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This World Day Against Drug Abuse, Read About The Journalist Who Almost Died Of Drug Overdose

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By Mayank Jain:

It is 11 AM on Tuesday morning and I walk into Vijay Simha’s house. Quick witted and outspoken, he offers his insights on multiple topics including the education system and journalism as a career. Vijay, currently a Sobriety Campaigner and a columnist at, has been Editor-at-Large at Tehelka and many other newsrooms in his 16 year-long career as a journalist. Vijay also faced a near death experience due to his addiction to substances. His story of struggle and recovery will give you jitters.

Vijay’s history of drug abuse early on in his life is marked with struggle and pain. Now, he is a campaigner for sobriety and helps those who are struggling with addiction. Vijay recalls his own journey and shares how he used to listen to Pink Floyd and drift into the metaphorical dark side of the moon where the disconnect from the ‘boring’ life would become his only source of inspiration.
He stopped going to classes and the ‘high’ gripped him further as his indifference to the real world increased over time. “I stopped interacting with family. All my inputs in my life would come from the movies, books and drugs. Here I was learning through drugs instead of being the top civil servant which I was supposed to be,” he shares.

At the tender age of 20, he was already into rehabilitation center for the first time. He shares how he went in willingly, for the healing process to begin. He went to a mental ‘asylum’, as they called it back then, which was turned into a makeshift rehabilitation centre. Vijay shares what it meant to give up work, life and destroying it all multiple times in 18 years:

Getting into addiction is not a one-time event that occurs with a flash but a repeated exposure to the substances and peer pressure. People around push us to ‘try it out’, which invariably gets us used to the effects and then there’s no looking back. Talking about the early phases of adiction, Vijay says “Observe how you feel about it, if you don’t mind the stink or taste, you are more likely to do it again. If you feel like doing it again, there are high chances of getting used to it.”

The worrisome part about the drug industry in India is that it is segregated and spread over multiple states. Punjab is among the largest consumers of all kinds of substances and the belt of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh is known for manufacturing the same. Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki is already known as ‘India’s smack capital’.

The drug manufacturing industry is growing in the country with huge profit margins and so is the illegal trade following the climbing demand. Explaining the futility of prohibition, Vijay highlighted how industries crop up on the borders and all that the government succeeds in doing is ramp up illegal production and enable cross border trafficking. Many small households survive solely on the drug trade.

The ‘business’ which gives more than 300% of profits to the manufacturer and an escape route to the abuser is hard to stop but the government has some catching up to do. A three pronged approach, as highlighted by Vijay, towards tackling the problem should include random and mandatory tests of parliamentarians for substances before they go inside the assembly. The tests will reveal details of our own ministers who are absorbed in the trade and abuse.

The second crucial step should be to name and shame the offenders who promote drug trade. Vijay revealed how many parties manufacture their own substances and brand them before election times to gain political mileage in a state full of addicts. The approach of bringing these names into public will give the issue the importance it needs.

Out of all the debate and discourse on the drug problem, the mainstream media is still not giving the issue that attention it deserves and the society as a whole is failing at making it a national narrative. The movies on the subjects don’t see footfalls, and the directors willing to attempt such themes are discouraged from doing so.

On the World Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, Vijay has a lot to share with the young people, and messages for the government. He recommends the Rashtrapati Bhawan to recognize the issue and call for a meeting to discuss the issue with multiple stakeholders.

An open approach to debate and discuss the aftermath of the policy and strategy is the need of the hour instead of rubbishing off the reports and turning a blind eye towards the gravest issue concerning our youth today.

Abuse and addiction drove Vijay to the streets of the national capital from being an eminent journalist destined to do great things. However, the strength and determination to come out of it rebuilt him and the fight continues.

Watch his video message to the youth below:

To know more about this story and what I think, follow me on Twitter at @mayank1029

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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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