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The ‘Science’ That India Is Waiting For

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By Ranjeet Kumar:

As 100th session of the Indian Science Congress concluded last month, the nation still awaits a clear roadmap for science, technology and innovation to unleash the potential and leverage up on the demographic dividend. Here is my take.


Science is not only about the textbooks and experimental pursuits within the closed confines of laboratories but its boundaries transcends far beyond that. Science is a systematic approach to problem solving and reaching to logical conclusions. The way science education is imparted needs a paradigm shift in India. This can be achieved by encouraging youngsters to connect to the environment. The entire purpose of the classroom exercises leads to uniformity of the thought process in the students, in such a way that the naïve creativity of individual minds and the urge to innovate is lost. One has to imbibe the fact that every human being is unique and needs freedom to walk in to the territory of creative consciousness. In the words of Albert Einstein ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it’. The products of such a system can become good scholars with solid foundation in the field of science but when it comes to problem solving they lack the skill. In a time where India stands firmly to actualize its demographic dividend, science and technology will be the saviour.

Donald E Stokes in his book ‘Pasteur Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation’ 1997 describes Quadrant model of scientific research explaining that the inspiration behind research can be either a quest for fundamental understanding or considerations of use. Using examples like the scientific expeditions of Bhor, Pasteur and Edison. It is important to note that the common people fall in the bottom left as they do not have anything to do with the research. But interestingly interpreting this graph in terms of policy maker’s point of view and the money that goes in scientific research in India will be interesting. Further where are we in terms of scientific pursuit when it comes to relevance for immediate applications?

India currently faces problems like malnutrition, drinking water, health (which includes both non infectious diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and incurable infectious diseases like malaria, kala azar, tuberculosis), massive mining, deforestation, soil erosion and salinity, energy crisis and waste management to name a few. The policies and budget to meet these challenges are centralized as such it leaves little scope for holistic development. Therefore an urgent out of box vision and road map is needed to move on the path of inclusive growth and sustainable development.

In our conventional thought process we think that people who have been deprived of formal education have nothing much to contribute. The government boasts that these people are at least getting to work through the government employment schemes like NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). What should be understood that is that minds at the margins are not marginal minds and there is a creative facet to these individuals too. Innovation is not the sole proprietary of people with paper qualifications (Degrees). Local problems need indigenous solution and in this scenario a ‘think global act local’ policy seems quite valid. On the other hand it has been quite inspiring that people have found solutions of their own when they are confronted with problem.

The urge to innovate has many successful stories that further reinforce the basic idea that the niche from which solutions can come lies beyond the qualifications earned. Mansukhbhai Prajapati’s ‘MittiCool’ refrigerators are an example of user inspired breakthrough. A terracotta pottery maker by profession designed a refrigerator that runs without electricity made from unique blending of mud found in the area. The story goes that when there was earthquake in Gujarat way back in 2001 some reporter reported the scene at a pottery makers’ village. A poor man whose fridge was broken, was ignited to design a prototype that has a look of a refrigerator. What was born was mitticool a low cost cooling device with indigenous home grown technology. The barefoot college of Tilonia in Rajasthan is other example where innovation and creativity is lifestyle. They have demystified science at the grass root level bringing sustainability. The Vigyan Ashram at Pabal in Maharashtra is yet another model where science has been demystified and brought to the people. The dropouts of the current educational system find their way in and their rendezvous with Vigyan Ashram turns them to entrepreneurs. Anita and Salabh Ahuja innovation of turning waste polyethylene bags which creates chaos all around in Delhi by up cycling it to fashion accessories is another example where technology has come to the rescue. There are many more examples where individuals and organizations have innovated and have been able not only to address their problem but also have been able to bring back the self-esteem dignity and courage back to the people.

It is important how we register our presence in the ‘quadrant’. India needs to position itself by focusing more on applied research. Our problems are unique and thus solutions cannot be outsourced. The graduates who are a part of the current education system lack employability. How are we going to use this huge resource is challenging. How are we going to build a progressive and sustainable network with our current strength and weaknesses that can have impressive impact is yet to be answered. I believe that the time is ripe to rise beyond prejudices and expand boundaries beyond the four walls of a lab. A transformation is needed to streamline the drug discovery process from bench to bed so as to give it a logical conclusion. It is also important to bridge the gap between science and society for inclusive growth if we are to emerge as a scientific society and knowledge based economic power. We have followed the Nehru model of ‘top down’ while neglecting Gandhian ‘bottom up’ approach. It’s high time we come up with a holistic model of development, which is based on green technology that can enunciate sustainable future.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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