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Right To Vote Or Right To Life? Is Election Commission Doing Right By Indians?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

On Monday, April 19, 2021, a viral picture of a massive crowd of migrant labourers at the Anand Vihar ISBT bus terminus of Delhi hit social media. This came hours after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a six-day lockdown at the national capital.

A scene at Anand Bihar Bus Depot in Delhi (Photo courtesy: Twitter/@iamsuffian)

But on the other hand, in the past one month, there have been several pictures of massive crowds at the election rallies of the poll-bound states like West Bengal. With the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic various criticism was made against the Election Commission of India for allowing such massive rallies in the poll-bound states but there was hardly any proactive measure by the Election Commission of India.

After the announcement of the election in India, the legislative assemblies of the states or the Parliament gets dismantled. The incumbent government becomes the caretaking government and the power of taking decisions mostly stay with the Election Commission of India.

Significantly in the poll-bound situation, the state governments cannot put forward any restriction on the issues related to election campaigns because this matter is absolutely under the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of India. However, the political parties of the state can put forward their suggestions to the election commission.

It is very natural that while holding massive roadshows or rallies during election campaign maintaining social distancing is a utopia. Several leaders of various political parties have openly come out and said that political rallies cannot be held by maintaining Covid norms.

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is being considered more dangerous than the first one. In a state like Delhi on average 25,000 cases of Covid positive patients are coming every day. The health infrastructure of various states is on the verge of collapsing. Several states like Maharashtra, Delhi and others have brought various restrictions like lockdown or curfew in the states.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission of India has played a very low-key role in the time of this health emergency. There is a general guideline issued by the Election Commission regarding holding poll rallies during the time of Covid. But there has been hardly any strict measures on monitoring these rallies.

Some days back the election commission announced that in West Bengal after 7 PM no election rally should take place. The number of COVID-19 cases is exponentially increasing in the state of Bengal where the election is going on in the last three phases of the election are still pending.

The situation is so bad that most of the private hospitals of Kolkata do not have vacant beds anymore. There is also a scarcity of oxygen, medicines and other medical infrastructure in West Bengal. Recently, the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking to allow the state to buy vaccines. 

Several political parties including CPM, TMC and Congress among others requested the election commission to merge the pending phases of the election. However, the BJP opposed this idea and the election commission also maintained that merging the phases will not be possible. 

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi declared that he will not hold political rallies looking into the rising Covid situation. TMC Chief Mamata Banerjee also declared that she will cut short the timing of the rallies. Eventually, the BJP also took a similar kind of decision.

While it is commendable that the political parties are showing seriousness over the situation, it is indeed the job of the election commission to take stern action in such an emergency condition. Being the key authority to monitor and conduct elections in India the election commission of India cannot go away from taking the responsibility of not being pragmatic to deal with the ongoing Covid situation at the poll-bound states.

It is bizarre that on the evening of April 21, the Election Commission of India observed that they cannot accept the suggestion of the TMC to merge the last three phases. 

There is no doubt that every citizen has the right to participate in an election in India but at the same time under the Constitution of India, every citizen has the right to life. Extraordinary times deserve extraordinary measures and that is why the Election Commission should have taken a proactive role in bringing down the rally durations or participation of people. India is going through a health emergency, therefore, every institution should be pragmatic in dealing with the situation. 

Recently, the Kolkata High Court has also come down heavily on the Election Commission and ordered to be more proactive. The High Court has also asked the state government why can’t they take any decision of restrictions during the election.

Looking into all these developments, it becomes very clear that this time, the role of the Election Commission in managing elections during Covid is indeed raising several questions.

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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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