Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Panchayat undemocracy

In an unequal society, exclusions from the democratic process based on social indicators reflect elitist bias.

Written by Brinda Karat | Published:September 30, 2015 12:15 am

According to the perverted logic of these governments, it is perfectly acceptable to get elected by taking the votes of those who are educationally deprived, but when it is their right to contest elections in their own villages and blocks, they are deemed too ignorant.

Rules to sanction official snooping on WhatsApp, a state government circular that redefines sedition to prevent criticism of the administration, another state government’s defence of an extremist Hindutva organisation implicated in the murder of communist leader Govind Pansare and other progressive rationalists, meat bans in three states, a call to reconsider the issue of reservations — it would appear that a competition is on within the Sangh Parivar in achhe-din India on how best to reshape democracy, as ordained by the wise men in Nagpur.

Authoritarian moves by the right also have a clear elitist bias. It includes diluting the rights of the poor, minorities, oppressed castes and women. Recently, the BJP-led governments in Rajasthan and Haryana have made precisely such moves. The two governments have adopted the most outrageous amendments to their respective state panchayat acts in spite of the judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that stayed the Haryana proposal.

According to these amendments, no one can contest elections for the post of sarpanch or member of the panchayat samiti or zilla parishad if they have not passed Class X. For women and Scheduled Castes, the literacy requirement is middle school. Going by Census 2011, if this is implemented in Haryana, it will mean more than half the population, 56.8 per cent, will be disqualified on the first count, and a shocking 79.76 per cent made ineligible because of the second condition. In Rajasthan, the exclusions are more extensive. Minimum literacy qualifications will disproportionately hit poorer sections.

An argument is advanced that such conditions will encourage people to go to school. This is rubbing salt in deep wounds. Was it Dalits who did not want knowledge when molten lead was poured in their ears? Was it women who chose to be enslaved in their homes by upper-caste patriarchal norms? The burden of historical injustice lies heavy in today’s India precisely because we have not only failed to eliminate injustices but have continued discriminatory practices, reflected in the statistics above. Without free education and the full implementation of the Right to Education Act, amendments such as these are nothing but punishing the poor for their poverty. It also means poor women, who have been denied education, will be excluded from the 50 per cent reservations meant for all women.

According to the perverted logic of these governments, it is perfectly acceptable to get elected by taking the votes of those who are educationally deprived, but when it is their right to contest elections in their own villages and blocks, they are deemed too ignorant. Even more bizarre, these very people who are ineligible to fight panchayat elections are eligible to fight assembly and parliamentary elections. The blatant elitist arrogance, that only those with educational qualifications can serve the people and fulfil their duties as elected representatives, comes at a time when corruption scandals of the rich and famous and highly qualified, including in Rajasthan, have brought shame to India. But the assault does not stop there.

It is common knowledge that farmers, particularly farmers with land under five acres, are caught in a terrible crisis of spiralling debt, driven not least by the increasing cost of farm inputs, while price support for crops remains abysmally low. The need is for a comprehensive package and sustained government intervention, including debt relief, to contain what is clearly an increasing trend in farmer suicides. Instead, these two governments have adopted amendments that disqualify a farmer from contesting if there are pending loan arrears to any banking institution, or if electricity bills are unpaid. By this amendment, only rich farmers or landlords can contest panchayat elections. Yet another condition is the need to have a fully functional toilet, at a time when it is calculated that over one-fourth of households do not have such a facility.

It means that a fundamental democratic right is being subordinated to the implementation of government policy, such as recovery of loans or building toilets. Earlier, some governments had adopted the two-child norm as a condition for contesting elections. It was later withdrawn in some states. In an economically and socially unequal society, exclusion from the democratic process on the basis of social indicators is tampering with the basic structure of the Constitution.

In Rajasthan, the panchayat elections that disqualified as candidates more than half of the population have already been held. If the disqualification had not been in operation, the results, which favoured the ruling party, may also have been different. In Haryana, the elections have been stayed by the Supreme Court, which is at present hearing a petition moved by three women, presently elected members, who will be disqualified as candidates if the amendments are upheld.

For Indian democracy, the implications of such amendments are ominous signs of a takeover of even panchayat institutions by those who have money. Panchayats have an important role to play in critical areas like village plans for development and consent for projects requiring land acquisition. If panchayats are packed with people who are better-off, it will severely impact the decision-making process. It is worth recalling that it was the unlettered Kondh tribal communities of Odisha, and their elected panchayat representatives and gram sabhas, who refused to give consent for a project to one of the most powerful mining companies.

We have seen the way corporations and their representatives are taking over Parliament and state assemblies. The amendments to the panchayat act will facilitate such a takeover in rural areas too. It will be just a matter of time before other BJP-ruled states introduce such anti-democratic measures to subvert panchayat institutions.

A century ago, in many countries, electoral franchise was limited to an exclusive section of male property owners. Citizens’ movements forced a reversal and introduced the concept of universal suffrage, which combines the universal right to vote with the universal right to contest elections. Independent India accepted this basic democratic norm. It is sought to be reversed today.

The writer is a member of the CPM politburo.

Source: indianexpress

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

National Health Profile highlights poor doctor-patient ratio

NEW DELHI, September 22, 2015 | Updated: September 22, 2015 23:34 IST

Rukmini S.

‘India spends less of its GDP on health than some of the world’s poorest countries’

Every government hospital serves an estimated 61,000 people in India, with one bed for every 1833 people, new official data shows. In undivided Andhra Pradesh, every government hospital serves over 3 lakh patients while in Bihar, there is only one bed for every 8800 people.

Union Minister for Health J.P. Nadda released the National Health Profile 2015 prepared by the Central Bureau for Health Intelligence (CBHI) on Tuesday along with officials of the Ministry, the Directorate General of Health Services and the CBHI.

Every government allopathic doctor serves a population of over 11,000 people, with Bihar and Maharashtra having the worst ratios. The number of qualified allopathic doctors registered with medical councils fell in 2014 to 16,000, or less than half the previous year’s number; the data was however provisional, CBHI officials said. India now has cumulatively 9.4 lakh allopathic doctors, 1.54 lakh dental surgeons, and 7.37 lakh AYUSH doctors of whom more than half are Ayurvedic doctors. India’s 400 medical colleges admit an estimated 47,000 students annually.

The Centre’s share of total public expenditure on health has fallen over the last two years, and India spends less of its GDP on health than some of the world’s poorest countries. Among all States, undivided Andhra Pradesh had the highest public expenditure on health in 2012-13. Goa and the north-eastern States spent the most on health per capita while Bihar and Jharkhand spent the least.

Out-of-pocket private expenditure on health has risen steadily over the years, with the cost of medicines, followed by that of hospitalisation accounting for the largest share of the household expenditure. Absolute spending, as well as its share in total non-food expenditure, rises with income levels. Kerala spends the most privately on health.

Communicable diseases

Deaths from most communicable diseases have been falling steadily in India. Despite recording over 10 lakh cases, deaths from malaria are officially down to just over 500 annually; Odisha accounted for over one in three cases of malaria in 2014. The number of recorded chikungunya cases has fallen since a 2010 outbreak, but Maharashtra accounts for nearly half of all cases. Just over 40,000 cases of dengue were officially reported in 2014 and 131 deaths. While the number of cases of Acute Diarrhoeal Disease has risen every year to 1.16 crore in 2014, mortality from the disease has been steadily declining.

However, 2014 saw a sharp spike in cases and deaths due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, a disease concentrated in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, and West Bengal. Japanese Encephalitis, concentrated in Assam and Uttar Pradesh also rose last year. Pulmonary tuberculosis remains the biggest communicable disease killer in India, accounting for over 63,000 deaths in 2014. Since disease data is largely reported from government health facilities only, it is likely to be heavily underestimated, CBHI officials said.

Non-communicable diseases are on the rise with cardiovascular diseases according for a quarter of deaths from non-communicable diseases and cancer accounting for six per cent.

Source: the hindu

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

A new cosy arrangement

September 13, 2015

Nistula Hebbar

the hindu

File photo shows RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat, Mr. Gadkari and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Vrindavan.

The rise in comfort levels in the relations between the RSS and the Modi government at the Centre is an important change from the previous, slightly fraught relationship between the Sangh and the Vajpayee government.

The three day Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Samanvay Baithak or co-ordination meeting held in Delhi between September 3 and 5 was important in both form and content in informing the country of the structure of organisations which now greatly influence its government. The RSS ended the meet with a ringing endorsement of the government, and government ministers were volubly unapologetic at having presented themselves at the meet for a seeming “performance appraisal.”

It was a performance that, in the words of professor Walter Anderson, co-author of the seminal work on the RSS, The Brotherhood in Saffron, sought to establish not just the commonality of policy goals, but “signalling that the RSS aims to speak out more openly on policy issues of importance, rather than just being a mediator of differences and a supplier of workers, and that the Modi government is comfortable with it doing so.”

This comfort between the RSS and the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre is an important change from the previous, slightly fraught relationship between the Sangh (RSS) and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. It is a sign of increasing confidence in the RSS, with growing numbers of enrolment and mainstream support but also owes a lot to a conscious effort by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to learn from the lessons of the past.

This is NDA 2.0

What are the contours of this new relationship? The first clue that most people got about this new communicative exchange was in September 2014, when Prime Minister Modi was informed, during a meeting at his residence 7 Race Course Road, that the RSS would be replacing Suresh Soni with RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal as the office bearer responsible for co-ordinating affairs between the RSS and the BJP. Mr. Gopal, from Mathura, is of a cohort group closer to the age of the current leadership in the party and shares Mr. Bhagwat’s rather pragmatic approach to things. The official announcement of this change was made in October that year, a full month’s grace period given to the party to adjust to it.

Indeed, the machinery of the relationship in its rivets has taken into account the likes and preferences of Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. “As soon as the elections were over, people more in tune with the new dispensation, both in age and inclination, like Ram Madhav, Shiv Prakash and Sunil Bansal (in the Uttar Pradesh unit) were seconded to the party,” said a senior BJP office bearer. When the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ agitation derailed an entire Parliament session, a key RSS office bearer heading the programme was asked to stand down, after Prime Minister Modi and Mr. Bhagwat got talking.

the hindu

"For the government, it has been 15 months of filial endorsement by the RSS." Photo: AP

In 2008, the RSS had decided to crystallise some of its ideological preoccupations into viable policy documents and work, and had set up a string of think tanks such as the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) and the India Foundation. In 2014, the two think tanks provided a rich hunting ground for appointment of ministers (Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, and Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha are from the India Foundation) and also important officials (National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Nripendra Misra were associated with the VIF). This created seamlessness in policy thinking, which was lacking earlier.

According to professor Pralay Kanungo, author of the well-regarded book, RSS’ Tryst with Politics: From Hedgewar to Sudarshan, the generational change in the BJP and the RSS cannot be over emphasised in explaining the new cosy arrangement. “During the Vajpayee premiership, he and L. K. Advani were like colossus on the Sangh stage, outflanking the sarsanghchalak K. S. Sudarshan. There was, in my opinion, a confidence deficit in the Sangh due to this, which manifested itself in a sharper tussle for control and dominance,” he said. “The new lot who are involved in mediating affairs — Krishna Gopal, Ram Madhav and Union Minister for Roads and Highways Nitin Gadkari are of a different ilk. Mostly there is a realisation that the mandate of 282 seats cannot be frittered away,” he adds.

The new rivets

BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who handles many sensitive assignments for the party, pooh poohs suggestions that things were really bad between the RSS and the BJP in the Vajpayee era, but concedes that communication is better now.

“It’s not as if there was no ideological proximity then. There were many members of the NDA government then who were very close to the organisation. In 2002, in fact, we had a similar exercise between the RSS and the NDA government and then Prime Minister Vajpayeeji had also attended, albeit not with such a brouhaha being made about it,” he said. He added, however, that “mechanisms for co-ordination are better now, both formally and informally.”

An example of the formal mechanism is the recently held meet between education and culture ministers of BJP-ruled States, where the party’s office bearers and Union Ministers of those departments were present. “We prepared a lot for the meeting and we intend to meet at least twice a year,” said Union Minister for Culture Mahesh Sharma. The informal mechanism was at work on the issue of One Rank One Pension (OROP) where a gentle nudge from RSS second in command Suresh “Bhaiyyaji” Joshi sealed matters and within 48 hours an acceptable draft of the OROP settlement was announced to the country.

A senior BJP member who was part of the Vajpayee government and the current one says that the change is visible. “If you look at what RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabele said after the baithak on the Ram Temple issue—that they would not hand over a time table to the government on this, despite efforts by VHP leader Praveen Togadia—and contrast it with Dattopant Thengdi of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) offering dharna against the Vajpayee government on economic reforms, the picture will be clear.”

Individual ministers, he says, are encouraged to meet with Sangh affiliate organisations, on their issues. For example, the SJM met with environment minister Prakash Javadekar on field trials for Genetically Modified (GM) crops. The SJM was successful in getting the trials stopped despite recommendations to the contrary by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), advising the ministry. On issues relating to the economy and agriculture, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari frequently mediates between the Sangh affiliates and the government.

The GM crops victory, in fact, was balanced by the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) pulling out of the nationwide trade unions strike on September 2. “Therefore there is give and take, and the Sangh retains its role as the final arbitrator in any given dispute,” he adds.

Fraying accord

When the government was first sworn in, there was widespread talk of how the RSS has given it a free pass for at least a year to get things into shape. It has been 15 months of filial endorsement by the RSS. And yet, there are issues, analysts feel, the resolution of which will test the mettle of the new Pax Bhagwat.

Many say that clashes within the Parivar could emerge on three issues. The first is on the question of Indianisation of science and research. The RSS is promoting it but the government may be eager to retain the credibility of India abroad. The second is the economy, where the Swadeshi agenda may contradict ‘Make in India’, the Modi government’s manufacturing outreach, and finally, the question of appointments to institutions.

The government will have to assess how far it can go in getting appointments done without affecting institutions. Prof. Kanungo, in fact, says that the question of appointments has the most potential in creating rifts between various wings of the Sangh and the government. The fire over the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the head of the Film and Television Institute of India hasn’t been doused yet.

Heads of various educational institutions including Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University are yet to be appointed.

A senior BJP leader from Gujarat, who has observed Prime Minister Modi since his days as Chief Minister, says that more than anything, the sidelining of people like Mr. Togadia from the mainstream of Sangh affairs to fringe will be a hidden danger. “On the question of the Ram Temple and even on the religious census data, Togadia was asked to pipe down and a more middle path was to be taken. After being reduced to the fringe in Modi’s Gujarat, he is risking that in Modi’s India. The phenomenon of Hardik Patel is a sign of this restlessness of those marginalised to the fringes of the discourse,” he said.

“No government is in a position to tolerate political violence. Sangh affiliates who may have to accommodate government concerns on key issues may revolt. Ultimately that will be the true test of this new found arrangement,” he said.

Source: thehindu

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Dear BJP, I’m a Hindu and I reject Hindutva

Don’t teach me about my own religion. Who I should worship. How I should dress or what I should eat.

POLITICS |  Long-form | 12-09-2015

Suchitra Krishnamoorthi @suchitrak

I am like most other urban Indians. Apolitical. Or non political. A novice. An outsider. But a well wisher. Because I love my India.

And like most other urban Indians, other than election time, when we dutifully go and cast our votes silently, politics has no impact on our lives. Yes we gasp over scams and purported stories, but just as quickly dust the sand off our feet and move on. Politics never enters our homes - certainly not our bedrooms and kitchens. Yes we cursed much when Shiv Sena changed our beloved Bombay’s name to Mumbai when they came to power in 1995, but quickly saw the rationale behind the move. Desi euphoria and jingoism bloomed. With the luxury of life digested with a silver spoon, it was easy to see the virtue behind a Shivaji statue.

Even when vehicles were set ablaze in Marathi Manoos prejudice and Biharis asked to return to their home state, we ignored them with the hope that sense would soon prevail. It didn’t. Sadly. Hindutva ideology had started to seep in. To even the most neutral amongst us, it was unacceptable.

Never mind the disappointment. Manmohan Singh is a brilliant economist and will herald a new India we were told. After all as India’s finance minister in the 90’s, he had introduced to us the concept of India shining. But his failure as prime minister that he was ushered into in 2004 was soon apparent - what was the power Sonia Gandhi wielded over him? OMG and why? What on earth for? Why did he look like a deer trapped under the headlights?

Sycophancy was the giant ogre in this Congress government - everybody was getting swallowed and the whole country was dying. An Italian accent became the most despised sound in the Indian psyche - even senior leaders like Digvijaya Singh had fallen into the Gandhi scion brainwash. Rahul Gandhi? Really? But Pappu can’t dance saala. Oh and not to forget that Vadra boy. What did Priyanka see in him ya? Looks like a total goonda and how did his whole family die so mysteriously ya? OMG? What? Forbes has listed Sonia Gandhi as the third richest woman in the world? Baapre! And she still wears those cheap cotton sarees?  What an actress ya. Better than Shabana Azmi!

Uff India and its Bollywood fixation. Anyway to cut a long story short, when it was time to re-elect a new government in 2014, I, like most other urban Indians reeling under the corruption of dynastic politics and a failed Congress government, was filled with hope. Hope for a new India. Hope for change. Hope that things will finally get  better.

Arvind Kejriwal and his Gandhi delusion (remember how he went on a fast every time and for anything and tried to project that he is a Mahatma Gandhi reincarnate while trying to hide the fact that he is CIA (Ford Foundation) funded? Of course, his common man phonyism gave away his own opportunistic game way too soon and he fell by the wayside. Phew! He was India’s first anti-corruption hope dashed. Who could we turn to?


Narendra Modi-led BJP seemed like the only hope in April-May 2014. Were we wrong to expect?

India was desperate. We needed a leader. Badly. We needed progress. We needed a semblance of honesty. We desperately needed hope again. It came in the form of Narendra Modi. Brilliantly packaged. Karmachari. Brahmachari. Sanskaari.

So well was the Gujarat model marketed that Modi became the one man capable of delivering us – India – into the future. A future built on the foundation of tradition. Indian tradition. As anti-Italian as one could get.

The fact that the only other prior perception the public had of BJP as a party was its Karnataka ministers – CC Patil and Laxman Savadi watching porn in Assembly in 2012, or the ban on women wearing jeans in the state and being beaten for consuming alcohol,  but all that was soon obliterated by Modi’s own five-star charisma and his PR machinery. If anybody deserves an Oscar for PR, it is indeed Sri Narendra Modi’s team.

So, swayed by a desperate hope as we were, longing pleading and begging for a better India as we were, I, like every other urban Indian, even went out on a limb urging my friends and family to vote for Narendra Modi. Stated on social media that Narendra Modi’s greatest ally was Rahul Gandhi. And I wasn’t wrong.

The BJP government won because we Indians had become so soooo Gandhi family intolerant - any alternative seemed like manna from heaven in comparison.

Had the Congress propped some other leader of calibre other than the gora chitta Rahul Gandhi or his Maa, the votes would have been divided. But Rahul sealed it. BJP owes him a lot for their victory.

But what have they done with their victory? It’s been disappointing to say the least. Not just disappointing. Annoying. Frightening. Unacceptable. Totally. Totally, totally unacceptable. Despicable really.

I remember whilst urging my friends to vote for Narendra Modi, a Muslim friend had joked that if BJP comes to power he will have to get on a boat to Karachi. So real loomed the spectre of the Godhra riots in everyone’s head, and so real the feeling of Muslim persecution. Was he wrong?

At that point I had reprimanded my Muslim friend that his fear rose from the fact that his allegiance was with the Islamic state in the first place; so he shouldn’t use the minority card to gain undeserved rights and privileges. If Karachi is emotionally a boatride away, surely it’s where he belonged? "You don’t understand SK,” he sighed. In retrospect I think he might have been right.

Reservation and minority status for the Muslims in my view was nothing but vote bank politics. The Congress party policy of divide and rule. But hey... I admit, I don’t really understand everything. Like I said I’m a novice. But hey.. I’m also an artist enough to understand that even a novice is entitled to her worldview and I’m common enough to understand that I express what a large number of people feel but are unable to elucidate. So, here goes.

It’s been barely over a year of the BJP government and just how disappointed are we? God OMG - more than disappointed, I believe. We are shocked and hoping it’s still all a mistake. Did we ever imagine we are voting for a despotic fascist regime? What exactly is going on? WTF!

*Beef Ban* – Dear BJP! Can u please explain what wrong did the chicken or the goat do that they deserve to be killed and not the cow? Yes, yes, Congress imposed it before you, but how come they didn’t bombard it on us as much as you? Why am I suddenly feeling embarrassed about being a Hindu?

*Meat Ban* – Yes, you want revenge and oneupmanship on your Congress counterparts and distract us from the fact that you are failing completely in governance. Farmer suicides, rape, children dying by falling into potholes, Gajendra Chauhan ... need I say more!


Meat ban looks like a cheap shot at making us forget about the governance failure on all counts.

Did you say sedition charges were to be slapped against those who dare to speak up!!! I mean really? I dare you, seriously.

And what was that drivel about eliminating western culture and reclaiming Indian culture?

What exactly do you mean by that dear education minister (HRD), Smriti Irani, you who is not even sure of what education degree you have acquired yourself or in what language? For someone, who doesn’t herself know if she is a BA by correspondence or a BCom by imagination, is not likely to know the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva, is she now?

Hinduism is a philosophy. The doctrine of which allows me the choice of acceptance or rejection. Ram or Ganpati or even atheism. Upanishads or Gita or tantra or mantra. Hindutva, on the other hand, is militant imposition of wrongly interpreted tenets of Hinduism. Hindutva is a political tool - nothing to do with the religion itself.

I’m not showing off or being patronising, I promise you. My grandfather and my ancestors were temple priests - my father still recites the Vedas verbatim. My sister recites them without having ever studied them - it is so in my bloodline. That’s how Hindu my lineage is.

So do not teach me about my own religion, dear BJP. Don’t tell me how I should think. Who I should worship. How I should dress or what I should eat.

I am a Hindu - by definition purer and a higher form than you can ever b e- and I reject your Hindutva. Just as Islam must reject the Taliban or Isis.

To be a Hindu is to be tolerant. It’s why we have survived as a race in spite of invasion, conversion and unimaginable attempted destruction. If you do not understand that tolerance or exercise that compassion so intrinsic to our religion, you do not deserve to call yourself Hindu. Or a leader of a democratic nation.

So dear BJP. I reject your Hindutva.  I reject your fascism. I reject your despotism.

Dare me if you will. For I speak for all of India.

Mind it! :-)

Source: dailyo

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Menstruation Innovation: Lessons from India

By Jennifer Weiss-Wolf September 1, 2015 3:20 pm

The New York Times
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, right, with Annie Lascoe and Arunachalam Muruganantham at his factory in Coimbatore, India.Credit

In recent months, a wave of period-positivity has captured headlines – from Kiran Gandhi’s bold free-bleeding run of the London Marathon, to the successful repeal of Canada’s national “tampon tax.” Donald Trump catapulted menstruation smack into the middle of  the Republican presidential debate when he ridiculed Megyn Kelly’s inquiry about his prior sexist rants, telling CNN she had “blood coming out of her wherever.”

This spike in media attention has helped promote a dialogue about eradicating the stigma around menstruation in the United States, as well as addressing the financial burden it often poses. Visible progress has ensued, including: introduction of legislation to eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene products in Ohio and New York, two of the 40 states that impose it; convening of New York City’s first-ever roundtable on menstrual health, with a forthcoming pilot project in the public schools; a proliferation of creative donation and “buy one-give one” initiatives; and an array of savvy hashtag campaigns, including #TheHomelessPeriod and #JustATampon (both gone viral after starting in the U.K.).

In the quest to address issues of menstrual health and hygiene, however, most of the ingenuity and innovation has been spearheaded in the developing world, where millions can’t access sanitary products, often resorting to dirt, leaves and bark to absorb menstrual blood. Lack of plumbing and access to toilets further exacerbate the problem, and superstition and religious tradition leave countless women isolated and ashamed. In fact, India — where only 12 percent of women in India use sanitary products — offers many lessons that can be adapted here in the United States.

This summer I had the opportunity to join Annie Lascoe, founder of Conscious., an organic tampon business that will partner with Los Angeles-based community organizations and shelters to help low-income and homeless women meet menstrual needs, on a trip to India. We went directly to the source: Arunachalam Muruganantham, the creator of a menstrual micro-enterprise model that is nothing short of revolutionary. A school dropout from a poor family in southern India, Muruganantham first became aware of the issue in 1998; newly married, he was shocked to witness his wife’s struggle to manage (and hide) her monthly bleeding. At great personal cost – financial and social – he dedicated himself to inventing a machine to make low-cost sanitary pads out of pulverized wood fiber. Today he supplies machines to more than 400 production sites serving 1,300 villages in the poorest and most under-developed regions of India. All are managed and staffed by women, who make and sell the pads at minimal cost (approximately 2.5 rupees per pad, mere pennies in U.S. currency).

Muruganantham’s work has been celebrated by world leaders and philanthropists, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and last year he was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

The New York Times
Amitaben, owner of a Sakhi production site based in Vadodara, India.Credit Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

Appreciating the vast and desperate need for sanitary products, Muruganantham is refreshingly open to allowing others to build on his model. One such innovator is Swati Bedekar, a former science and math teacher in the western state of Gujarat. After observing that girls missed school several days every month due to menstruation, Bedeker sought to help. She started with Muruganantham’s machines – but went on to simplify the production process, and also created a slimmer, more modern pad with “wings,” beloved by Indian women who adore the American touch. Shes since launched 40 production sites, run by women who are paid per pad they produce – which are sold in packages of ten for 20 rupees (around 35 cents) under the name “Sakhi” (Hindi for “generous). The workers also receive training in menstruation education – which they impart to women and girls, men and boys alike – as well as in basic financial management.

Bedekar’s husband, Shyam, a textile engineer and farmer, invented a special incinerator to dispose of the pads. Made from terracotta or cement and resembling a flower pot, the incinerator is brilliant in its simplicity: Because it doesn’t require electricity, it can be operated discreetly, burning the used pads and turning them into ash without spreading smoke and eliminating odor. Other benefits: production of the incinerators has become a source of livelihood for local potters; and the ash that is produced, when mixed with soil, is beneficial to locally grown plants.

The New York Times
One of Aakar Innovations’ production sites, based in the Dharavi slum of Mumbai.Credit Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

Aakar Innovations, a Mumbai- and Delhi-based hybrid social enterprise founded by Jaydeep Mandal, employs a similar model – and has created pads that are 100 percent compostable and biodegradable, meeting a higher environmental standard than much of what is on the commercial market. Aakar’s 40 women-run and women-staffed production sites are often established in partnership with local NGOs, which provide a full array of social and educational services. The NGO partnership also enables women to be paid a regular, reliable stipend, rather than on a per pad basis. Each site employs 15 to 30 women who produce 1,600 to 2,000 pads per day, enough to meet the needs of 5,000 women each month. Aakar is being recognized by the United Nations next month for its socially responsible and sustainable programs that empower women.

The work happening in India and elsewhere in the developing world provides lessons for us here at home:

Collaboration: we must aspire to be as forward-thinking and generous as Muruganantham in sharing a winning model and letting others improve upon it.

Education: we must be as holistic as all three of these innovators, linking dialogue and information to any product, whether purchased or donated.

Ownership: we must think about charity not just as a way to provide for those in need, but also to enable them to participate and take the reins of their own destiny.

The slew of period-focused news spiraling the Internet – what I’ve come to refer to as 2015’s Menstruation Sensation – stands in contrast to how little is being done to meet the menstrual needs of poor women here at home. Those who are homeless or incarcerated in the United States face similar health risks when they can’t access or afford sanitary products. Our current public benefits system often leads women to trade food stamps for tampons. Are a handful of sales tax reform bills – saving women eight cents on the dollar – and community donation drives the very best we can do? I hope not. Women in America, and around the globe, deserve a comprehensive and innovative policy agenda that addresses the very real crisis of menstrual hygiene management.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf (@jweisswolf) is vice president for development for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.