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Opinion: The Pillars Of Indian Democracy Have Now Started To Tremble

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Democracy is not just an election, it is our daily life.

-Tsai Ing-wen

Does India Have Free Media?

Democracy- of the people, by the people, and for the people. But is it really true in the Indian context? A recent blow to the fourth pillar of democracy would suggest otherwise. The Ministry of Electronics and IT amended the Information and Technology Act, 2000. Union Law & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on February 25, announced the new guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code, which will supersede the 2011 guidelines for internet intermediaries.

Ravi Shankar talks about an alleged “double standard” as the reason for destroying media freedom.

Mr. Prasad earlier raised the concerns to issue these norms, after the Red Fort incident on January 26, 2021. “There should not be double standards. If an attack is there at Capitol Hill (US Congress), then social media supports police action. But if there is an aggressive attack at Red Fort, the symbol of India’s freedom where the Prime Minister hoists the national flag, you have double standards. This is plainly unacceptable,” Mr. Prasad commented while announcing the new rules.

The ministry proposed that from now on digital news organizations, social media platforms, and OTT streaming services will be regulated by the government and that the rules will offer an “overarching architecture” for the media companies to follow. But to think rationally should this be the reason to change the media rules? There are various other concerns, cybercrime, bullying, and whatnot but the major reason Mr. Prasad addressed was the Red Fort incident. Whatever happened on January 26, was not acceptable at all but should our ministers just focus on this issue while addressing a press release?

Mr. Prasad said that the rules are a “soft-touch oversight mechanism”, whereas Udbhav Tiwari, Public Policy Advisor at Mozilla opined, “These rules will harm end to end encryption, substantially increase surveillance, promote automated filtering and prompt a fragmentation of Internet that would harm users while failing to empower Indians”. The government might shift from “soft-touch” to “hard-touch oversight mechanism”, and we might witness the revolution, which we read about in 1984.

“One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

-George Orwell

Mr. Tiwari also stated that the “ripple effects of these provisions will have a devastating impact on freedom of expression, privacy, and security.” According to the new rules, if asked by the court or government, the social media platforms will have to disclose the identity of the content originator. This will breach end-to-end encryption protocol and thereby weaken the overall security system.

Abrogations Of Democracy

A major event that doddered the political democracy of India was the abrogation of Article 370, which ended the special status of Jammu & Kashmir in the Indian Constitution. The President of India, on August 5, 2019, promulgated the Constitution Order, 2019, which superseded the Constitution Order, 1954. Also, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019, was introduced to bifurcate the State into two separate union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. This step affected the internal politics of the country as Kashmir has always been a sensitive matter to deal with.

The government promised a new order and a path to paradise but what the residents got was the opposite. Strict restrictions were imposed on the residents of the area and they were not allowed any connectivity facilities for more than 50 days. After almost two months, the post-paid services were resumed in Kashmir after imposing security and communications lockdown. What kind of democracy is this? Even after a year of the abrogation of Article 370, a two-day curfew was imposed across the Kashmir Valley. The government claimed that this would be a significant step for the people of Kashmir but then why all the restrictions and lockdowns?

Anti CAA protest in Assam in December 2019.

The imposition of CAA and NRC is another example of the abrogation of democracy. In Assam, almost 2 million people were asked to prove their citizenship. The protesters gathered all over the country and many of them were even booked under the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act as a means of punishment for holding protests against CAA and NRC.

The protesters even claimed that the politicians were openly advocating violence against the peaceful protesters. So now we have even lost the right to peaceful protests. A similar situation is with the protesting farmers against the three farm laws.

Indian democracy has its power from the people of India but its pillars have now started to tremble. But recently the people have been outspoken about the operation and working of Indian democracy.

Our first pillar, the legislature, has been shaken with a sudden introduction of acts like CAA and Farm Laws. The second pillar of our democracy, the Executive, is endowed to implement the acts passed by the government but the executives are under the influence of the ministers and thereby don’t make rational decisions. The third pillar- the Judiciary, the judicial system of India surely has a broken leg with a delay in the judgments. Speaking of the judiciary, how can we forget about the Chief Justice of India who headed the bench in his own case of alleged sexual harassment? This is the situation of the judicial system in India. Fourth, of course, the media has now been under the ‘overarching architecture of the government.

Therefore, the above deliberation vividly depicts the loopholes of the Indian democracy and the problems that the Indians are facing currently are because of the improper functioning of the four pillars of our democratic system. So do you think with all of this happening so frequently, India is a true democracy today?

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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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