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Nuclear Radiation Sabotage: A Nuclear Family”s Perspective

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Shruthi Venukumar:

“I’m so relieved this goes back to Delhi University,” the woman cried, a cry of joy. She had just put down the newspaper flashing with headline after headline with the “real deal” about the radiation leak at Mayapuri, New Delhi.

“What?” cried the husband, a cry of surprise. “Unsuspecting people are suffering. One has already succumbed to it. Others may just be on the way.”

“Oh don’t make me out to be a heartless monster. The radiation leak was horrible and horrifying. And it is outrageous that Delhi University could be so callous about something so serious,” the woman clarified.

“Seems like they miscalculated the half-life period. They were assured that the machine was sterile after all these years,” the son reasoned.

“They did, didn’t they? What grade did you say those scientists are in?” the idea that PhD holders could miscalculate half-lives of nuclear materials was absurd to the young college-going daughter.

“Ok. Maybe that shows a little recklessness,” acceded her little brother.

“That’s utter negligence. I don’t buy the miscalculation excuse. How come people entering the room were still asked to wear lead coats if it were so?” she lashed out.

“I walked through Mayapuri when the leakage was supposed to have happened. How do I know I wasn’t affected!” the woman exclaimed.

“You sure were,” her man muttered under his breath.

“And how kiddish is this? They apparently told the scrap dealer that it is radioactive according to another version,” guffawed the girl.

“When?” her brother asked, wide-eyed.

“Right after they conferred on him an honorary degree in nuclear science,” came the cheeky reply.

“Radioactive indeed! The poor chap must have dismantled the machine to look for any radio sets that might still be active. Finding none, he might have discarded it on the streets. And the next thing you know … radiation-soaked laypeople on hospital beds,” shot the boy, Star Trek style.

“Let’s get back to the “I’m relieved” part,” their father brought the core back.

“Oh that. I am just relieved to know that the source of the radiation was internal. And all this while I had my heart pounding away at grotesque vivid visuals of it being a hatched conspiracy by a hostile alien country,” quipped his wife.

“You mean taking nuclear warfare to the streets?” that wide-eyed boyish gush again.

“Yeah … only undercover!” said his mother.

“Well. A wise enemy is any day better than a foolish friend,” came the wise man’s words.

“You’re in for more bad news then, hubby. Seems like they have more nuclear material buried deep down at the university campus. Um…some 20 years ago. That’s their idea of disposal.”

“Ohh! And who dug out this dirt?” and the question bank gob of the son opened again.

“Hopefully they don’t “dig” it up. It’s word of mouth…courtesy a very reliable professor,” assured his mother.

“You believe anything!” the husband shook his head.

“Tell me otherwise. What’s there not to believe it? Duh … the state of affairs aren’t helping the non-believer in me, are they? Maybe substantial proof may help,” retorted his better (bitter) half.

“They start with the Vice-chancellor,” popped in the daughter.

“The Vice-chancellor? He came into the picture a measly 5 years ago. It’s unfair to put on him the onus,” reasoned her father.

“Ok. But the disposal happened in his reign. The man was clearly not doing his job well,” whipped the woman.

“His job is not going through the inventory of stuff classified as scrap before they are discarded. He is not the only one in the system who has to have his sleeves rolled up at all times,” cut the husband.

“Oh so you do agree that teachers and lab staff share the shame, dear hubby!”

He shrugged. “Maybe that one man or group who were responsible for the breach.”

“It is definitely a group. And the shit runs deep. The trail ends with the people that bought it in the first place,” came the reply.

“Wait … whoa whoa whoa! What was that?” the man could not quite believe it.

The answer came from a cool cucumber, having lost the bitter ends. “Just what you heard. The machine was bought four decades ago and faded into decadence without having been of benefit to even a handful of people and was disposed of open with its deadly gut out. $20,000 went into the purchase. $20,000 on a scientist who did not even complete the PhD programme for which the machine was procured in the first place! It doesn’t take much to put two and two together.”

“Please do. Put two and two together for me.”

“That machine was bought to aid some people with vested interests make some dirty money on the side. Remember the Scorpene deal?” she rolled her eyes.

“For God’s sake! Honey it was 1968. Mrs.Gandhi and everyone who wanted to see this country rise and touch heights were anxious to get technology on its feet in India. Do you even imagine what a great prestige it would have been for DU to own a Gamma ray irradiator in that day and age?” he croaked, appalled.

“So you are saying that it was a show-off?”

“No. it wasn’t. At the time they bought it, maybe they thought that in time the number of scientists benefitting from the machine would multiply. That was their hope and it was damn positive. Positivity didn’t yield. The numbers just dwindled and the machine faded into disuse.”

“And then misuse. That was their first miscalculation … of many,” she snapped in.

“Ok, your point that gross mismanagement and mishandling took place in the way it was abandoned is well within validity. But the buck does NOT stop at who would now be bedridden octogenarians, erstwhile scientists, who probably had the best interests of the country at heart when they brought in the machine. That will be like saying that your parents should be hanged because you failed to live up to their expectations.”

Uh oh! The major breach had been traversed. He had set foot upon the well-trodden (ill-trodden) path.

“That was intentionally aimed at me isn’t it?” the daughter’s eyes spat the first sparks of the fire to be.

In the face of calamity insisting on unblinking eye contact, many a tête-à-tête along the lines of the above are bound to happen. They play out in hushed tones, spilling out of mundane one-on-ones just as easily as coffee over table-tops. Top echelons follow suit, albeit behind the veneer of sophistication. In forcibly passing on the torch of accusations from one reluctant hand to another, maybe we would prematurely each the point of no return, where the flames leave the confines of the brim of the torch to assume arson proportions. It is time the buck stopped and the concerned bucked up to back society up against disasters of the magnitude that we are witnessing. Why lend nature a hand with man-made disasters when she is already neck-deep in creating calamities of her own.

The team of Youth Ki Awaaz extends heartfelt support to the victims of the radiation leak.

The writer is a senior correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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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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