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Empowering Half the Sky: Gender Equality in the Political Sphere

“Politics in India is the equivalent of submerging your foot in keechad (mud). No one wants to do the dirty work” : How the Indian School of Democracy is creating responsible principled politicians for India.

The Problem

In India, the prevailing stigma surrounding politics has become a significant obstacle to the healthy functioning of democracy. A common perception prevails that politics is exclusively the domain of the affluent, leading to general disillusionment and disinterest among the masses. Politics is often called 'Keechad' (mud) implying that it is a dirty and corrupt field. This negative perception of politics further intensifies the gap between the people and their representatives. At the same time, the lack of awareness and understanding of ethical behaviour within the political sphere is a pressing concern. Many politicians seem to prioritize personal gains over the welfare of the nation, thereby eroding public trust in the democratic process.

A glimpse of one of ISD's programs. Source: Indian School of Democracy

The absence of stringent regulations and mechanisms to promote ethical conduct in politics exacerbates the situation, fostering an environment that allows corruption and unethical practices to persist. The combination of these factors has resulted in a diminished sense of political responsibility and participation among the citizens of India

Young individuals, who could potentially bring about positive changes through active political engagement, often shy away from entering the arena due to the perceived barriers and negativity associated with politics.

The Solution

Navigating through the murky waters of a leadership crisis in Indian politics, the youth are left without inspiring figures to guide their way. But fear not, for a beacon of hope shines through the storm. Enter Indian School of Democracy- an organization with a mission to nurture principled grassroots politicians, armed with moral courage and boundless imagination, to breathe life into the veins of Indian democracy.

Their secret recipe for success? An experiential and practice-based model that takes future leaders on a thrilling journey, immersing them in diverse political systems and imparting skills for political readiness. A dash of interdisciplinary curriculum enriches their understanding, while mentorship and support serve as sturdy stepping stones on their long-term political journeys.

A picture from our interview with Anita and Jatan, team members of Indian School of Democracy

Telling us this tale of political metamorphosis are Jatan Bhanvadiya (Outreach Manager) and Anita Manoharan (Associate Director) - team members of the Indian School of Democracy. ISD conducts various flagship programs such as The Good Politician, She Represents, and Democracy Express, which aim to improve the mindset of citizens and make them politically aware. Additionally, the institution conducts numerous conversations with people from different backgrounds to understand their opinions and views on politics.

A snapshot from the Good Politician Program, which works with grassroots leaders. Source: India School of Democracy

As Anita mentions, the outcome of these conversations depends on the art of convincing. Furthermore, ISD supports gender representation in politics and encourages women to participate actively in political processes. The institution also has a strong focus on promoting principled political leadership. Through their various flagship programs, conversations, and events, they aim to create a politically aware and engaged citizenry, promote principled political leadership, and create a corruption-free political system in India.

The Evidence

ISD not only plans strategies but ensures their implementation in the best possible way. As a result, they have impacted hundreds, if not thousands of people. They completed the fourth edition of She Represents in May 2023.

“We have completed 9 editions of different programs so far and preparing for the tenth one. We’ve had 260 alumni who have completed either a short-term or long-term program with us.”, shared Anita.

Challenging the notion that “politics is an avenue restricted to the men”, ISD has given women the platform to sharpen various hard skills required in the field of politics.

Akanksha Baghel ran for her first Sarpanch election and came second with a tight margin and now works in her role of a responsible opposition leader.

Pranay Manjari ran for her first councilor election in Bhubaneswar.

Divya Bhonsle from SR 2022, was elected the Chairperson of the ‘Young Inspirators Network’, Maharashtra chapter. Lakhs of youth voted for Divya at YIN’s ‘Leaders’ Conclave 2022’ for the post of Chairperson.

One story that Anita fondly remembered was the one of a lady who completely switched her career lane.

“A person with an Advertising and Communications background, after joining our 5 day program, says that she can now imagine herself in politics. Fast forward, 3 years or so, she’s now the head of the training wing of a prominent national party and she’s recreating programs which talk about moral leadership and capacity building."

The Challenges

"All politicians say that they want to practice principal politics but then how do we ensure that they are genuinely saying that or lying about it," said Jatan.

The idea of ensuring that people are genuinely motivated towards this cause and sustaining the motivation. After the program, as people return, motivation is reduced, and ensuring that it is sustained is hard. Indian School of Democracy doesn't align with any political party but the work is very political. It is hard to find people who support them, as people don't want to associate themselves with politics as supporters or funders. "To sustain an organization we need to raise funds." said Anita. Moral courage and Imagination are the terms they work towards in building and they are hard to scale them on a rank.

"We will never make our program inaccessible to somebody just because of money. Plus, if we get 300 applications, only about 50 get in," said Anita.

ISD shortlists people based on interviews, their backgrounds, and an internal selection to ensure that people are in congruence with the ISD philosophy.

ISD as a solution is no island; it's a continent of inclusivity and diversity. With gender equality as their compass, they foster a peer community of politicians where everyone's voice matters. They dance through the political spectrum, connecting with leaders from various parties, spreading unity like wildfire. With every step they take, politics becomes more accessible to all citizens, and democracy transforms into the embodiment of Sarvodaya. The youth is ignited with inspiration, political engagement soars, and the dream of a stronger, representative system comes alive!

This solutions focussed story has been written by students journalists of the Re-Imagining Media program and edited by Team Via News Didi. We are thankful to Ms. Anita Manoharan and Mr. Jatan Bhanvadiya for their time and insights.


From us to Indian School of Democracy

Dear Ms. Anita and Mr. Jatan,

We learned a lot about the you and your work through the interview. Some of the words which stood out to us have really helped us frame our perspective with good thought. As the term politics hurts people, you at ISD play a huge role in making a positive impact by promoting leadership among citizens and an inclusive democracy. We loved that you use music and case studies in your meetings with political leaders to talk about different things. Your main motives of "Moral Courage" and "Imagination", taking risks and being courageous made us really believe in your work. One of the memorable parts of the interview was the inspiring stories of politicians who tried their best to make changes in their surroundings. We fondly remember how you (Anita) said that you work for genders to be represented and building women leaders. Your idea that politics is a part of people and that politics can be a path chosen by citizens for providing service has stayed with us. We are really thankful that we got an opportunity to meet a non-profit organization not aligned with any political party. You have inspired us to become good leaders and have given us another side/ perspective to look at politics.


The Average Curators

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