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Commonwealth Games: Rains Wreaking Havoc or Divine Intervention?

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By Shruthi Venukumar:

As the signal turns to red, my patience gets in the red. Drumming my fidgety fingers on the steering wheel, I just about manage to steer my anxiety out of the veins of my anger. Fifteen minutes. That is the deadline after which my payment gets capped by Rs.150 per hour. A fleeting disinterested yet agitated glance around is a ritual to keep my ears averted from the mindless honking behind me. It is at the crossroads of the diplomatic area in New Delhi that I saw him … at the crossroads of going to bed hungry and sleeping with hunger sated. Sandy complexion, hair coloured in what the fashionable would call flaxen tones and bearing a gurgling transparent plastic vessel on his head. The straw highlights are courtesy the poverty that he seemed blissfully unaware of at his age. The water waves onto the walls of the vessel bubbling with the babe’s ethereal movements, almost silhouette-like, dressed like a waif (a word glamorized by the patronization of the likes of Kate Moss). So the waif walked on, the ward of the weary wife, tied down by the day’s share of burden and walking into a sunset not so colourful, not even promising.

In just over a fortnight, this city is to host the biggest extravaganza that it will see in a long time to come. The Commonwealth Games — a Game with its capital at New Delhi, but run on Common Wealth drawn in from all across. A game the booty from which is seen frittered away freely across continents (to the mother nation, some would say) through an invisible cord of cordiality in the form of business papers. The signal lights once again take me by surprise by staying a step ahead of me. As I steer my ship away along the rain-rundown road, the green light makes me sheepish. It is as if to remind me of the dragons that slept inside me while I gave my silent consent to the wastage, now breathing fire in vain.

In the past months, a lot has happened. I do remember the bus fare that I used to dole out two years ago as a fresher in college. Today, it has exceeded more than three times the initial fare. Global price rise took the blame like Akon in his famous (infamous?) song. And while NASCOM and other industry watchdogs and co-coordinators (seemingly) inflated national capital loss incurred in a day of national Bandh, much like the inflated prices floating around, our Parliamentarians did not think or blink twice before inflating their healthy pay packets (made obese by perks not unheard or unseen of). With subsidies on everything from cooking gas to fuel having been rolled back, the common man was left naked on the last runk of the economic ladder. Those based on the last runk since forever — the documented/undocumented poor – sodden with the muck of callous governmental attitude, fell to pieces, the dust settling on the slush of abject poverty underneath. A system of introducing different slab rates for different economic classes never seemed to strike (or maybe it was ignored) the brightest of economists in the cauldron of Parliamentarians. Or maybe rubber stamp statuses are to blame. In the name of supplementing the government exchequer, the personal coffers of deviants are being filled, each penny shorn from its intended use driving a nail into the coffin of the poor. Stories of housemaids having to forego bus travel while shuttling between households in order to save that fare bloated to three times its value and of daily wage earners bogged and strapped down by the increase in the price of the odd vegetable in his diet (what is supposed to be high-powered) while his pay leaf starved with him into a lean, bring tears to the eyes and a gush through arteries. Tax billows in the past years in the name of the Commonwealth Games were accepted with the view that it is all to spruce up India’s image abroad. But India’s spring cleaning, coming after a long 28 years, was not even a cosmetic change. A few spunky stadiums, roads re-laid a second time after being ploughed out once to lay some forgotten phone lines (they call it miscommunication between two wings of public works undertakings) and rows of artificial grass planted over the graves of broken dreams are not enough to hide the huge disease infested slum clusters and plastic clutter of the real Delhi. Only a tourist with blinkers on his eyes blindfolded to any sight other than the purported approved sights recommended by the State would be benighted enough to see any radical change in his/her notions of past-postcard India. Slum tourism is sure to gain in gravitas against the grave mistakes of the government and related agencies. Stadiums inaugurated as world-ready and world class saw their ruddy surfaces erupting in red boils like a teenaged face in acid rain, pounded by the first flush of ravaging rains that the capital has seen in its recorded history.

“It’s unmistakably a case of divine intervention. It’s as if the Gods have joined hands to wreak havoc on plans mired by hidden agendas and besmirched by vested interests,” I hear a young woman quipping to her friend, along college lawns. “What has the Government done for the common man except embezzle money in his name? With these heavy rains, at least people would be free of water-shortage problems for a safe year or two.” She does not weigh in the disadvantage, one might say. What would have looked like a common teenage angsty rant on a normal day made strange sense at this point with the mind cluttered with innumerable examples of debacles tried to be passed off as spectacles. At first glance, it seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Preparations have been on the backburner for aeons and the requisite authorities have been on the backfoot about malfeasance involved. The city resembles a shoddily torn down film set with unrelenting rains raping juvenilely raw roads and seems to be happy playing host to a rogue army of mosquitoes feasting and infesting on succulent vital fluids, sucking away life, much like the lifelines of the city being depraved. Nationalistic blood would undoubtedly burn and boil and pray to deliver in a desperate face-saving mission.

The city lights would fade away as soon as the arc lights are gone. The city and the country at large would be left to deal with the mess left by the gross mismanagement that left its citizens in the lurch. The cleaning drive would trail from the Parliament gates to the judicial temples. Or maybe, the jazz of the spectacle would sheen up the squalid face of corruption. Cut to a few years down the line. Commonwealth-worthy India will put together bidding papers for yet another spectacle drawing traction and credibility from the glory of the last minute grandeur. The vicious circle of poverty, gambling with public money and false pride would thus continue. The charade of governments would continue as public memory can be expected to be shorter in the afterglow of a superb international performance than it is in times of constant crisis. And even if democracy is exercised with the optimum use of critical facilities, it may very well be a choice between the devil and the deep sea.

Cut to scene two. The rains continue copiously in an incessant chatter. The Games do not quite turn out to be the magical rhapsody of “Atithi Devo Bhava” sentimentality and the eleventh hour speeding up. Postponed, displaced … whatever. It would take a pile up of a number of decades before such a dubious extravaganza is planned again as public money was embezzled and siphoned off without the promise delivered. Public memory would expectantly have a high resolution in this case as the popular contention of “I don’t care how much goes to corruption if we are able to pull off a spectacular show hosting the Games.” The perfect recipe for the contents of the 19th century Communist Manifest to be acted out in a play format; for anarchy is never an option as a headless State falls prey to ravages of crime.

This is just brainstorming about the future in near reckoning. But one thing cannot be denied. The glory of a nation is measured by factoring in human development — education, health and satisfaction. If it were just GDP we would have been as good creating artificial earthquakes to boost up production hence notching up growth. Investment without a vision is a perfect example of drifting without direction. The curtains are set to part on us. As if symbolic of saving much lost time, the CM makes an appearance on T.V in a quick-to-don Salwar Kameez, giving the laborious time-consuming hassles of draping a saree a miss. She advocates faith in God.

Have the Gods answered already? An idle mind muses while the eyes graze across the CWG reserved blue lanes scraped off by the zooming past of fast beasts on wheels. Or is it a rap on the knuckles to teach erring parties a lesson, sure to clear out right before the ripe time? Whatever be the case, hope it is in the best interests of India.

“Oh! The cloggy lanes. I wonder how the city is going to manage during the rush hour with blocked lanes,” and so chatters away a lady to her better half.

“Did you hear? We might be in for an early Autumn holiday treat this September. The roads can do without additional student traffic in the peak hours,” thinks aloud a college belle.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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