diplomatic forces.

Nepal and India have had the same soul and voice for ages, which adds sense with the famous Hindi proverb “Roti-Beti ka Rishta”. The long-standing relationship and development partnership are quite unwavering, unmatched and multi-dimensional in nature. However, initiating these projects will help bring stability to the relations and restore the bedrock of strong historical and friendly linkages.

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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.

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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 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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