Health & Life

semicolon

By Shambhavi Saxena:

At 18, Wisconsin photographer and graphic designer Amy Bleuel lost her father to suicide. To honour him, and break the silence surrounding mental illness, she founded Project Semicolon, “a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury.” Because of the project, people are getting themselves inked with semicolons, and flocking to image sharing websites with the results.

What does a punctuation mark have to do with mental health, you ask? To a writer, a semicolon means there’s more to come. To someone dealing with depression, or other forms of mental illness a semicolon means “you are the author of your story and you are choosing to continue” (as Bleuel told ABC News). Often, people with mood disorders like depression are driven to suicide for a number of reasons: lack of support and understanding, no access to medication, or the overwhelming feelings brought on by the disorder itself. That, all of this must be suffered alone, and usually without being discussed, isn’t helpful at all. Project Semicolon, in Bleuel’s own words, exists to “start a conversation about suicide, mental illness and addiction that can’t be stopped.”

When she started Project Semicolon in 2013, Bleuel recognized how prevalent depression and other mood disorders are, not just in the U.S., but the world over. Recent research suggests that one in ten Indians suffer from depression. In fact, the World Health Organization published a report last year detailing alarming suicide rates in the country: “258,075 people committed suicide in India in 2012, with 99,977 women and 158,098 men taking their own lives.” The fact that there is only one mental health worker to every 10,000 people globally, and one to every 1, 00,000 people in low- and middle-income countries, is equally worrisome.

Since its inception, Project Semicolon has engaged an audience of more than 74,000 people on Facebook, has a street team taking care of awareness events and fundraising involving more individuals. So, are these tattoos going to take the wind out of the sails of neuro-normativity? Like other divisions of power, neurotypical privilege is going to be hard to break down. But here’s an earnest effort worth backing.

In the past, mental illness was cast as the outcome of interfering spirits, demonic possession, divine retribution or immoral behaviour, and answered with physical punishment or even death sentences. Half a century ago, medical practitioners decided electrocution, near drowning and lobotomies were appropriate, and before you think we’re out of the woods in 2015, remember that people deemed ‘deviant’ by society are still subject to the invasive methods of shock and conversion therapy. Silence about these issues has further contributed to a widespread ignorance, insensitivity and very little pro-activeness, when it comes to responding to or mitigating a mentally stressful situation for any individual. Conversations about depression increased globally following Hollywood actor and comedian Robin William’s suicide. In India, actor Deepika Padukone’s own struggle has opened up the dialogue further.These conversations have brought to our notice the ableism implicit in our view of the world, our standards, our infrastructure, and even our very language, and the very urgent need for change. Today, among several growing efforts to make talking about mental well-being that much easier, Project Semicolon is making waves- one tattoo at a time.

It’s time we talked about mental health; it’s about time everyone is heard.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Thakur:

India is the country with the largest number of diabetics in the world and the percentage is only expected to double by 2025. Obesity being one of the leading causes for diabetes; it becomes crucial for us to take that extra step to living a healthy life . Watching TV for long hours, binging on unhealthy foods and lack of physical activity are the known causes for obesity which in turn leads to diabetes.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

But it’s not only our lifestyle; Indians are inherently prone to contracting diabetes because of the physical structure. We are known to have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) plus we have a higher percentage of fat concentrated in the abdominal area compared to the Europeans. Indians also have an increased insulin resistance compared to Caucasians leading to Insulin Resistance Syndrome (IRS). A strong familial aggregation is also observed among Indians, making genetic factors a strong cause for diabetes.

According to International Diabetes Federation, India had 19.4 million diabetics in 1994 and this number increased three times in 2014 to 66.8 million. This means, approximately 17% of the world’s diabetics are Indians and another 77 million Indians are believed to be pre-diabetic according to the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Urban India is especially prone to contracting diabetes compared to rural India. Why exactly is this disease spreading like an epidemic in India? Why are Indians more prone to having diabetes? According to this research paper published in the year 2004, the answer lies in our unhealthy eating habits, physical inactivity coupled with inherent genetic attributes and difference in body composition. Many young adults are contracting Type 2 diabetes, which is full blown diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks and permanently disables the insulin-making cells in the pancreas. This is insulin-dependent diabetes. The second kind of diabetes is the severe form of diabetes, which was earlier unheard of among young adults and children but with increasing obesity in children, a large number of children are plagued with this disease.

So what is the solution? We can’t just blame our genetics for being ill. The solution lies in being healthy, moreover, adopting a healthy lifestyle.

The government has acted in a positive manner to curb the menace of diabetes. It launched a programme based on pilot basis called the National Program for Control of Diabetes (NPCD) in the year 2008, to make people aware about the non-communicable diseases. The main objective was early diagnosis and intervention at nascent stages of the disease. Early diagnosis of diabetes may prevent or slow the onset of full-blown diabetes especially amongst children who show mild symptoms and remain undiagnosed for a long time. The program also aimed at establishing intervention at community and school level.

A positive alteration in one’s lifestyle can prevent diabetes. It can be avoided by regular physical activity, paying attention to your diet and eating healthy foods. And as someone has rightly said “small steps lead to bigger things”, so start with smaller alterations like going for walks, reducing Trans-fats, sugary drinks and opting for their healthier counterparts. After all, it is for you to decide if you want to be a part of the epidemic or not.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Steve Korver:

The Tamponator

The only blood I shed is my enemy’s.”

These are the words of Furiousa, the warrior chick from the blockbuster movie Mad Max: Fury Road, as she gives credit to the absorbing power of her tampons for her ability to kick ass.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, this scenario is just a parody (‘Furiosa of “Mad Maxcan even make tampon commercials look badass’.)

Tampon tantrum

It might sound like we’re stating the obvious, but for most women a quarter of the month, every month, is taken up with your period. That is almost a quarter of your life, ladies!” according to ‘Tampon Run is the best new computer game. Period.’

So why is something so ‘normal’ still so rarely discussed?

This stigma around menstrual cycles inspired two young American girls to create the game Tampon Run where you get to throw tampons at the heads of little men. “Think Super Mario meets Temple Run”.

Just don’t run out of tampon ammo, ’cause then you’re on your own.”

Tampon activism

Men’s restrooms have everything men need, women’s do not. Tampons and pads should be treated like toilet paper. It’s the same,” says the founder of #FreeTheTampons, a movement that wants to make free feminine hygiene products available in all public bathrooms.

And it’s not just females who understand the importance of making sanitary products accessible for all: 15-year-old Jose Angel Garcia of Miami has implemented his own hashtag activism, with #RealMenSupportWomen. The high school student now carries pads and tampons in his backpack as a resource should his female friends be caught without one,” according to ‘Bathroom inequality: TP Is free but tampons aren’t’.

Meanwhile, thousands of women and men from around the world are taking selfies while posing with a tampon, as part of the very successful #JustATampon campaign. “Donations will help tackle discrimination faced by girls globally, not just around menstrual hygiene but other issues they face including child marriage and female genital mutilation,” according to the initiators.

Swiss Army Tampon

Besides damming the flow, tampons have another 1001 uses (very much like condoms).

For example, you can save a life by inserting a tampon into a bullet or knife wound. (‘The Swiss Army Tampon: a life-saving wilderness survival tool.)

Environmentalists are currently using tampons as a cheap way to test rivers for pollution (‘Glowing tampons help detect sewage leaks‘.)

Soon scientists hope to use tampons to screen for endometrial cancer – which accounts for 6% of all cancers for women (‘How tampons might one day help detect cancer’.)

Tampons can also be used to start fires (‘Woman lights tampons aflame, throws them at S.F. building’.)

The real enemy

While fabulously useful, tampons do have another problem, besides being overly stigmatised: ‘Disposable tampons aren’t sustainable, but do women want to talk about it?’.

In short, tampons and pads take a lot of resources and chemicals to produce, and centuries to degrade.

Today tampons are used by over 100 million women worldwide, while pads, which are much more widespread on a global scale due to a cultural aversion to tampons in many regions, comprise a multi-billion dollar industry.”

Other, more sustainable, feminine hygiene products are entering the market, such as re-usable ‘period panties’. In addition, organisations such as Be Girl are working with women in communities around the world to come up with their own locally based solutions. But without being backed by huge marketing budgets, these efforts remain niche.

The paper feminine hygiene industry has done a very good job of convincing women that their period is something [which] should be out of sight and out of mind, something they shouldn’t talk about,” says one activist. “Think about the advertisements we see – it’s all about silent wrappers, discrete and smaller products that are easier to hide or dispose of, and concealing the fact you have your period. Without opportunities for positive period talk, women and girls may not have the opportunity to learn about or even ask about other, more sustainable options.”

Who’s the enemy now?

This article was originally published on Love Matters.

DTE

By Jyotsna Singh:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

A brand new advertisement with a twist starring real people, not actors, is going to haunt international soft drink giant Coca Cola. Washington-based non-profit health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has re-made a 1971 ad of Coke with a change of lyrics. It stars people suffering from diabetes, tooth decay, weight gain, and other diseases related to soda consumption. Originally in English, the ad has been dubbed into many language including Hindi and Chinese.

DTE

In Coke’s “Hilltop”, which was first aired in 1971, actors sing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony; I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company.” But according to the US-based nonprofit health advocacy organisation behind the new video, CSPI, it is time to change the lyrics.

For decades, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and other makers of sugar drinks have used sophisticated, manipulative advertising techniques to convince children and adults alike that a disease-promoting drink will make them feel happy and even sexy,” said CSPI executive director Michael F Jacobson. “And they are increasingly doing what the tobacco industry has done: market their unhealthy beverages in low and middle-income countries. They are investing billions of rupees in India, China, and other countries to distract us away from tooth decay and diabetes with happy thoughts. We thought it was time to change the tune.”

Jacobson said that because Indians and Chinese drink much less sugar drinks than people in the United States, Europe, and Mexico, companies see those countries are opportunities for huge future profits. However, he said, the increased marketing and consumption of the drinks will inevitably lead to increasing rates of obesity, tooth decay, diabetes, and heart disease.

India’s per capita carbonated beverage consumption was around 0.6 litres in 2013. The Chinese consumption was 1.47 litres per person in the same year. This is way below 19.96 litres among Americans and 20.61 litres in Mexicans. Even in South American countries, consumption of carbonated drinks is high. In Argentina, per capita consumption in 2013 was 16.56 litres, it was 15.37 litres in Chile and 9.72 litres in Brazil.

With companies investing billions of dollars to maximise consumption of sugary soft drinks in India, as well as other low and middle-income countries, those nations must take steps to protect the public’s health,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

A paper published in international journal Circulation shows that there were 180,000 deaths in the world in 2010 due to consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, with 72.3 per cent from diabetes, 24.2 per cent from cardiovascular disease, and 3.5 per cent from cancers. The findings demonstrated 75 per cent of deaths in low and middle income countries.

In 2010, 2.7 million deaths occurred due to lack of consumption of fruit and vegetables. Authors of the paper titled Estimated Global, Regional, and National Disease Burdens Related to Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in 2010, argued that “compared with sodium which is nearly ubiquitous across the food supply, or fruits and vegetables which represent large and diverse classes of foods, sugary soft beverages represent only a single class of beverage.”

green revolution

By Akhil Kumar:

A nine-day long online film festival about food and farming called “9×9 Online Film Festival” starts today. As part of this online film festival, 9 short-films about food and farming will be made available to the public. These films have been made by ‘The Source Project‘, and they claim that the sole objective behind these films is to help people understand the reality of what’s really happening to the world’s food and farming systems, and why.

In 1966, India embraced chemical based agriculture, which was ironically called the ‘Green Revolution‘. In this film, which is the first in the series of the 9 films, interviews with Indian food policy analyst Devinder Sharma, and the farming community of Punjab reveal a grim picture of a failed system. Devinder Sharma warns that Punjab might become a ‘citadel‘ of a devastating ‘development model‘ as we are now witnessing the beginning of the second Green Revolution in India. “The Punjab in the north west of India was an experiment to test an oil based, chemically dependent, corporately controlled model. The land, the water and its inhabitants are now testament to a failed system. A system driven not by a desire to enhance an already sustainable system but to destroy it and replace it with one orientated around profit and plunder,” says the video description. Watch the full video here and tell us what you think. To know more about the film festival, visit The Rules’ website.

Not a very Green Revolution from the source project on Vimeo.
 

To know more about what I think of this film, follow me on Twitter at @Akhil1490

Being vegetarian saves cows' lives, but threatens the future of other sentient creatures. nunro

By Mike Archer AM:

The ethics of eating red meat have been grilled recently by critics who question its consequences for environmental health and animal welfare. But if you want to minimise animal suffering and promote more sustainable agriculture, adopting a vegetarian diet might be the worst possible thing you could do.

Being vegetarian saves cows' lives, but threatens the future of other sentient creatures. nunro
Being vegetarian saves cows’ lives, but threatens the future of other sentient creatures. nunro

Renowned ethicist Peter Singer says if there is a range of ways of feeding ourselves, we should choose the way that causes the least unnecessary harm to animals. Most animal rights advocates say this means we should eat plants rather than animals.

It takes somewhere between two to ten kilos of plants, depending on the type of plants involved, to produce one kilo of animal. Given the limited amount of productive land in the world, it would seem to some to make more sense to focus our culinary attentions on plants, because we would arguably get more energy per hectare for human consumption. Theoretically this should also mean fewer sentient animals would be killed to feed the ravenous appetites of ever more humans.

But before scratching rangelands-produced red meat off the “good to eat” list for ethical or environmental reasons, let’s test these presumptions.

Published figures suggest that, in Australia, producing wheat and other grains results in:

  • at least 25 times more sentient animals being killed per kilogram of useable protein
  • more environmental damage, and
  • a great deal more animal cruelty than does farming red meat.

How is this possible?

Agriculture to produce wheat, rice and pulses requires clear-felling native vegetation. That act alone results in the deaths of thousands of Australian animals and plants per hectare. Since Europeans arrived on this continent we have lost more than half of Australia’s unique native vegetation, mostly to increase production of monocultures of introduced species for human consumption.

Most of Australia’s arable land is already in use. If more Australians want their nutritional needs to be met by plants, our arable land will need to be even more intensely farmed. This will require a net increase in the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other threats to biodiversity and environmental health. Or, if existing laws are changed, more native vegetation could be cleared for agriculture (an area the size of Victoria plus Tasmania would be needed to produce the additional amount of plant-based food required).

Australian cattle eat mostly pasture, reducing their environmental impact. Chris Runoff

Most cattle slaughtered in Australia feed solely on pasture. This is usually rangelands, which constitute about 70% of the continent.

Grazing occurs on primarily native ecosystems. These have and maintain far higher levels of native biodiversity than croplands. The rangelands can’t be used to produce crops, so production of meat here doesn’t limit production of plant foods. Grazing is the only way humans can get substantial nutrients from 70% of the continent.

In some cases rangelands have been substantially altered to increase the percentage of stock-friendly plants. Grazing can also cause significant damage such as soil loss and erosion. But it doesn’t result in the native ecosystem “blitzkrieg” required to grow crops.

This environmental damage is causing some well-known environmentalists to question their own preconceptions. British environmental advocate George Monbiot, for example, publically converted from vegan to omnivore after reading Simon Fairlie’s expose about meat’s sustainability. And environmental activist Lierre Keith documented the awesome damage to global environments involved in producing plant foods for human consumption.

In Australia we can also meet part of our protein needs using sustainably wild-harvested kangaroo meat. Unlike introduced meat animals, they don’t damage native biodiversity. They are soft-footed, low methane-producing and have relatively low water requirements. They also produce an exceptionally healthy low-fat meat.

In Australia 70% of the beef produced for human consumption comes from animals raised on grazing lands with very little or no grain supplements. At any time, only 2% of Australia’s national herd of cattle are eating grains in feed lots; the other 98% are raised on and feeding on grass. Two-thirds of cattle slaughtered in Australia feed solely on pasture.

To produce protein from grazing beef, cattle are killed. One death delivers (on average, across Australia’s grazing lands) a carcass of about 288 kilograms. This is approximately 68% boneless meat which, at 23% protein equals 45kg of protein per animal killed. This means 2.2 animals killed for each 100kg of useable animal protein produced.

Producing protein from wheat means ploughing pasture land and planting it with seed. Anyone who has sat on a ploughing tractor knows the predatory birds that follow you all day are not there because they have nothing better to do. Ploughing and harvesting kill small mammals, snakes, lizards and other animals in vast numbers. In addition, millions of mice are poisoned in grain storage facilities every year.

However, the largest and best-researched loss of sentient life is the poisoning of mice during plagues.

With its soft feet and low water use, kangaroo is a source of less ecologically damaging meat. No Dust

Each area of grain production in Australia has a mouse plague on average every four years, with 500-1000 mice per hectare. Poisoning kills at least 80% of the mice.

At least 100 mice are killed per hectare per year (500/4 × 0.8) to grow grain. Average yields are about 1.4 tonnes of wheat/hectare; 13% of the wheat is useable protein. Therefore, at least 55 sentient animals die to produce 100kg of useable plant protein: 25 times more than for the same amount of rangelands beef.

Some of this grain is used to “finish” beef cattle in feed lots (some is food for dairy cattle, pigs and poultry), but it is still the case that many more sentient lives are sacrificed to produce useable protein from grains than from rangelands cattle.

There is a further issue to consider here: the question of sentience – the capacity to feel, perceive or be conscious.

You might not think the billions of insects and spiders killed by grain production are sentient, though they perceive and respond to the world around them. You may dismiss snakes and lizards as cold-blooded creatures incapable of sentience, though they form pair bonds and care for their young. But what about mice?

Mice are far more sentient than we thought. They sing complex, personalised love songs to each other that get more complex over time. Singing of any kind is a rare behaviour among mammals, previously known only to occur in whales, bats and humans.

Girl mice, like swooning human teenagers, try to get close to a skilled crooner. Now researchers are trying to determine whether song innovations are genetically programmed or or whether mice learn to vary their songs as they mature.

“Hoping to prepare them for an ethical oversight” Nikkita Archer

 

Baby mice left in the nest sing to their mothers — a kind of crying song to call them back. For every female killed by the poisons we administer, on average five to six totally dependent baby mice will, despite singing their hearts out to call their mothers back home, inevitably die of starvation, dehydration or predation.

When cattle, kangaroos and other meat animals are harvested they are killed instantly. Mice die a slow and very painful death from poisons. From a welfare point of view, these methods are among the least acceptable modes of killing. Although joeys are sometimes killed or left to fend for themselves, only 30% of kangaroos shot are females, only some of which will have young (the industry’s code of practice says shooters should avoid shooting females with dependent young). However, many times this number of dependent baby mice are left to die when we deliberately poison their mothers by the millions.

Replacing red meat with grain products leads to many more sentient animal deaths, far greater animal suffering and significantly more environmental degradation. Protein obtained from grazing livestock costs far fewer lives per kilogram: it is a more humane, ethical and environmentally-friendly dietary option.

So, what does a hungry human do? Our teeth and digestive system are adapted for omnivory. But we are now challenged to think about philosophical issues. We worry about the ethics involved in killing grazing animals and wonder if there are other more humane ways of obtaining adequate nutrients.

Relying on grains and pulses brings destruction of native ecosystems, significant threats to native species and at least 25 times more deaths of sentient animals per kilogram of food. Most of these animals sing love songs to each other, until we inhumanely mass-slaughter them.

Former Justice of the High Court, the Hon. Michael Kirby, wrote that:

“In our shared sentience, human beings are intimately connected with other animals. Endowed with reason and speech, we are uniquely empowered to make ethical decisions and to unite for social change on behalf of others that have no voice. Exploited animals cannot protest about their treatment or demand a better life. They are entirely at our mercy. So every decision of animal welfare, whether in Parliament or the supermarket, presents us with a profound test of moral character”.

We now know the mice have a voice, but we haven’t been listening.

The challenge for the ethical eater is to choose the diet that causes the least deaths and environmental damage. There would appear to be far more ethical support for an omnivorous diet that includes rangeland-grown red meat and even more support for one that includes sustainably wild-harvested kangaroo.

Thanks to many colleagues including Rosie Cooney, Peter Ampt, Grahame Webb, Bob Beale, Gordon Grigg, John Kelly, Suzanne Hand, Greg Miles, Alex Baumber, George Wilson, Peter Banks, Michael Cermak, Barry Cohen, Dan Lunney, Ernie Lundelius Jr and anonymous referees of the Australian Zoologist paper who provided helpful critiques.

The ConversationMike Archer AM is Professor, Evolution of Earth & Life Systems Research Group at UNSW Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Image credit: Loren Kerns

By Dee:

I am 18 years old. I’m in recovery from self-harm. And I know I’m not the only one. There are many more just like me. And it’s time we voiced ourselves. It’s time people listened. So, this is my attempt to bring about awareness.

Image credit: Loren Kerns
Image credit: Loren Kerns

It’s really important for us as humans to express ourselves. When we’re happy we laugh and smile. When we’re sad or hurt we cry or talk it over with friends, right? Let’s just say I’m different. What if you can’t do that? It’s all bottled up. It needs a release. Self-harm helps. When you cut or burn or whatever, the first priority for your body is to manage the injury and the unwanted emotion is pushed away. For the time being it’s being managed.

But it only gets you this far. You can’t do this forever. You decide that now you’re tired of doing it day in and day out. You can’t live without it. And you know you need help. That “self-harm voice” is screaming “it’s no use”. You can’t stop. But you decide you don’t want this ‘friend’ anymore.

You never think it’s this hard to stop. But it is because it’s not just a habit, it’s a defence, a way of managing emotions, a comforting soothing thing. But you have to stop before it’s worse because honestly, you know you deserve better.

You really wish people understood. But nobody does. And worse, even when you try to explain, nobody wants to. And that includes “professionals“. You call up helplines to hear “if you want to stop, just stop” and you try explaining “but I have to” just to hear “is anyone holding a gun to your head and forcing you?”

The battle is always going to be hard because self-harm never occurs in isolation. It’s a secondary response to a problem which is too hard to deal with (depression, anxiety, abuse, loneliness). The best way to manage it is get professional help, which is why professionals need to know about it. So that when a person takes that step to ask for help, they are given the support they deserve.

About the Author: Just a kid wanting to spread awareness about mental health. When I’m older I would like to work in the field of mental health, probably as a psychiatrist or psychologist. My counselor literally keeps me alive, she is that awesome. I would love to help people, specifically children who are abused.

TRDLOGO1

Image credit: 
Charlotte Astrid

By Meetu Pandey:

I came across a news article about an anorexic, 17, who hid weights in her pockets to fool nurses, and died three days before Christmas weighing around 25 kilograms. RIP Love. As a woman who struggled with being a skinny adolescent and now an even skinnier adult, I understand what she must have gone through.

Image credit:  Charlotte Astrid
Image credit: Charlotte Astrid

I might not have been Anorexic, but like millions of ultra-thin girls around the globe, I too have had my share of criticism and humiliation. It is impossible to get through without dents on your self-esteem at some point in your journey. It’s only after we grow up that we realize that physical appearances do not define beauty or success, there is so much more to life than those numbers on your weighing machine. But not everyone survives to understand this, “they” don’t let you.

My anger is mostly towards the individuals who casually slap the hurtful term ‘Anorexia’ on the faces of every thin individual they meet. They need to update their knowledge to understand that Anorexia isn’t a synonym for thin. Being thin is healthy, being Anorexic is fatal. In your utter ignorance you are ruining the confidence of a perfectly healthy person by referring to him/her as a sufferer of a fatal eating disorder. As if there wasn’t enough to deal with in our lives already! Our plates aren’t the only struggles we go through. Come shopping with us for a closer look. The jeans that are impossible to fit, even the smallest sizes come hanging loosely. The pretty top we lose our hearts to, are not always available in an XS. The watch’s strap that always needs an extra piercing. The skirt that we finally decide to wear to that party that got rude comments on our pencil thin legs since you forgot that they were holding up a person with feelings. A complete human being is reduced to a size.

Every time an Aunty exclaims, “Why don’t you eat something?” There is an urge to scream at her, “How else do you think I am alive?” The not so skinny friends who lose breath when climbing those stairs, they never fail to remind us how they are available for fat donation and that we are just made up of bones. Do you even realize you are almost dying on the 30th step? And you are not even fat, you are the “so called” healthy perfection personified panting there and this skinny piece of skeleton is breathing gloriously. And God forbid if we decide to play a sport – “You’ll disappear!” is what we hear from everyone. Now this could make anyone wonder about the lectures she must have missed back in school to have not known about this major breakthrough in medical science.

You rush to help a friend with lifting stuff and they don’t let you, citing the risk that weights must have on your flickering existence. No sweet friend, it is this shaming attitude of yours that is weighing heavily on my existence and not the silly weights.

I can carry them, I am not sick, but your lame remarks are! And no! That hand you put around my wrist making a sad face pointing my weight loss is neither concern nor care. It screams “Look at you“.

You better stop touching us like that, we know the inches our wrist measures, we live in that body, and we see it all the time. If you really care, then appreciate us. The most crucial help I received when going through the struggle was not from doctors or friends who kept saying I am thin. It came from my family, who made me feel I look beautiful and called me healthy even at my ugliest! That’s how I could start believing in myself. That’s how we develop our own mechanism to shield ourselves from the social pressures and critics, it takes time but eventually we realize that what people say doesn’t matter, we can be whoever we want to be and I choose to be my kind of beautiful.

Instead of making the little young soul so conscious about her body frame let her just go to school and study and not hide behind skirts, socks, blazers and quarter length tops. I wish people could be sensitive in their choice of words. How could a young, beautiful teen with dreams, hopes, excitement, a new dress and a lip balm she requested her Mom to buy for your party be a Skeleton?

Image Credit: Developedment

By Bhanvi Satija:

Malarkodi, a 46-year old woman worked for 18 years as a sweeper, at the Hindustan Unilever Kodaikanal Thermometer factor in Tamil Nadu. Today, she suffers from various nervous tremors, gynaecological problems and hearing impairment. Bhawani, another ex-employee at the same factory was a victim of six miscarriages. The cause of the ailing conditions of these two women is the same: a lack of safety measures at their workplace. These horrific accounts narrated in this story have been overlooked for many years, and the victims are yet to receive justice as their calls fall on deaf ears.

Image Credit: Developedment
Image Credit: Developedment

Between 1982 and 2001, there was a thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu; the workers of this factory were exposed to mercury in the workplace due to inadequate protection from toxic mercury. In the 18 years of operation, the factory exposed about 600 workers to toxic mercury – at least 45 of whom have died prematurely, and many others are suffering from nervous disorders, dental problems, vision and hearing impairment and skin problems. In this period, the factory also caused widespread mercury pollution through improper disposal of broken thermometer waste containing large quantities of mercury. It sold much of this waste to a junkyard in Kodaikanal and also dumped large quantities in the forest behind the factory. The plant was eventually shut down in 2001, after the Anglo-Dutch multinational faced massive protests.

Ever since the shutdown, workers have protested outside Hindustan Unilever offices in Mumbai twice – in 2007 and this year. In 2007, the ex-workers had joined to form the 559-strong Ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association and in 2006 filed a PIL suit in the Madras High Court. The association demanded an economic rehabilitation scheme, healthcare treatment and a monitoring programme at the company’s expense for everyone who ever worked in the factory. It also demanded that the company be prosecuted. HUL, however, denied that any of the health problems of the workers or their families were the result of mercury exposure in the factory. The Madras High Court had constituted a five-member expert committee to decide on the mercury workers’ health claims. The committee had later failed to find sufficient evidence to link the current clinical condition of the factory workers to past mercury exposure in the factory.

Recently, a study done by the Chennai-based NGO, Community Environmental Monitoring has found high levels of toxic mercury in vegetation and sediment collected in the vicinity of the factory. The study further confirmed that HUL’s factory site is still contaminating the air and leaking poisons into its surroundings, including the ecologically sensitive Pambar Shola and the Pambar River. “The factory site continues to release mercury into the environment,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, advisor to Community Environmental Monitoring, to The Hindu.

At the same time, this year a shareholder took note of the plea of the protestors and raised the issue at the company’s Annual General Meeting. “I had been privy to the issue and protests since 2007, and had raised the issue at the meeting. After I raised the issue, CEO Harish Manwani informed all shareholders that the matter would be attended to immediately, and that he wouldn’t mind an out-of-court settlement taking into account the company and workers affected”, said Deepika D’Souza, an environment consultant and a shareholder who attended the AGM, to CatchNews.

The CEO’s statement at the AGM has given some hope to the protestors. However, the company, in its official statement has never fully accepted responsibility and continues to state that “There were no adverse effects on the health of the employees or the environment.” In fact, the focus of the AGM was also, supposedly, on how to avoid a Maggi-like fallout and not about the plea of the ex-employees.

This case is a stark reminder of the Bhopal disaster, in terms of the non-accountability of those responsible. Will the people of Kodaikanal also find space in the next generation EVS classes? Or will justice be provided? Only time (and Harish Manwani) can tell.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Gangadhar S Patil:

Three of every four companies found guilty of misbranding or selling adulterated food products get away without any punishment, according to health ministry records, even as Nestle India and the instant-noodle industry continue to suffer what now appears to have been an exaggerated scare over contaminants.

Source: Boomlive.in
Canada, UK, Hong Kong and Singapore, Australia and New Zealand have all found Maggi two-minute noodles to be safe, as have many Indian states, and while legal proceedings continue, the controversy is a reflection of how food-safety procedures unfold in India.

Over the past seven years, about 25% of 53,406 companies against whom prosecution was launched for violating food safety laws were convicted. As many as 72,861 companies were found guilty of misbranding and adulteration during the period.

As many as 72,200 samples of foodstuff, such as dal, ghee and sugar, were collected from across India last year. Of these, 13,571 (about 18%) were found adulterated and substandard.

Experts say that the low conviction rate is one of the primary reasons for the rise of adulterated food in market during the past five years. The percentage of adulterated food tested by government has risen from 8% in 2008 to about 18% in 2014.


Adulterated food can cause cancer, insomnia and other neurological problems, and adulteration is a growing concern across India, as IndiaSpend previously reported.

Who will analyse suspect food?

Officials blame the low conviction rates on a shortage of food analysts. Last year, as this Times Of India report said, Rajasthan closed seven public-health laboratories because it could not find such analysts.

There are only about 200 food analysts in the country, so it becomes really difficult to prove charges in the court,” an official with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) told IndiaSpend. He spoke on condition of anonymity, since he is not authorised to speak to the media.

There are many states that are yet to establish appellate tribunals, as mandated in the Food Safety and Standards Act (2006), to quickly conclude cases where the adjudicating officer has already passed orders, thus leading to trial delays, said the official.

Indeed, the 45% conviction rate in 2014-15 is an improvement from 16% in 2008-09. The spike in conviction rate is mainly because of the establishment of the FSSAI in August 2011.

The food-safety act replaced the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, and multiple regulations. Its implementation is the responsibility of state governments.

Stiff punishment, lax enforcement

Punishments for mislabeling, adulterating or sale of unsafe food can range from six months in jail to life imprisonment, and fines up to Rs 10 lakh.

Over the past three years, the government has collects about Rs 17 crore in fines.

State food-safety officers pick random samples and send them to government laboratories for testing, a process monitored and regulated by the FSSAI.

A scrutiny of the past three years’ records show that except for a few state authorities, such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir, none of them have convicted offenders. Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana are among the worst performers.

Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh were among the states where every third sample tested was found below standards.

Patil is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist. He has worked with The Economic Times, DNA and The New Indian Express.

This article was previously published on IndiaSpend.

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abortion in india video

By Kanika Katyal:

“Abortion is murder.”
“Only selfish women have an abortion.”
“Abortion is used as birth control.”
“Women who have an abortion regret it later.”

For many people, an image of a distressed, aggrieved, and remorseful woman comes to mind when they hear the word ‘abortion’.

The issue of abortion in India is very stigmatized, thereby limiting an open discourse around it and reinforcing the stigma. Myths and misconceptions, fabricated by culture, dominate people’s perceptions about abortion. These myths further strengthen the regressive patriarchal norms around women’s sexuality, bodily autonomy and integrity and negatively impact their health. CREA’s campaign #AbortTheStigma seeks to provide a platform to raise awareness, enable open conversations around abortion and address the stigma and shame associated with abortion.

Despite all of our claims to progress, have things really changed when it comes to the condition of women? Have we really started having the difficult conversations on gender equality and sexuality? Or do we still cave in to the problematic norms and misconceptions around abortion? Watch this video to find out what young India thinks about abortion.

immunisation in India

By Chaitanya Mallapur

Health Minister J P Nadda sparked scepticism when he declared on June 30 that India would reach the universal immunisation target, or 95% of all children, by the end of 2016.

The disbelief gets credence because less than four months ago Nadda told Parliament it would take five years to immunise 90% of India’s children. Only 65% of children are now immunised, the best rate achieved in 38 years since the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), as it is officially called, was started. It targets 27 million new-born children and 30 million pregnant women every year.

In India, 500,000 children die of vaccine-preventable diseases because one in three misses the benefits of full immunisation, according to government data.​​

immunisation in India

“The government has launched Mission Indradhanush on December 25, 2014 with an aim to cover all those children who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated. The mission focuses on interventions to rapidly increase full immunisation coverage of children by approximately 5% annually, and to expand full immunisation coverage to at least 90% children in the next five years,” Nadda said in reply to a question in the upper house of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, on March 10, 2015.

Here’s how the rate of immunisation has grown over the years:

Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Figures in %

The current rate of immunisation has risen to 65.2% (2013-14) from 35.5% in 1992-93. The programme started in 1978. In 1985 it got its present name and was taken to all districts by 1989-90.

Under UIP, the government provides free vaccination against nine preventable diseases: diphtheria, pertussis (whopping cough), tetanus, polio, measles, a severe form of childhood tuberculosis, hepatitis B, meningitis/pneumonia due to haemophilus influenza B and Japanese Encephalitis.

Uttarakhand Does Well, U.P Lags

Uttarakhand with 79.6% coverage is the best-immunised state, according to the Annual Health Survey (AHS) 2012-13 while Uttar Pradesh with 52.7% is the worst.

Source: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

These nine are high-focus states since they constitute 50% of the country’s population, 60% births, 71% infant deaths, 72% under-5 deaths and 62% maternal deaths.

Even states that do better, such as Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, fall short by 20-25 percentage points in achieving universal immunisation.

Those like Goa (89.1%), Sikkim (85.2%) and Kerala (82.5%), which are not high-focus statesand do better than others, also fall short of universal coverage.

Lack of awareness among parents about vaccination benefits, fear of side-effects and a shortage of vaccines or have been cited as reasons for low immunisation.

The government programme centres on 201 high-focus districts that account for nearly 50% of partially vaccinated or unvaccinated children in India.

The government allocated Rs. 599.87 crore over the last three years to promote immunisation.

Source: RajyaSabha; Figures in Rs crore

Immunisation prevents approximately 2-3 million deaths globally every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and measles.

In 2013, an estimated 21.8 million infants worldwide were not reached by routine immunisation; nearly half live in India, Nigeria and Pakistan, according to World Health Organisation.

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.

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By Jyotsna Singh

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

Cuba has become the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. The World Health Organization (WHO) validated Cuba’s achievement on Tuesday.

Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible,” said Margaret Chan, WHO director-general adding that it was an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.

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WHO validates elimination when new HIV and syphilis infections due to mother-to-child transmission are less than 50 cases per 100,000 live births. In 2013, only two babies were born with HIV in Cuba, and only five were born with congenital syphilis.

WHO’s Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) started an initiative in 2010 in Cuba and other countries of the Americas to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. With the help of the government of Cuba, it provided early access to prenatal care, HIV and syphilis testing for both—pregnant women and their partners, treatment for women who test positive and their babies, and substitution of breastfeeding. These services are provided as part of equitable, accessible and universal health system in which maternal and child health programmes are integrated with programmes for HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

Cuba’s success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success, even against challenges as daunting as HIV,” said PAHO director, Carissa F Etienne.

Every year, globally, an estimated 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant. Untreated, they have a 15-45 per cent chance of transmitting the virus to their children during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding. However, that risk drops to just over 1 per cent if antiretroviral medicines are given to both mothers and children throughout the stages when infection can occur. The number of children born annually with HIV has almost halved since 2009—down from 400,000 in 2009 to 240,000 in 2013.

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By Steve Korver

The secrets of great sex and satisfying relationships unveiled! Secrets of the world’s most sexually satisfied countries! The internet knows your darkest secrets! These news flashes and more in this week’s Sex in the Press.

In Search For That Ultimate Secret

People are always looking for easy answers when it comes to having great sex and satisfying relationships.

This urge for clarity explains the popularity of articles such as: ‘Six secrets of couples still having great sex in long-term relationships.‘ (In short, it involves lots of practice-practice-practice and communication – and it also helps if you share similar sex drives and kinks.)

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Or an article such as: ‘Multiple orgasms for men? The fascinating technique that might open up whole new sexual experience.‘ (In short, it involves lots of practice-practice-practice and giving up on that old boring idea that ejaculation = orgasm).

So is the secret just hard work?

What’s The Secret Behind The Most Sexually Satisfied Countries?

Condom brand Durex did extensive research to come up with: ‘12 most sexually satisfied countries unveiled.

Countries that are more socially liberal and have relaxed attitudes toward sex tend to have lower rates of STDs, teen pregnancies and abortions, and much more satisfying sex lives in general.” This is certainly the case for countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany.

A general openness to sexual matters seems to drive the sexual satisfaction of traditional Latin lover countries such as Spain, Italy and Brazil.

A willingness to openly discuss their sexual desires seems to drive the Greeks to have the most sex on average in the world (164 times per year).

Then there’s the winner: “Nigeria is rated the number-one sexually satisfied nation in the world with 67 per cent of its population claiming sexual gratification. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Nigerians also take the longest time having sex, at 24 minutes per average session.

That doesn’t sound that hard.

Loose Hips Make For Loose Lips

In the aftermath of having experienced an orgasm, people are more likely to share important information with their partners,” according to ‘Orgasms and alcohol influence pillow talk.

In other words, people are more prone to share their secrets after sex.

Oxytocin, a ‘pro-social’ hormone, floods a person’s brain immediately after orgasm. Elevated levels of oxytocin are linked with a greater sense of trust and reduced perceptions of threat.

But meanwhile (and contrary to popular belief): “mixing alcohol with sex is unlikely to lead individuals to divulge more of their important secrets.

So can we conclude that if you want to keep a secret, you should drink more and orgasm less?

What kind of secret is that?

Your Darkest Secret: Now On Google

It’s amazing what secrets lurk just a web search away: ‘”We were related“: Singles reveal the most shocking secrets they found out about their date just by GOOGLING them.

The app Whisper allows the sharing of anonymous secrets, and its users did indeed dig up some spicy stuff:

He’s married and has kids.

He was wanted by the police for grand theft auto.

She had a breast reduction.

He did a few sex tapes.

Farts. He had a video of himself farting.

Busted.

The Internet Knows When You’re Having Sex

Larger commerce companies like Amazon and Target can, by analysing your data, roughly predict whether a women is pregnant. They can even guess when her due date is,” according to ‘These companies know more about your sex life than you might be comfortable with‘. But yes, it’s not rocket science: the companies just check whether you’re buying diapers or vitamin supplements.

Now imagine it is Saturday evening, you’ve been playing upbeat songs all day via Spotify, then around 7pm you play some dinner music and at 9pm you switch to some Barry White. It doesn’t take a genius to know what you’re doing.

If you are wearing an Apple Watch (at all times, right?), FitBit or Jawbone UP then those companies have that intimate data too. Every time you turn around, or move that arm up and down, and up and down, and… well, you get the idea.

You check Facebook every 2 minutes, right? So when you and your date get together and for exactly 43 minutes don’t check anything, and then at the same time check back in again? Yep, Facebook knows.

Perhaps there are no secrets.

This article was originally published here on Love Matters.

Image source: Dedi Efendi/Flickr)

By DTE Staff

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

A group of students at the Isaac Newton Academy in Essex, England, have invented a ‘smart’ condom to detect sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the wearer. Called S.T.Eye, the latex condom is covered with antibodies that would react with the bacteria found in STIs, triggering a change of colour. This would occur on both sides of the condom. In the presence of STI, the condom would turn green for chlamydia, purple for genital warts, blue for syphilis and yellow for herpes.

Image source: Dedi Efendi/Flickr)
For representational purposes only. Image source: Dedi Efendi/Flickr)

The idea, which is still at the concept stage, is the brainchild of Daanyaal Ali (14), Chirag Shah (14) and Muaz Nawaz (13), who won the TeenTech award this week for their proposal. The competition encourages 11-16-year-olds to create “technology to make life better, simpler or easier“, and includes prize money of £1,571 and a trip to Buckingham Palace.

The winners told BBC Newsbeat that they took inspiration from an HIV testing method called Elisa which utilises colour-changing technique. “Once the bodily fluids come into contact with the latex, if the person does have some sort of STI, it will cause a reaction through antibodies and antigens hanging on to each other, which triggers an antibody reaction causing a colour change,” Ali explained. They wanted to make detecting harmful STIs safer and easier, in the comfort of one’s home and without the embarrassment of going to a clinic. “We noticed how big the condom market was—there were over 4,50,000 STI cases in England in 2013 alone,” Ali said.

The young students have already been contacted by a condom company who is keen on developing the concept further. “The technology for colour change in the presence of an antigen is certainly something that does happen. It normally requires some additional chemicals in that process and with a condom you would obviously need to make sure that those chemicals are not going to be harmful or toxic or in any way cause irritation,” Mark Lawton, a consultant in sexual health and HIV at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, told BBC.

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dominikgolenia/527517137

By Parul Ghosh:

There are 1 billion people living with disability in the world.
The United Nations recognizes only 9 Major Groups.
Disability is not one of them.
If 1 billion is not a major group, then what is?

In September 2000, world leaders congregated at the United Nations to adopt the ‘Millennium Declaration’ and its eight key goals that would work towards universal eradication of poverty. These 8 goals, commonly referred to, as the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) were to be achieved by the year 2015.

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Image Credit: Dominik Golenia
It is a common fact that poverty and disability are two sides of the same coin. Rough estimates say that 800 million of the world’s 1 billion people with disabilities live in the countries of the global south. People with disabilities comprise of 20 percent of the world’s poorest. It is rational to assume then that people with disabilities, especially in the developing world, owing to lack of access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities would end up being more vulnerable to poverty.

So while the MDGs along with their 21 targets and 60 indicators were designed particularly to address the needs of the world’s “poorest and marginalized citizens”, it is ironic that they failed to address the one group that is most susceptible– people with disability.

Disability did not even get mentioned in the Millennium Declaration of 2000.

While the MDGs provided governments a reference point on which they could focus their policies to end poverty, they have also been criticized for being too narrow and for not focusing on the element of human rights in their design. Although the MDGs were goals to be achieved globally, in reality they were more for the poorer countries to accomplish with overseas aid.

The world then began to talk about what would happen once the MDGs would expire. The Post-2015 is a process designed to help define a future global development framework that would succeed the MDGs, with a target date of 2030. It was in 2010, at a United Nations summit called by the UN Secretary General to review the progress of the MDGs and also to think of a future course of action beyond 2015, that the idea of a Post-2015 agenda was born.

In 2012, during a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), Member States agreed to launch a process to develop the next set of goals- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Subsequently, in 2013 an Open Working Group assigned by the UN Secretary General was assigned the task of preparing a proposal on these goals, which was completed in July 2014, and was presented in the General Assembly.

Since then multiple consultations have taken place globally, both online and on the ground. Many civil society organizations have come together to participate in the process and contribute to the development of the new agenda.

As of this year, in September 2015, the MDGs will expire and the General Assembly will adopt the 17 SDGs. While the magnitude of involvement of the disability movement in this process is much higher than what it was during the MDGs, the results speak otherwise.

Groups working around the issue seem to celebrate the fact that disability has mentions in the new framework, but what is ironic once again, is that Goals 1 and 3 on ‘Eradication of Poverty’ and ‘Ensuring Healthy Lives’ have no references to disability – neither in the goals, nor in the targets. When one talks of health, if there is one group of people that needs health care services and are vulnerable, it is people with disabilities.

During a recent visit to the UN Headquarters in New York as part of a disability group delegation, I learnt many new, hard-hitting things. We lobbied with Permanent Missions to make some noise about the exclusion of disability. But it seemed it was too late. The Goals and targets will remain as they stand. The only few strands of hope were that disability was to be included in the provision for disaggregated data, but this may or may not remain once the indicators of these goals are finalized.

Another insightful learning was that the G-77 countries were adamant against any change in the Goals and targets. Their reason, which I personally empathize with, was that they have worked very hard to get certain targets and groups included in the process and these might get taken away if the so-called Pandora ’s Box is opened. Other marginalized and ignored groups may also then begin to question the process vis-à-vis their own inclusion (or exclusion), which then risks this becoming a never-ending battle.

As things stand now, the world of disability hopes for a miracle when the Indicators and the Political Declaration are adopted. Only time will tell.

The UN Secretary General called for ‘Leaving no one behind’ in the Post-2015 development agenda. But the way I see it, history might just be repeating itself.

With the Disabled Left behind, yet again.

Parul Ghosh has worked with a global disability rights organization for over three years and these are her personal views. While she writes about the Global development process, she also questions the direct impact of the agenda, if any, on the grassroots.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi administering the Swacch Bharat Pledge, at India Gate, in New Delhi on October 02, 2014.

By Sofi Ahsan:

Sanitation in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) is among the worst in India, with more than 54% of more than 1.2 million households without toilets and the 2014-15 target for household latrines falling short by 86%, according to government data.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi administering the Swacch Bharat Pledge, at India Gate, in New Delhi on October 02, 2014.
The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi administering the Swacch Bharat Pledge, at India Gate, in New Delhi on October 02, 2014. Image: PIB

While J&K is ranked third, the two worst states are Odisha and Bihar, according to the Baseline Survey 2012 of the Union Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation.

J&K, a state of 12.5 million people, did not use about 96% of the money granted by Delhi for the sanitation programme for 2014-15, using Rs 4.66 crore of Rs 121.52 crore.

The sanitation programme is at a preliminary stage in the state,” said Khurshid Ahmad Shah, Secretary, Rural Development. “We are taking measures to fulfil our objective, and it will be done very soon.”

That does not appear immediately evident.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-talked-about sanitation programme, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA), is largely unimplemented in J&K, which is partly ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In J&K, 6,351 schools lack toilets for girls and 8,098 lack toilets for boys, according to data from the state’s Unified District Information System for Education (DISE Survey 2014-15).

More than 71% of schools have no basins or taps to wash hands near toilets and urinals.

Sanitation facilities in the state are very poor, and this is not only limited to villages,” said Dr Nisar ul Hassan, a senior doctor at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar. “The situation is similar in cities and healthcare institutions as well. Hepatitis A and diarrhoea, particularly in children, caused by rotavirus are common among patients where sanitary facilities are poor.”

40 cases of viral hepatitis, caused by unsafe government-supplied drinking water, were reported from a village in northern Kashmir last month, according to the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

Successor to an earlier sanitation programme called the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, SBA seeks to eliminate open defecation in rural areas of the country by 2019.

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Slow toilet construction increases health threats

The state has done little to mitigate health threats from improper sanitary facilities for households and school children.

J&K constructed 42,239 individual household latrines during 2014-2015 against the annual target of 0.3 million, a shortfall of 86%.

The government was to construct toilets in 1,264 schools last year, but it did so no more than 87. Only 17 of 300 anganwadi centers (creches) saw construction of toilets.

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The state has constructed only about 0.13 million household toilets in the state since the survey was conducted.
This is not the first time J&K has faltered in meeting the annual objectives of sanitation schemes.

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Official data since 2010 shows the state never completed its annual objectives in construction of household toilets. The best it did over the past five years was in 2010, when it fulfilled about 60% of its objective.

That was the first time the state constructed more than 0.1 million household toilets in a single year.

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The annual implementation plan for the year 2015-2016 of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was approved by the state on June 9, setting a target of 0.2 million latrines to be constructed in rural areas during the year.

Of J&K’s three regions, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, two districts, Kargil and Leh, in the mountainous Ladakh region, did better in household toilet construction than Kashmir and Jammu divisions, the data revealed.

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J&K has also lagged in the implementation of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, with Rs 310.15 crore unspent in 2014-2015, with more than 60% of the target unmet.

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Senior personnel from the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, in an official meeting held in February, reported there was “very low” implementation of the programme in J&K.

Schools lack toilets, wash-basins, drinking water

More than 71% of schools have no wash-basins or taps available near toilets, according to government data and 9.18% schools have no drinking water.

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This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.

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For Representational Purpose Only

By P.V. Durga:

Within 4 months of a strike following the incident at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, 2000 resident doctors have gone on an indefinite strike, starting Monday morning, in the national capital. Their demands are pretty clear: they want adequate supply of life-saving and generic drugs, better security at their workplace, drinking water, timely salaries, as well as time-bound duty hours. They claim that they had written to the concerned authorities expressing their grievances, and expected a reaction before June 21st, but carried on with the strike owing to lack of response.

For Representational Purpose Only
For representational purpose only

The healthcare services in Delhi naturally have been affected, because the 2000 doctors protesting belong to 20 different hospitals, including major ones such as Safdarjung Hospital, and Lady Hardinge Medical College.

We need to remember that this is not the first time that doctors have gone on strike. Horrible working conditions have been reported in the past too. These doctors are public servants but that doesn’t warrant sidelining of their basic rights. The welfare of patients lie in the welfare of doctors too, and thus, ignoring their grievances would mean disregard for public health. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal seems to have grasped this point well, and promptly tweeted, acknowledging the demands of the doctors as “genuine”. He also mentioned that the government is “committed” to providing the “best health facilities” to people. On the other hand, he alleged lack of cooperation of the doctors, and said that they were invited for talks on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (at 3 pm), but did not show up.

A doctor, requesting anonymity, informed me that resident doctors have the toughest job, as they are the first to aide patients in casualties, thereby facing the emotional upheavals of the patients’ companions too. Therefore, he said that a strike is indeed the “last resort”. Plausible, because considering a doctor’s responsibilities, a strike is indicative of a prolonged period of negligence.

There is a need to place such strikes that have far-reaching consequences, in a political context too. Ever since Kejriwal’s landslide victory in Delhi, the national capital has been the center of action for months together now. Political parties have tried their best to make use of opportunities to attribute issues to faults in governance. The congress has been quick to react, with the Delhi Congress’s chief spokesperson expressing the party’s support to the doctors’ demands, and at the same time accusing the Kejriwal regime of poor administration. One can only hope that this strike culminates into proactive measures to address the concerns being raised, and does not become propaganda for warring political parties.

An expectant mother having an ultrasound examination in Anand, Gujarat. These diagnostic techniques are often used illegally to determine the sex of an unborn child.

By Prachi Salve:

  • There is a shortfall of 73% and 55% in inspections of sonography centres in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, two of India’s richest.
  • The child sex-ratio (number of girls under six years per 1,000 boys) in the states are among the lowest in India, especially in backward districts, such as Beed in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region (807) and Surat district (831) in Gujarat. The national average is 914.
  • Verdicts have been pronounced in 23 cases of 603 reported cases of child marriage in Maharashtra with 580 cases pending for 2013-14.
  • No one has been convicted in Gujarat under the prohibition of Child Marriage Act, although 659 cases are registered.
An expectant mother having an ultrasound examination in Anand, Gujarat. These diagnostic techniques are often used illegally to determine the sex of an unborn child.
An expectant mother having an ultrasound examination in Anand, Gujarat. These diagnostic techniques are often used illegally to determine the sex of an unborn child.

A wealth of laws and programmes instituted to protect girls are failing them in India’s two most economically-developed states, Maharashtra and Gujarat, according to recent reports by the central government auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).

Both states are failing to implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PC & PNT), which prohibits sex selection, before or after conception, and regulates diagnostic techniques to prevent misuse for sex determination used in female foeticide.

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Strong laws that work on paper, fail on ground

On paper, the Act provides for robust implementation state-wide through a supervisory board and an advisory committee including an officer of or above the rank of joint director of Health and Family Welfare as chairperson; representatives from women’s organisations and an officer of the law department.

The chief medical officer or civil surgeon is designated the appropriate authority at the district level.

These authorities can monitor the sonography centres that help abort the female fetus.

In Maharashtra, there was a shortfall of 55% in inspections (averaged across all districts) in 2013-14, up from a shortfall of 43% in 2011-12, the CAG found. The highest was in Amravati district at 54%.

In Gujarat, the shortfall was higher at 73% in 2013-14.

“The joint secretary, health and family welfare department, stated that the state government had assured to increase (sic) rate of conviction by meticulous paper work, evidence gathering and proper submission, and strong pleading of PC & PNDT cases,” the report said.

­­­­­­­Maharashtra registered 481 cases under the PC & PNDT Act as of March 2014.

While 181 offences were registered in Gujarat under the PC & PNDT Act as of March 2014, only 49 cases were prosecuted and only six offenders were convicted, the CAG report said. The punishments include imprisonment, cancellation of licences and fine.

In violation of Supreme Court directions to prosecute cases within six months, cases continued from one to 12 years.

The failure to implement the PC & PNDT Act is responsible for the falling child sex-ratio in these states, the report said.

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Child sex-ratio in Maharashtra is the lowest in Beed, Marathwada with 807 girls per 1,000 boys followed by Jalgoan in Khandesh (north Maharashtra).

In Gujarat, Surat has the lowest ratio of 831:1,000 followed by Gandhinagar.

The child sex-ratio in four districts (Chandrapur, Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara) in Maharashtra rose between 2001 and 2011 but it declined in 31 districts over the same period.

Sex ratio improves in India, not in Maharashtra, Gujarat

Maharashtra’s overall sex ratio declined from 920 to 919 over a decade (2001 to 2011) although the all-India ratio improved from 933 to 943, according to census 2011.

For Gujarat, the overall sex ratio declined from 920 to 919 from 2001 to 2011. However, there was some improvement in the child sex-ratio from 883 to 890 between 2001 and 2011.

Another important finding of the report is that the child sex-ratio is lower in urban areas than in rural areas in both states.

The report explains that this could be due to the availability of sonography centres in urban areas.

The availability of genetic clinics in urban areas and awareness of literate people about usage of sex determination techniques could also be attributed to declining child sex-ratio in urban areas,” the report said.

The child sex-ratio in urban India stood at 902 as against 919 in rural areas, the report said.

In Maharashtra, the child sex-ratio in urban regions stood at 899 and 890 in rural areas.

In Gujarat, the child sex-ratio in urban areas is 852 and 914 in rural areas.

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Children forced into marriage under-reported by both states

Child marriages, meaning girls/boys aged 10 to 19 years getting married, are common across Maharashtra and Gujarat, the report said. The audit found that both states were under-reporting child marriages.

There are almost 17 million children in India who were married between the ages of 10 and 19. Maharashtra ranks 5th with 1.5 million children married, while Gujarat is 7th with 0.9 million children married in the 10-19 age group.

Almost 73% of children married are girls in Maharashtra while it is 66% in Gujarat.

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The report highlighted the high pendency of cases pertaining to child marriages in Maharashtra.

In 2014, 101 new cases were registered and verdicts were pronounced in 23 cases.

There were delays in nominating Child Marriage Prohibition Officers in rural areas while no officers were nominated in urban areas, the report said.

Though The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act came into force from June 2012, the government was yet to frame guidelines to assist girls during pre-trial and trial, the report said.

In Gujarat, out of 659 complaints of child marriages during 2009-14, court cases were filed in only 15; no one was convicted during this period.

Maharashtra, Gujarat: Money is not the issue

Gujarat contributes more than 7.5% to India’s GDP while Maharashtra contributes about 14%.

In 2013-14, Maharashtra’s per capita income (at current prices) was 45.6% above the Indian norm (Rs 117,091 annually), while Gujarat‘s was 33% above (Rs 106,831 annually at current prices). India’s average annual per capita income (at current prices) was Rs 80,388.

While Maharashtra grew at 8.7% in 2014-15, Gujarat grew at 8.8% in 2014-15.

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.

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poem on depression

By Sanskriti Pandey:

It comes unannounced, greets you like an old nemesis, and then consumes you whole. Depression is perhaps one of the most terrifying of disorders to affect people. That seemingly content stranger standing next to you on the bus stop could have it. So could your closest friend. Globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. And often, it leads to suicide.

Many wonder what the fuss is all about. After all, can happiness really be all that elusive? This powerful performance by a woman will show you how glimpses of depression can be found in ordinary moments throughout life. She writes her depression a letter, and with that, lays bare her struggle against it.

To know more about what I think of this video, follow me on Twitter at @im_sanskriti.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Nupur Sonar:

Having a baby in a remote village of eastern Bihar, India means being pregnant with anxiety and a sense of helplessness. Without access to health infrastructure to monitor pregnancies and provisions for emergency care, it is a life threatening situation for both the mother and the unborn child. In cases of abortions, women who approach state-run health facilities are turned away due to lack of infrastructure and are forced to approach private practitioners. Most of them, cannot afford their services.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last year, 24-year old Masuhsun Khatun from Fulvari village of Bihar’s Kishanganj district was expecting her fifth baby. She was five months pregnant in June 2014, when she tripped and fell in the front yard of her house.

Later that night, Masuhun woke up writhing in pain and bleeding profusely. Her husband tried calling a government ambulance but to no avail. He then hired a private vehicle to get Masuhun to the nearest government hospital. They found no doctors there and Masuhun was taken to a private practitioner, who informed her that she needed to undergo an abortion.

Two weeks after the abortion at a private health facility, Masuhun started bleeding again. This time she was taken to a state-run hospital, where she was told she had foetal remains in her womb. Masuhun was forced to undergo a remedial procedure at her home, under the supervision of an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM), because the hospital lacked adequate medical facilities. Although, ANMs are not qualified to perform surgical procedures. Her condition worsened over the next five days before she passed away.

For three weeks, Masuhsun shuttled between private practitioners and state-run medical facilities. Her husband, a daily wage labourer, spent nearly Rs 40,000 on her pregnancy and the subsequent termination, including Rs 17,600 on eight bottles of blood required for transfusion.

Community Correspondent Navita Devi’s report reveals that due to lack of proper abortion facilities, trained medical personnel and access to public health facilities, several other women in Fulvari village of Kishanganj district in Bihar suffered the same fate as Masuhun’s. The ones who survived, live with financial burdens and a trauma that never leaves them.

This, however, isn’t just the story of the women of Fulvari.

India Has The Highest Number Of Maternal Deaths

56,000 women succumb to pregnancy related complications in India every year — the highest across the world. Rajasthan, followed by Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, has the highest maternal mortality rates—the number of women aged 15-49 dying due to pregnancy related complications per 100,000 live births—in India, according to a report by the Registrar General of India.

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand are other states with critical numbers. Infections due to non use of a sterile kit during delivery, home births without trained providers, eclampsia, postpartum haemorrhage, early pregnancies, anaemia and unsafe abortions are the leading causes of maternal deaths. However, these deaths are entirely preventable. According to government data, although India’s maternal mortality rate has come down considerably in the last two decades, urban-rural disparities continue to exist.

In 2005, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), a cash transfer programme, that incentivised institutional deliveries, in order to reduce maternal deaths in India. Women are awarded Rs 1,400 in rural areas and Rs 1,000 in urban areas to give birth in public health facilities, under the scheme. It also makes provisions to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure, providing free antenatal check-ups, IFA tablets, medicines, nutrition in health institutions, provision for blood transfusion, and transport from health centres and back. The scheme, however, makes no provisions for medical intervention in cases of accidents, and women like Masuhusn are left to fend for themselves.

While the scheme’s focus remains on reducing maternal and neonatal deaths, by providing free institutional care, ground reports by Video Volunteers’ (VV) Community correspondents reveal that access to prenatal and postnatal care, nutrition and timely medical intervention remain dismal in several parts of the country.

These reports are first in a series of VV’s project on Community Monitoring of Maternal Health in India. Through its network of over 180 community journalists from marginalised communities, VV seeks to report violations, produce stories, take action and devise solutions to improve the state of maternal healthcare in India.

Poor Infrastructure

Women continue to give birth in deplorable conditions at unhygienic and ill-equipped health facilities. While Bharti Kumari reports on how dangerous it is to deliver at the Telmocho sub-health centre in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand, Meri Nisha Hansda’s report reveals how pregnant women wait for hours to receive medical attention and are charged not just for medicines but also for using the toilet at the Primary Health centre in Godda. According to the health ministry guidelines a Primary Health Centre is supposed to have two doctors. However, no doctor was present at the time when Paku Tudu was brought in to the hospital. Her delivery was conducted by an ANM.

Missing Infrastructure And Health Workers

While India’s public health system grapples with a dearth of health facilities, shortage of human resources is one of the biggest impediments to the functioning of existing public health facilities in India. The absence of a health centre nearby also means that pregnant women have to travel long distances to avail medical services.

In interviews to Reena Ramteke, several women from Khatti village in Chhattisgarh say that ANMs hardly ever visit the village, and that the sub-health centre in the village always remains locked. A sub-health centre is a state-run first care provider staffed by an ANM who is responsible for administering antenatal care to pregnant women.

One Frontline Health Worker For 14 Centers

Frontline health workers are often blamed for dismal healthcare in rural India. However, they are spread too thin and are forced to work under inhuman conditions. According to the ministry guidelines, one ANM is supposed to look after eight sub-health centres. However, in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad district, two ANMs look after 23 centres in Baghmara block. Ahilya Devi looks after 14 of the 23 centres. “There is no water and provisions for emergency light in cases of power failure. In such a case we have no choice but to use a flashlight, lantern or candle. How do we put stitches in such a case?” she asks. She admits that because of the workload, she often can’t make it to some sub-health centres.

Out-Of-Pocket Expenditure

Gyanti Kumari reports from Bihar’s Siwan district on the shortage of medicines at the Rajapur Primary-health centre and instances where women were forced to spend money on medical facilities they are entitled to under the JSY. “The ANM charged Rs 50 per injection and Rs 500 to cut my daughter’s umbilical cord,” says Muni Devi’s mother.

No Cash Incentives

Instances of women not receiving cash incentives promised under JSY are endemic across rural India. Satyanarayan Banchor, reports on one such instance from Bankheda village of Bolangir district in Odisha. “Why should we deliver at public health institutions when we neither get quality care nor incentives that we are entitled to?,” they ask.

Why Do Women Opt Out Of Government’s Scheme?

In testimonies to VV’s community correspondents, women say that the lack of infrastructure, support from healthcare providers and high out of pocket expenditure discourages them from seeking care at state-run facilities. Unavailability of or delay in the arrival of an ambulance is another deterrent.

In August this year, the health ministry plans to send voice messages delivering advice to pregnant women to increase health awareness amongst them. The government plans to make use of India’s network of 950 million mobile connections to combat maternal and infant mortality. This might prove to be a cost-effective way of spreading awareness but what about safety of women who choose to deliver at public health institutions? How far will awareness campaigns take us at a time when the public health system is in complete disarray?

Yoga day

By Garima Kushwaha:

While New Delhi is all-out preparing for the showpiece event of the inaugural International Day of Yoga, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on June 7 decided to launch a nationwide campaign against making Yoga and Surya Namaskar (requiring a person to bow to Sun God) compulsory in schools. Several Muslims in Mumbai got infuriated when the Maharashtra government recently passed a diktat for schools to open on Sunday, June 21 to compulsorily celebrate and promote the importance of yoga.

According to many Muslims, yoga is anti-Islam. Education secretary of Jamat-e-Islami Hind Mohammed Zahoor Ahmed told Indian Express, “It is detrimental to our religious freedom. Islam being a monotheistic religion, the followers cannot bow before anyone except Allah, and it is wrong to impose such things on Muslims.

Dr Zahir Kazi who is the president of Anjuman-I-Islam, which runs a chain of schools and professional colleges in Maharashtra, called the move as “undemocratic”. He says, “The order is undemocratic and amounts to infringing on the rights of a group of citizens who don’t worship anyone except Allah who is formless and omnipresent”.

Members of All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) consider promoting and making yoga compulsory an indirect way of promoting a ‘Hindu rashtra by the BJP government. “This really shows that they want to impose the hindutva ideology on the throats of people and we are definitely not going to follow”, says AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi.

Apart from compulsory celebration of yoga day, there is resentment against many state governments like Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, which have made it mandatory for school students to perform the Surya Namaskar in their 0th period.

The government should develop a sense of confidence among the people of the minority communities that they can practice their religion without any problem but it is seen that Hindutva forces are carrying out their agenda against minorities after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister,” AIMPLB assistant general secretary Abdul Rahim Qureshi said. AIMPLB also alleged that communal forces wanted Muslim youths to break laws so that they can get a chance to isolate the community and justify atrocities against them.

Detestation against yoga in Islamic nations is also not new. A few years ago, a Malaysian Islamic body issued a fatwa against yoga, saying elements of Hinduism in the ancient Indian exercise could corrupt them. Other countries like Indonesia for instance, have also banned practicing yoga as it contains Hindu rituals like chanting. Even in United States, where yoga is outstandingly popular, many people believe that Yoga is inherently religious and pushes children to practice Hinduism in school. The Huffington Post and The Associated Press have reported on this situation where parents demanded to ban yoga from school in America.

Having seen all the incidents of unacceptance by minorities, making yoga strictly compulsory might be a wrong choice by our PM and state governments in our democratic country. However, promoting the importance of yoga pertaining to its health benefits is not wrong as well. Although Vedic chanting and surya-namaskar are not required to perform yoga, chanting “Om” can be replaced by “Allah”, “Jesus” or any syllable to help focus during meditation. It is true that yoga’s origin is linked to Hindu scriptures and rituals but in reality it has traveled across many countries and has evolved into a sport and a recreational activity to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

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