Indian School Of Democracy: Duo To Start Institute That Mentors India’s Youth To Be Politicians

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If today one asks a kid in India who his/her role model is, celebrities from Bollywood or cricket are the most familiar answers. Occasionally, a few might bring up yesteryear’s freedom fighters like Gandhiji or Netaji. 

“But why do we never find a role model among our present political leaders?” asks Prakhar Bhartiya, a youth activist and co-founder of Indian School of Democracy.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

Today, politics in India is perceived as a dangerous abyss to step into, tainted with relentless corruption and delinquency. No matter how much a youngster is motivated to become a dynamic leader, he is almost always dissuaded by his family to get embroiled into politics.

This ingrained attitude of society cannot be uprooted in a day. This can only happen when people witness honest, upright young leaders marching onto the political scenario of the world’s biggest democracy.

With this thought in mind, Prakhar &  Hemakshi Meghani floated the idea of Indian School Of Democracy – an institution exclusively dedicated to mentoring promising aspirants into young political leaders, through a series of global-standard courses and exercises.

“We believe that external change is manifestation of internal change and that’s why the fundamental focus of ISD will be on inner transformation. We will cultivate a habit of reflection and community that will help them in the not so easy tasks of selfless community service.” shares Hemakshi.

Four Pillars Of Democracy

Prakhar Bhartiya, a Teach For India fellow, is also the founder of Youth Alliance – a popular forum for conscious young men and women to be trained into emphatic leaders.

“My experience with Youth Alliance assured me that it was indeed possible to prepare young minds for electoral politics. I wanted to start a platform where driven youths are trained to become leaders with a strong moral compass and take on the four pillars of democracy – executive, legislative, judiciary and media,” Prakhar explains.

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Indian School Of Democracy – The Blueprint

As per the present plan, Indian School of Democracy (ISD) will launch their one-year residential programme on leadership by next year. “The first-ever course will be centred around electoral politics. We will open our application portal in 2020 and expect our first cohort of selected students by 2021,” informs Prakhar.

The year-long programme will comprise theoretical sessions on politics, administration and other aspects of governance, as well as on-ground interactions with rural communities in remote hamlets to understand their woes and learn from them. Overall, the practice-oriented programme will ensure a holistic leadership training for the aspirants.

Moral Reimagination & Greater Participation Of Women

“To change the system, we need to focus on ‘moral reimagination’ – a practice we want to inculcate in our candidates,” shares Hemakshi, a graduate from Harvard Kennedy School in education policy and a former employee with Boston Consultancy Group. The ISD curriculum is thus being designed after interacting with politicians, academic experts and leadership coaches to render it foolproof.

Hemakshi throws light upon how ISD plans to encourage greater participation of women in politics.

At present, in a country of 1.3 billion people, the number of women politicians is woefully small, especially at the higher administrative levels. Thus, the idea persists that women’s grievances are not properly addressed by our government.

“While we should create more opportunities for women to enter politics, it is also important for political parties to readily welcome and accept more and more women. It has to be a two-pronged approach. This idea will be imparted at all ISD session. We are ensuring 50% participation of women in our present workshops,” Hemakshi informs.

A Meticulous & Non-Biased Selection Process

“We have a tedious selection process for every single government job. So, why don’t our politicians have to undergo any sort of screening before they occupy the highest seats of democracy and govern us?” Prakhar asks.

Indian School of Democracy

To ensure that the ISD programme identifies and generates the best youth leaders, Prakhar and Hemakshi have decided to dole out a meticulous selection procedure for the programme. Aspirants from all around the country will be shortlisted based on their leadership potential, merit and sincerity, irrespective of their gender, religion or socio-economic background. The age limit has been set between 25 and 40 years.

Laying The Groundwork

As of now, the core founding team of ISD is conducting awareness campaigns and two-three day workshops across India to gain an in-depth insight into the youth mindset in India while also spreading the word about their ISD initiative.

Their interactive brainstorming sessions with politically motivated youth in different cities, towns and villages in India are helping them see the bigger picture of the future of Indian politics. Prakhar and Hemakshi believe that this will help them to leave no loose ends in their course programme design.

“By the final month of their ISD training programme, they have to finalise the constituencies they wish to contest from. They have to live up to the expectations of the people they choose to serve,” Prakhar expresses his true hopes about ISD.

A Non-Partisan Political Organisation

As an organisation, ISD would be staying completely non-partisan and house candidates with different political ideologies together, who, after their graduation, are free to join the political party of their choice.

The idea, as the two founders believe, is to uphold the democratic ideals above everything else at the organisation, so as to acquaint the youths in various facets of democracy instead of encouraging sentimental politics driven by personal viewpoints.

“The larger idea of politics is public service. We are striving to bring back that idealistic firmness in politics, over and above its darker connotations,” Prakhar emphasises.

“If we fast forward to say, a decade ahead, I wish to see our graduates gaining prominence as new-age leaders, ushering in a different spectrum in the Indian political scene,” he expresses his wish.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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