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Opinion: Why India Is More Of A Republic Than A Nation

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Identity and Unity in India

India is fighting with the new, more infectious and rapidly spreading strain of the Wuhan virus. On one hand, on April 16, newspapers reported on India recording a historic mark of crossing over 2 lakh cases in 24 hours. On the other hand, Chinese economy witnessed an 18% historic jump. India is witnessing an unprecedented stress on its economy and infrastructure on the domestic front, while simultaneously trying to manage the global readjustment after the coordinated stalemate move of the Russian Federation and China against the USA.

It can also be said that socialist capitalism is taking on the democratic capitalism at this point of time in the world, and India finds itself stretched between the architecture of socialist democracy and capitalist democracy, yet again. It’s a direct question on identity and hence requires a revisit of the movement that got quite intensified in the last decade with the name of “nation-building”.

Diversity And Unity

There is no harm in identifying the fact that the Mahalanobis model of development, also called the Nehruvian model, remained aloof from identifying India as a nation in its true sense. This may be a critical claim but is powered by the conscious choice of going for bureaucratic development rather than social transformation, and it says a volume. Precisely, the decision-making process remained with the elite, where they enjoyed political immunity in the repackaged state-craft. It may be claimed that there was a dearth of options before the decision-makers then, but along with that, it must be recognised that there was limitation on the part of decision-makers’ imagination and hence, the failures cannot be passed on to the paradigm.

India finds itself stretched between the architecture of socialist democracy and capitalist democracy, yet again.

The reason for calling it a failure is that India became more of a “republic” than a “democratic nation”. The recognition of this fact is important because the shadow of the same is making India run out of its time to gain the right attitude in its daily life. It is visible when India is seen trying to make space in the hard global order with soft tools. And that is because there is very less capitalisation of the country’s human capital.

It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that India does not live like a nation. Rather, it lives like a multinational nation, where the smaller nations are system-less, capital-less and in emotional marriage with a quasi-self-actualisation approach. And hence, the idea of “Unity in diversity” in philosophy turns out to be “diversity in unity” in practice. That’s exactly where the faultlines of “India as a nation” are glittering.

Common Ethnic Strings

After getting exposed to the theoretical part of the Indian polity and the practicalities of governance mechanisms at macro and micro levels, what I have observed is that India is yet to realise its strength to harp on an influential journey of global evolution. And that can happen only when we channelise the energy of most of the individuals in creating assets, services and capital. But a critical requirement for that to happen is the union of visions and targets. The diversity of unity is certainly a stumbling block there. Energies are powered by divisive ideas of tribal, lingual, casteist, regional and religious ethnicity.

In general, politicians are bashed for making religion- and caste-based manifestos, and creating representative positions with the same criteria. But from the other side of the table, it’s hard to find an alternative tool that can fetch the desire of self-determination of each individual of equal magnitude, as done by caste, and to the extent where one invokes sovereignty and chooses the government.

Vedic scholars recognise caste as an alien concept of identity because the Vedas organised identities in the Indian society on the basis of an individual’s profession, skills and values, and the most significant fact of it is the permeability of different categories. But ignoring the fine utility of caste as an identity tool in electoral politics in today’s India will be a wishful thinking. The groups that cannot be targeted through this tool are subject to the more ambiguous one, i.e. religion.

Religion And Politics

The influence of religion is not new in world politics. There is a legacy of “nations” taking birth due to religious movements. And that’s why there is a sense of threat to modern, aspirant nation-states from remote-controlled religious groups. The loyalty of a group of people to an external religious power centre, fuelled by superstitious convictions, is a threat to the sovereignty of the government of the land, and hence to the will of the people who voted. Probably, this projection is something that the Nehruvian model overlooked in the smoke of western results — packaged in the narrative of secularism and made up of hardcore religious majoritarianism.

It is a fact that nationalism of identity does not leave space for any other identity. And if there is a trace of any alternative identity, it is certainly a compromise to the idea of “nation”. The confusion created by that paradigm in the Indian context is the confusion that the Indian population silently exhibits at the global stage. We are trying to fit a circular seat in a square chair!

Pandemic And National Identity

It may appear that these issues may be addressed later, as we are amidst a pandemic. True that. But these identity-based needs ought to be recognised right now, otherwise we would be overpowered by the quest of the comfort of daily normal life and status quo. This very absence of a clear daily governance framework and structure, and the resulting invisibility of common individuals through systemic channels is what has earned us so much confusion about how to deal with the pandemic crisis.

If we want to be a modern nation, we must have no other identity other than our national identity.

Here are some of the symptoms — just like in the case of floods and tsunami, the pandemic has also been encashed by the lower bureaucracy to deepen its pockets with black and bribed money. Migrants have exclusively shown no confidence in the government when they were forced to face threat to their life due to washing off of economic opportunities at the onset of the lockdown.

When the developed nations were vaccinating themselves, India was vaccinating others, and now she herself is under deep distress. The working class is now the prime target of the virus. Why? Because there is a deep desire to be an influential power with the good will of the world, but the fundamental plot is shaky, and it chokes in pressure.

The Indian community wants its students to bring innovation, but it does not want its lads and girls to think on their own and act accordingly. There is a certain amount of respect for an established business entity and they are accepted in the community, but there is hardly any acceptance for the one still building an enterprise. I think the above examples clearly express the undercurrent of our confusion between what we are doing and what we want to achieve.

What Is To Be Fixed?

So, what needs to change? The change has to happen in the fundamentals. The web of marriages to contradictory values and actions need to be cleared out. If we want to be a modern nation, we must have no other identity other than our national identity. If we want to be a modern religious nation, we must devise ways to ensure clear and non-negotiable religious visions about relevant national goals. If we want to be a capitalist democracy, we must say it out loud and clear the path so that the same can be achieved.

Cascardi’s observation seems to be instrumental in expressing the current ethnic equation. He observes, “The modern subject is defined by its insertion into a series of separate value spheres, each of which tends to exclude or attempts to assert its priority over the rest.” At the moment, the Indian system of governance appears to be in need of a change to the extent where means are prioritised over ends.

Precisely, the rank of economic development needs to be equated with the administration of justice. It needs to create a synergy between the education system and governance — for instance, a student of Class 10 should be able to witness their village taking decisions at the Gram Sabhas rather than simply having to memorise the process for the sake of answering questions in an examination. As ends are not the means, similarly, the urge to make India a nation does not mean India is a nation. This confusion needs to be cleared out to make this republic a nation.

Note: The article was originally published here

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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)’.

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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 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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