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I Am A Beggar In The Morning, A King At Night

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By Shubhra Kukreti:

Have you ever watched the movie Pushpak? One of the most hilarious scenes of the movie is when an unemployed Kamal Haasan comes across a visibly poor, haggard looking beggar sitting with a ‘katora’ on the road. Thinking that no matter how tough the situation he is in, he is still richer than the beggar, Haasan gladly flaunts the single penny he is left with. Poor Haasan, he has to eat crow when the beggar in response to his gesture, takes out first the note tucked in his pants, rolls his sleeves for another two notes, a few more notes come out of his pocket, and voila, under his rag is hidden the money bin of Uncle Scrooge! Why does he beg then? This movie was released way back in 1987 and appears to be an avant gardist to this phenomenon of ‘professional begging ‘. Why should anyone who has ample amount of money to keep his body and soul together make a living by begging? Are not beggars looked down upon? Aren’t they shooed away by every third person on the street? And above everything else, doesn’t every human being deserve to treat himself with proper self-respect? We need to analyse this problem with economic tools, along with some sociological and psychological aspects.

Begging

All of us would agree that beggars are a big liability to a nation. They do not contribute to the economy. Moreover, they act as a blot on humanity, portraying our failure in creating an atmosphere where each and everyone gets an opportunity to grow, refine and polish their human substance. One obvious reason behind this evil is illiteracy, poverty and unemployment but at the same time the other major reason is that begging has become quite a paying profession. The beggar gangs are extremely organized and execute their work like a business. Theirs too is a hierarchic structure. It’s usually the lower employees who go to the ‘workplace’ and share the ‘working hours’. Sadly in this business, there is more to what meets the eyes. It is linked to human trafficking. Young children are forced into this business. Often, the beggars are deliberately maimed by their gang leaders so that they do not go unnoticed and garner more sympathy.

Now, the problem, especially in our country, is that the religious texts preach that giving alms is a sure shot way to heaven. We are told that it is our moral duty to help the weak, the hungry and the people who are suffering. But little do we realise that by dispensing alms as charity, we do not help them. We may feel better after this moral service, but we are actually weakening their inner fabric which constitutes their dignity. At the same time, there are the ‘hale and hearty’ ones who on seeing the trade of begging flourishing and beggars making easy money, enter this lucrative trade. Sloth, which is listed as one of the seven deadly sins in Christian moral tradition, drives them to stoop so low and robs them off their self worth. I once happened to talk to a ‘hatta-katta’ beggar at Nehru Place who harped that it was so easy to make money this way; he did not feel embarrassed by his work as nobody really knew what he did. At the end of the day, as he told me, he drove back to his village near Faridabad and spent the rest of the evening merrily. “I am a beggar in the morning, I am a King at night.” suits him the best. So, it was not really a surprise to find out that a beggar on the streets of Calcutta reportedly has a bank account and another apparently owns a flat. In fact, in June 2007, 320 beggars were arrested under the Karnataka Beggary Prohibition Act, 1975. But, barely hours after the beggars were arrested; their lawyers came and got them freed!

Begging is already an illegal act in India, yet it employs about 7.3 lakh men and women (and child labours) with revenue of Rs 180 crore (as per 2001 census). Implementing laws is pointless if we do not realise that as the privileged ones, our help should be directed towards making them stand on their own feet rather than using them to clean our conscience. The NGOs can come to the forefront and offer them means to earn their livelihood in a respectful way. The handicapped people can always be employed in the small scale cottage industries. If they are really incapable to feed themselves, then it clearly becomes the responsibility of the state to provide them social security. As Martin Luther King Jr. puts it, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

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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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