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Opinion: Liberal Democracy In 2021: Is There Any Value To 1 Vote?

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What entails a democratic political setup in today’s world? Is it a socio-political paradigm wherein everyone has civil rights and fundamental freedoms, where everyone has an equal right to vote and self-determination? Most scholars would argue based on such pillars of democracy itself. However, if we remember the Iron Law of Oligarchy as espoused by Robert Michaels while conceptualizing the elitist theory, we’d see that his idea of how a modern-day democracy leads to a rule by a powerful minority at the top, as seems to be more relevant than ever.

The BJP’s majority in the Lok Sabha allows it to pass bills like the CAA, farm laws, etc without considering the consent of civil society.

The State And Civil Society

Hence, instead of trying to find out what entails an ideal democracy in today’s ravishingly unscrupulous times, we can merely satisfy ourselves by considering a modern-day representative, liberal democracy, and further extend this idea to understand the link shared between the State and the Civil Society. This relationship between the Civil Society and the State is an integral component of Political Sociology at large.

There exist several definitions of State and Civil Society. However, in a rather lighter context we can understand these simply as follows:

The State is the representative center of power that has authority, in essence, legitimate power over the civil society to maintain law and order, provide welfare to its people, establish political discourses, and forge cordial diplomatic relations. The State is the subjective idea for the institution of the Government. According to Max Weber, the State is also the only institution with a monopoly over the use of coercive force.

Similarly, civil society can be defined as the associational encapsulation of the people residing in a well-defined society. In other words, civil society is a society of people wherein everyone has their human rights and human duties. It comprises institutions, unions, non-governmental entities, and other such non-state actors. A civil society, however, has a thin line of difference from general society by the civil society being able to act independently of the State mechanism, based on the individual will and real will of the people. This idea has been conceptualized by most of the Social Contract theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jaques Rousseau.

Although there is little debate on the nature and extent of the powers of the State and the duties of the Civil Society, the relationship they share is quite significant in any comparative political discourse. The first idea is the control of the State on the diurnal functions of the civil society- whether the civil society can enter into transactions all by itself or does it require to construct evidence before the State. Realists argue that the civil society forms before the State, hence, the powers of the Civil Society when acting in unison establishes a democratic social order, which in theory is a precursor to liberal democracy.

Human Nature And Welfare

For instance, while it is common human nature in a Hegelian paradigm to be self-righteous, Hegel also states that it is common human nature that there may arise conflicts when such a closely-knit coalesce acts at the individual level. In this context, unless there is a conflict of interests among the members of the civil society, the State has no role to foster a legal regime to curtail such values and beliefs. Moreover, the State must also ensure that the members of the civil society are treated equitably as per their needs and contributions. This is the standard idea of welfare.

However, in today’s times, we see most States ensure such welfare policies with a rather reductionist idea of the Six Principles of Realism as espoused by Hans J. Morgenthau. This leads to an overpowering State that is insecure in itself. And, it is this insecurity that forces States to take up measures that are beyond the will of the civil society, at large.

Above all, the nature of the Civil Society is participatory while the nature of the State depends on a variety of subjective factors such as the type of governance, economic status of the nation, ability to forge diplomatic and trade-based relations globally, capacity to prevent domestic disputes, etc.

The Role Of The State And India

On a simpler note, the main role of the State is to keep the independence of the civil society in check to prevent the conflict of interest among pressure groups and interest groups in the society, whereas the role of the civil society is to hold the State accountable for its actions. In an ideal democracy, this relationship would be quite close to a zero-sum game wherein all the socio-political and socio-economic trade-offs are balanced by maintaining a status quo. But, since we understand from above, that such an ideal democracy is largely hypothetical, in a real-world democracy, this relationship largely depends on the power bestowed upon the State by the Civil Society through ways more than one.

For instance, in India, the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2019 saw the Bharatiya Janata Party-led by Narendra Modi acquire an unparalleled majority of the lower house which meant that they could ensure the passage of any legislative act as per their will, even without considering the consent of the civil society in any respect.

The adoption of the CAA/NRC legislation, abrogation of Article 377 for Kashmir, UAPA, Trans Bill, Farm Bill, are all examples of the same. However, such an act is guaranteed to create dissent and debate. Which it does but to no fruition. The State consequently uses its power to quash any such discourse that arises behind the veil of sedition or treason.

There is censorship of the media houses and yellow journalism during primetime news broadcasts. This makes the theoretical zero-sum game fall face down on flat grounds- paving the way for an electoral autocracy at the State while the common will of the civil society is deprived of any political significance whatsoever.

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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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