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The Joy Ride: An Account Of A Journey In A Mumbai Local Train

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By Sanjukta Majumder:

Local arrived on platform number 4 is 8.07 local for CST via harbour line”…
The announcement works like a spur to those like me, who are yet to reach the station, to speed up our pace. And we run, run to give some of the renowned sprinters ‘a run for their money’! Breathless to the core, I finally make it to the ladies compartment on the verge of missing it. Like always, I manage to be the fourth person in a three seater array to an almost filled locomotive from Panvel, one of the crowded routes of Mumbai irrespective of the time, day, season and even calamities.

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To cope up with the pressure from the other side, where none are ready to accommodate another to their comfort, is when ‘Newton’s Third Law’ comes in actual applicability to retain my position. The first occurrence that caught my eyes from here is a saree clad woman gulping down her breakfast and trying hard to hide what she has packed in, from the stealing quick peeks beside her. I was interrupted in my vision as the passengers from the station we just arrived at have started with their regular banter of asking the destination of the seated commuters and reserving the place of the one who departs early. There is even an exchange program of seats — the 4th of one array to the 3rd of another as they gradually move towards the sought after window seat.

Suddenly, my eyes fell on a girl seated diagonally opposite to me. Her attire suggests she is on her way to her workplace — the plain morning face steadily becomes heavily decked up as she powders it up, blushes her cheeks, carefully lines her eyes and lips, paints and pouts them to evenly blend it up. Satisfied with her look in her little mirror, she now begins to moisturize her hands. In the meanwhile hawkers with ‘gauti’ (fresh form the farm) vegetables have started making their rounds. Women here have perfected the art of time management no less than any qualified pass out of a top Business School — they buy the vegetables, clean and process them utilizing their time in the journey. While some are busy plucking out the peas from the pods others chop up carrots and beans, literally carrying a knife in their bag!

Keeping up patiently with the ebb and flow of the crowd, I too managed the desired place in my array. The splendid view of the vast creek outside led me into the memories of my school days, the longest time I was associated with the trains — the fun, the journey…my reverie broke with the unusual and unnatural appearance of a pair of feet on the window grill. The growing crowd in the general compartments have started taking its position in between the joining of the bogies and also on the roof top! The crowd inside the woman’s coach too is growing thick with every passing station but the other side of the divider still has a window seat unoccupied.

A commotion on the other side suddenly caught my notice, a heavy argument close upon the extent to the abusing one another has started between two, much to the amusement of others. The bone of contention being, one not following the unwritten law of sequential booking of seats, have abruptly occupied one in the middle of an array. The chaos, however, does not bother ‘Chewingum Chachi’, a popular face in the route. Her name derives from the fact that her jaws are always in a continuous motion of chewing a gum. But for me, it is because of her ability to smilingly squeeze in her way through the crowded aisle to reach her customers with new designs of bangles, ear rings and clips. Her accessories have a reputation that can compete with any leading brand of junk jewellery.

The train crossed Kurla and the invisible prayer bell rang; swiftly fading off the buzz. Pocket-sized ‘Rosary’ to ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ to ‘Guru Granth Saheb’ to ‘Quran Sharif’ make their way out from the bags that hold food, make-up kit, knife; leaving me wondering if Pandora’s Box contains such variations! Leaving away their daily worries virtually all are engrossed in praying.

The throng too have thinned down, when an unintentional eavesdrop into the conversation between two college goers revealed me the mystery of the empty window seat. While one wanted to take the seat, the other refrained her citing the probability of the bag near it containing explosives. The city that is known for its spirit of never stopping come what may is perennially panic stricken from the core because of some of the ruthless terrorism they have witnessed; the horror is etched out in their minds and hearts. This is when the views cape of all heads covered, all eyes closed, the silence prevailing makes sense. This, may be, is their way of expressing gratitude to the Almighty for blessing them with a safe start and also an entreat to lead them back safely.

As my station approaches, I vacate my ‘cosy’ position to be taken over by another. The funniest part of commuting in Mumbai trains is, one needs no effort to climb in or get down from it, the rush does so on their behalf! Hence, I smoothly step down to my destination, another busy platform throbbing with life. The train leaves the station for its next reach and drifts away in the distance. And as I pass the bustling tea — stall, the radio there sings out…

…chalna hi zindegi hai, chalti hi ja rahi hai
Gadi bula rahi hai, siti baja rahi hai…

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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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