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Sometimes, all They Need is Sympathy

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Mohnish Bagree:

Downstairs, one of the servants from my hostel was sitting in a boorish black T-shirt and trousers which appeared more like shorts from one side. I was taking my towel to dry outside my room on the rope. When I just cleaned my face with it, his muckiness caught my thought. I saw him for a second or two while he was hurriedly enjoying his nap and then came back to my room. Yet, I could not but think about his deprived state. ‘Should I go back and offer him some help or let it go?; God is there for people like him’, these thoughts flooded my mind. Eventually, letting my angelic side win, I took out an old T-shirt of mine from the cupboard which I hadn’t worn for many months and offered it to him. His sudden revival from a siesta, the strange look on seeing an unacquainted figure like me and then a gentle yet deep smile to see the seemingly new T-shirt were all unmatchable gestures to make me feel like I was doing God’s own work.

How often do we actually try and take a step forward to show sympathy and do something when we see someone, genuinely in need? (Forget about beggars who don’t work to earn from everyone appealing only to their pity). It’s a common thing to sympathize with the underprivileged or those who are bearing the worst of conditions but is sympathy sufficient to bring normality to someone’s life? While interacting with few of my friends, I realized different views on how, in India, the affordable class works towards the dejected community. Two days back, the co-founder of Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates was in India discussing with Mayawati, the ‘statue’ woman, on how she was interested in providing sustainable support to life-saving innovations that affect social and cultural change to bring down the unacceptably high death rates for children under five-years of age in UP and Bihar. Few said it’s a shame that we as insiders are unaware of such situations and if ARE aware, we overlook it, while an outsider seems more concerned.

A friend who is a budding entrepreneur at VIT University says, “We may take one look at someone dressed lowly and feel bad about it, but don’t care to donate a small part of our income to charity thereby anticipating the money building up the lives of few.” This is true to the current context where we have 53 billionaires but we hardly fall upon stories of some charitable work by these tycoons. One effort that a common man can do is buy consumer products which share some percentage of its cost with poor people through many programmes, considering that many of us don’t have the time to actually go to donation camps. Making donations or extending monetary help to the poor is not a compulsion but a self-righteous act of doing a good deed. Another one of my friends who is a CAT aspirant asks, why shell out cash to those who even if helped will do least or nothing to add to our economy? Well, the validation of this point stands if we consider a situation where the money donated to trusts is not utilised to raise the needy (it is taken as indirect help) or when the direct receiver of cash wastes it on alcohol or any other useless thing. The status quo of no outcome according to the supporting doubt can be dealt with if we donate things like books, clothes, food, free education etc. to them. This will solve the problem of misuse of money to some extent. Most of the poor people in our country are uneducated too. And expecting them to chip in to economy would be asking a mute to shout while pinching to signal if it hurts. When we help them, we expect them to become, at some stage of life, a fisherman on their own rather than always counting on the feeder.

I was involved in social service at a local orphanage where along with my college mates, I gave lessons to children of Class 6 and 7. These colleagues obviously have a different dimension to explain the help they provide beyond sympathy. They don’t call it a service or a contribution, instead an amalgamation of true love, honest help, knowledge and situations where people know how to attain gratification despite lacking all the luxuries of life. One cannot imagine the cheer those children experience when they see us coming and giving them a different experience of knowledge and learning, how the world looks like outside an orphanage and making them feel like they have guardians equally caring and pampering as their parents if they were alive.

You may not know the last five Heisman Trophy winners or the last decade’s worth of World Series winners or the Pulitzer’s prize, but you can definitely name three friends who have helped you in difficult times or have made you feel special and appreciated. Analogously, the people who make a difference to poor peoples life are not the ones with most credentials, most money or most awards; they are simply the ones who care the most with substance and not just feelings.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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