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What Babasaheb Ambedkar Said About Democracy Is Relevant Now More Than Ever!

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India hitherto has been a vibrant democracy, but a grave threat of extremism and tyranny of majoritarianism has put the democratic ethos of the country under dungeon. It is imperative to know what Dr B.R. Ambedkar, our founding father and his philosophy reflects on democracy.

Before understanding Ambedkar’s philosophy, it is quite crucial to understand who inspired Ambedkar. Ambedkar’s mentor, John Dewey, a professor and political philosopher at Columbia University was the postulate of his entire political philosophy and views on democracy. He said, “I owe my whole intellectual life to Prof John Dewey.” ‘Dewey’s Pragmatism’ and emphasis on state, education and empiricism, is what Ambedkar inherited.

Ambedkar and John Dewey. Photo: Forward Press

Ambedkar defines democracy in a very lucid and optimistic way. He says, “Democracy is a form and a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed.” (1)

In ‘Dewey’s Pragmatism’, the state acquires utmost importance for radical change, where social relations and changes are brought by the state. In Ambedkar’s whole life, reforms through the state become a primary ideology. Often during British rule, he would initiate political representation in the government, joining Viceroy’s Executive council, attending the second Round table conference in England and asserting for separate electorates. Scheduled Castes, for the first time, got representation in the state, making it viable for their liberation and struggle.

Voting rights and electing representative is inalienable in democracy. In 1919, Ambedkar while giving evidence before the Southborough Committee, observes that “the right of representation and the right to hold office under the state are the most important rights that make up citizenship.”(2)

Pre-independence, only 15% of the Indians had voting rights. But Constituent Assembly adopting ‘Universal Adult Franchise’, the revolutionary moment for free India, an apostle for working democracy. ‘Right to vote’ to everyone was just not a political right to the Indians but was also a kind of social right, where they could now have the choice to elect their popular representation. Social privilege and echelons of society were no more the parameters of the representation in the society.

As democracy sinks in India, making larger spaces for private players to gain effective command, social change is conspicuously static. Ambedkar equates democracy with the lives of the people. Ambedkar says, “Democracy is a mode of associated living. The roots of democracy are to be searched in social relationship, in terms of the associated life between the people who form the society.” (3)

To Ambedkar, democracy was essentially a form of society. It involves unmistakably two things. The first is an attitude of mind, an attitude of respect and equality towards one’s fellowman. The second is a social organization free from rigid social barriers. Democracy is incomplete and inconsistent with isolation and exclusiveness, resulting in the distinction between the privileged and unprivileged- privileges for a few and disabilities for the vast majority. (4)

For Ambedkar, an active state for annihilating caste and class hierarchies should be the priority. Social democracy, what he cherishes and political democracy are intertwined. It is an equal society that constitutes a healthy democracy. He says, “There must not be an oppressed and suppressed class……………. Such a thing, such a division, such an organization of society has within itself the germs of a bloody revolution and perhaps it would be impossible for the democracy to cure them.” (5)

Dr Ambedkar had immense faith in democracy that would restore the dignity of the deprived sections of the society. Albeit, the representation of the deprived one’s was crucial, the systematic working of the rule of law was also what Ambedkar was looking for. The society that he vowed for was democratic socialism, with positive affirmation and free of inequalities, unlike dictatorial communist regimes and dystopian fascism.

He believed that political democracy wouldn’t succeed without social democracy and the road to achieving it is constitutional morality. At last, every state operates not by the principles, but by the person who leverages those principles. As Ambedkar says, “Indeed, if I may say so if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile. Sir, I move.” (6)

Jai Bhim!

1 Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 17(3)
2 Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 1
3 Philosophy and Scope of Democracy: In Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Thoughts and Philosophy by Akash Baburao Lonkar.
4 Ranade,Gandhi and Jinnah by Dr BR Ambedkar
5 Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 17(3)
6 Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Life and Mission by Dhananjay K
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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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, 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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