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Bonding: The Story Of Love Being The Only True Relation

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By Smriti Mahale:

Mr and Mrs Vardhan saw those eyes near the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital that day. They were the same shade of sapphire blue. But then, the spark in them had disappeared. What they could see now were only the wisps of tear drops, like the skies after a heavy down pour. They looked tired, they looked helpless, they looked unhappy.

Mr and Mrs Vardhan had come for their routine health check up. At the age of 86 and 81, where else would you find an elderly couple on a Saturday morning? It had been their routine for years now. Every 3rd Saturday of the month, they would come to the hospital and spend a day with the doctors and nurses. Fortunately, they were in the pink of their health except for meagre signs of old age! The couple had a son and a daughter; both of them in some wretched corner of the globe, with their respective families. Twenty years ago, on their anniversary, Mr and Mrs Vardhan were got the most beautiful gift by their children: the papers of a life- time bond with the Old Age Home!

From then on, they had a new family. The inmates of Ashraya Old Age Home were all beings of a cruel world. The fingers they held firmly when their children were about to fall, had ruthlessly signed on papers that freed them from their responsibilities. Love and kindness that had been showered now were returned through money orders and online transfers. A seedling planted with the hope of support in times of fragility now bore thorns. Homes that were built with bricks of sacrifices and love were shattered with the swords of selfishness. Life had to go on somehow. The members of Ashraya had succeeded in giving a purpose to the rest of their living. They ate together, they spoke about happier times together, they cried at the unfairness together, they lived together. In the mornings, after a healthy breakfast they indulged themselves in activities they liked. Activities they had sacrificed for their children. While Mr. Rao shovelled for his new jasmine garden, Mrs. Wadeyar baked cookies for the festive season. While some weaved, some solved crosswords in the newspapers; others simply sat and watched innumerable television shows. They were happy, in the world they had to live in now to survive. What they missed were the eyes where they once upon a time had seen the whole world, the smile that lighted up their lives in the hardest of times, the love that was shared. They silently cried to Him for some answers.

Ravi and Richa were the children from the house that was homed right in front of Ashraya Old Age Home. The mansion was secluded in layers of Gulmohar and Mango trees. With the serenity of a crystal pond beside, where ivory swans swam, the mansion was a reflection of the Edens and the fortunes Ravi and Richa were brought up in. Ravi was 15 years of age and his younger sister was 10. The children often visited the old age home. They came as a splash of happiness on a gloomy day to the old couples. The entire day was spent in showing unbiased loved to the two kids. They played games, they ate ice creams, they sang, they cracked jokes, they laughed, they smiled at the innocence of the kids, and they had no regrets for a day. The children reminded them of their own children, their happier times with them; they reminded them of their grand children with whom they could be sharing the same moments, if only…

The children were more than happy to spend their time in the Old Age Home. Both of them had lost their grandparents and had found a way to replace their existence in Ashraya. Richa’s blue eyes glowed like sapphires when with them. Ravi was delighted when his sister was happy. They had learnt from their parents that love was not underlined with the ties of blood or relations. It was something that held the world together, firmly, like the dawn holds to the sun with the promise of a new morning, the river to the sea with the faith of a successful journey. The more you gave, the more you would receive, maybe not from the same person, but from a heart that danced freely in the glory of the true human spirit. With the same thoughts, they had continued for a few years. Just as the rule of the world goes, the happy family was shredded on one Sunday morning when the car they were travelling in was hit by a truck. Richa was the lone survivor to endure more merciless acts of the cruel world.

More mercies followed. Relatives unfairly lay hands on the property that legally belonged to Richa. From the abode of heaven she was thrown into an orphanage of the city. Her journeys to the Old Age home stopped. She disappeared from their lives like the morning mist from a mountain. The couples had cried again, this time for a different reason though. They had once again lost someone they had loved. Life still had to move on like before.

Richa had grown up in the orphanage with the dreams and aspirations of any woman of this world. She had forced herself to forget the life she had once led, and had grown accustomed to her new world. After the age of 18, she had moved out to a world of independence. Her intelligence had earned her a job and a life. She had fallen in love, married and lived a normal life. The financial deficiency of her husband was nothing to her. They could afford a simple meal of rice and curry thrice a day. That was more than enough for her until that dreadful 3rd Saturday of the month.

Her husband was run over by a truck from the way back from work. While he was battling with death for a life, Richa was battling with people she knew for money to pay for the hospital bills. Hard times became harder with refusals from all ends. She simply sat on the iron bench of Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, with those sad sapphire eyes, with the floods of hopelessness emerging from them.

Mr and Mrs Vardhan had seen her then. They had recognized her. The old couple had immediately sold the only property they were the owners of, for her. They were left with nothing now, except for the gratitude of Richa and her husband who now come to the Old Age Home every Sundays with their 6 month old son.

Richa now quietly sings in her son’s ears:

“It’s my blood that flows in your veins,
It is the same blood that someday will give us pain.
Let this blood be replaced with love,
Love that will bond us together forever!!”

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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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