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No My Friend, The River Ganga Is Not So Pure Anymore

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By Pooja Baburaj:

Last year, I flew down to my homeland mid-way of my yearly vacation and spent the rest of it ‘chilling in the Indian summer’. My brief stint included pilgrimages to the holy rivers, a cleverly drafted strategy devised by my family to produce a revolutionary alteration to my current state of atheism. I’m not sure if it was my malfunctioning optic nerve or my prejudiced perception that my observation of the holy expanse was restricted to a lot of garbage meandering through the waters in a fascinating collection of colours, shapes and sizes. The stench that accompanied the sight chocked my pipes so bad until my chanting sounded Swahili. Yes, I am raving about The Ganga, the largest river in India with an extraordinary religious importance for Hindus. Along its banks are some of the world’s oldest inhabited places like Varanasi and Patna. The highlight, however, remains our method of expressing reverence and awe – discharging an estimated 2.9 billion liters or more of human sewage into the Ganges daily.

ganga

The famed rivers of Indo-Gangetic plains are turning into “sewage system“, threatening the life and health of millions of people dependent on them, warned a team of 11 environmental activists who cycled through the region covering around 1,800km in 27 days. These activists are a part of a project called ‘Yatra’ that aims to raise awareness about the need for keeping an account of India’s natural resources. “Not one river was fit to bathe in. The water at many places resembled sewage water. Among the most polluted rivers we came across was the Yamuna in western UP, Varuna and Gandak,” said team leader Anil P Joshi, a Padma Shri Awardee who heads a Dehra Dun-based environmental NGO, HESCO.

The Ganga Action Plan or GAP was a program launched by Rajiv Gandhi in April 1986 in order to reduce the pollution load on the river. However, the inability to translate the crores of capital invested into an effective programme lead to the withdrawal of the programme in 2000. Since then several NGOs have walked the lead in continuing the cleaning programs that were originally initiated by the government.

It isn’t just the rivers that they are worried about. They said none of the states they travelled through had achieved even half of India’s target of 33% area under forests. Forests are vanishing in these states. And even the ones that survive are grade C forests, consisting of bushes rather than broad-leaved trees,” Joshi said. The team travelled through 31 districts, held 300 meetings and reached out to around 10,000 people. “We will compile a report of our observations, which will be sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and to all chief ministers,” Joshi said. (Times of India)

As far as I see it, the Mayans were not wrong. Maybe the world is not going to have an overly-exaggerated apocalyptic end as the movie depicted. But the fact that we are gradually killing the existence of Mother Nature isn’t something to be left unnoticed. The ominous signs have been set in live action. In my city, we step out with a shawl wrapped around us like that of a mummy in Cairo Museum just so that our skin does not shed like that of a reptile, the hair follicles does not get clogged with dirt and our lungs don’t burst with all that green-house gases that we take in. Away from the cities and into the poles, an iceberg melts every instant, melting away part of our future life with it into the deep blue sea, into the void.

Twenty years ago the news of the pollution hit headlines of all the top magazines and predicted possible death of the planet population in twenty years. Today we are still talking about it, now more accelerated by the rapid industrialization. Our landscapes have changed radically; the forest soil now grows commercial crops and has roads, highways and skyscrapers running over it. Pollution is a global issue, as we often hear about it on radio and TV, generally followed by strong and convincing call for action. We all desire to act for another hour and then slowly calm down, switching TV to another channel. I guess it’s time that we stop switching channels and join in the effort to save our home planet — Mars isn’t ready for us as of now.

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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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