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Cycle Of Life: The Beginning After The End

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By Samonway Duttagupta:

The whole night Rakesh kept looking at the ceiling fan deprived of a even a bit of sleep. Rakesh was not in a biological state of sleep but yet he had a dreadful night. He was engrossed into the world of his deepest and worst memories of his lifetime.

Hailing from the city of Kolkata, Rakesh Mukherjee was working as a customer care executive with a multinational company for the last three years. He worked hard day and night and his bosses were also happy to see this young chap of 24 years to give heart and soul into his job. But from Rakesh’s perspective, this job served some other purpose for him. For Rakesh this job was just to kill time and keep him busy and thus diverted from the dreadful memories of the past that haunted him all the time. He kept on working like a machine without a particular motive, ambition or any expectations for the future. But this was not the way Rakesh was three years ago.

He was happy and gay and a normal young chap of 21 with high dreams and aspirations. His parents were his closest. But happiness was not in store for him for a very long time. Rakesh was coming back from college with the excitement of celebrating his parents’ marriage anniversary. But on his way, he got a call from the hospital asking him to immediately reach there, for his parents had met with a car accident on their way back from the market. Exactly after five hours from the time he called his parents, he found himself standing at the funeral of his parents with stony eyes filled with extreme shock.

Since that dreadful day Rakesh had hardly remembered that he was alive. He remained lost, unable to recover from the shock and never aware of date and time. Rakesh spent sleepless nights, sometimes staring the way at the ceiling fan with empty eyes and sometimes working overtime at the call centre. He never knew when he was hungry- sometimes he even forgot to have his meals. Whatever food he had was just for the sake of what a human body requires for survival. In short, Rakesh had a pure soul battered down by the shock of that dreadful day when he lost both his parents together at a juncture of life when he was just completed his graduation and about to step into this world of miseries and hardships.

But his parents were not even there to see their son being one of the toppers of Delhi University in his graduation results. After graduation, Rakesh had to take up a job to support his living and that is when he took up this job in a call centre. More so, because, this was the time when even his “blood ties”, his so-called “relatives” turned their backs to this poor young boy and even went to the extent of not giving a basic shelter to this orphan. The only person that Rakesh was left with was kaka who worked in his household since his birth. Kaka was the only family for Rakesh who had taken a vow to serve him like his son till his last breath.

This was one of those many sleepless nights he had spent but there was something different in this night. The previous day in office he had come to know from his best friend Meena that she had a similar plight in her life but she had moved on and has learnt to live life the way she had always wanted to, chasing her dreams of being big. Meena did this with the thought that her parents had always wanted their daughter to be happy and had always wanted her to achieve her gals in life. And Meena knew that this was also the last thing that her parents could wish for their only daughter, before their death. So now, the only motive in life for Meena was to let her parents’ souls rest in peace by achieving her dreams.

Rakesh spent the whole night in a lot of despair. He could not decide whether to be happy or sad. He did not know how to react. He did not know how to forget the past and accept the reality that he was an orphan and yet move on. At the same time, his mind was putting forward the example of Meena. Rakesh’s stony silence and deep thoughts were broken by a drop of rainwater which fell on his cheeks.

Rakesh felt something different, he got up from his bed, walked up through the stairs which led him to the roof of his house, which showed him the first light of the morning along with rainwater pouring from the heavens. Rakesh walked out open on the roof and got drenched by the rain. He kept standing till the last drop of rain had fallen on his body. After that, he walked up to the railing of the roof and looked at the new metro line which was supposed to start that day. Rakesh felt different- all his pains, shocks and doubts seemed to have been washed away by the rains. As he saw the first metro of that particular line passing by, he could feel a new beginning to his life.

He could feel his Mother standing beside him touching his hand and on the other side his Father putting a hand on his shoulder and saying, “Son, won’t you fulfil our last wishes?” Rakesh wiped the last drop of tear in his eyes and had a smile on his face for the first time in three years. He made his mind to chase his dreams, achieve his goals and be successful in life. All of a sudden, he could feel that all his ambitions were presented on a platter by God and he just had to extend his hand to accept this gift. As soon as he smiled bearing this thought in mind, he got a call from his boss who was praising him for his dedication in work. Just before hanging up the phone, his boss asked Rakesh to meet him in his cabin as soon as he reached office as a surprise was awaiting him.

Rakesh felt as happy as a newborn baby. He turned around and started walking down the staircase towards his room happily. Rakesh Mukherjee felt that he was gifted by a new hope in life. He realized that day that after every dark night, one is always offered a bright new morning full of fresh hopes and beginnings. This is the very cycle of Life.

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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.

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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.

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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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