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Politics, Business and Reality Shows [#Vedanta and #Niyamgiri]

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By Amar Tejaswi:

Are democracies really run by the people and for the people? Yes, of course. For people who have pockets deeper than the deepest oceans on this planet and by people who have a huge inherent appetite for the contents of those pockets. Now all you aam aadmis out there, don’t feel let down because sitting amongst the audience, you can enjoy democracy played out onstage and even get to vote (what an emulation of a reality television show; oops, is it the other way round?). A monarchy – unlike its diametrically opposite cousin democracy – is like an old beaten radio track, there is nothing to watch but there is something for your ears (which most of the times is not likeable) and there’s not much hype involved. So our reality show is doing well, reviving a lot of emotions.

Okay, now let us have a recap of last week’s episode in which Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was seen scurrying (quite contrary to his haggard style) to the Prime Minister’s Office but it was the Ministry of Environment and Forests that sent him and his deep pocketed master packing.

Politics generally involves invisible liaisons built to promote individual interests. Mr. Patnaik and Vedanta might be parties to such cooperation. But, not everything is turning out as Mr. Patnaik thought. Vedanta’s law flouting mining ambitions were thwarted by Mr. Jairam Ramesh who has proved himself to be quite a protagonist of our reality show.  Everyone from the media to the tribal people are hailing him; I suggest they call him ‘the king of the jungles’ (his hairstyle suits the title).

By catching the flight to New Delhi, Mr. Patnaik might have exposed a little too much of his association with the mining giant. The hills which were to fall prey to Vedanta are revered highly by the tribal people inhabiting the area. His trip not only highlights his willingness to sacrifice laws to the avarice of giant companies but also is a tight slap in the face of the tribal people, a small minority of the same people who voted him to power. Did he dash off to the capital with the same intensity when the anti-Christian riots took place a couple of years back? Oh, I am sorry. I think that’s too much to ask from an Indian politician. The only reason why he might be feeling bad about those riots is that the issue is nice juicy fodder for the opposition which can potentially shunt him out of his office.

This throws some light on the fact that our politicians hardly care about the aam aadmi while devoting all their loyalty to the ‘people with deep pockets’, and that’s why we always scorn at them. But why do they do it? Let me try and guess… Maybe the mindset of the average Indian (all our politicians are actually below average but my theory still applies to them) is organised in such a way that instead of serving the man who pays to keep him alive, he works hard to appease the man who keeps him inebriated. Same goes for the manner in which our MPs demanded for a rise in their official salaries when they earn so much with their unofficial salaries.

Now Mr. Patnaik isn’t used to that much attention, so we can do our best by diverting some of it to Mr. Ramesh, who definitely seems to be loving it. The recent activity concerning Vedanta is for some reason stimulating my sixth sense. Because Vedanta’s big spending project wasn’t the only one that mocked the Forest Rights Act, there were several others which surprisingly got the required clearance, while Vedanta was shown the door. By the same ministry with the same minister as its head! In the same period, the government is also devising a plan to stop Vedanta from acquiring oil company Cairn India’s oil assets in Rajasthan. Why is Vedanta being opposed so much? Clearly, there is something stirring out there on our show.

But as suspected there might be a twist in the end, which might never be revealed to us. In that case Mr. Ramesh is doing his job well. Like he said, “There is no emotion, no politics, no prejudice … I have taken the decision in a purely legal approach. That these laws are being violated.” I like him the way he is. It would heart-breaking if our ‘king of the jungles’ turns out to be a pawn of the government’s articulate business moves. But then, democracy and war are similar. Every man for himself!

The writer is a 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 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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