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Stories From Flood Hit Assam and Meghalaya That The Mainstream Media Won’t Tell You

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By Mayank Jain:

In the hullaballoo of Prime Minister’s visit to the US, the UN climate change summit and a million other things, mainstream media conveniently forgot to deliver us the ‘news’- not PR features or opinions, but reports of actual happenings in the country. When the Kashmir floods hadn’t even abated, two more states were struck with devastating floods which went absolutely unnoticed in the mainstream discourse. One can attribute the missing glare to a lot of things including a rather eventful week in terms of TRP opportunities, but the constant ignorance of some parts of the country can never be veiled in such excuses.

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The floods struck some areas of Assam and Meghalaya owing to heavy rainfall which subsequently led to havoc in the underprepared regions. As reported by people on the ground, the authorities never sprang to action any time soon when the disaster hit and most of the relief work became another PR opportunity; hogwash in the eyes of general populace.

Current Situation: Lives and Property Lost

The flash floods which struck Meghalaya after torrential rains and a reported cloudburst resulted in landslides which took a huge toll on life and property in the state that also receives the most rainfall in the country. These floods have been called the ‘worst in recent times’ by common people as well as organizations working on ground. The cloudburst struck Garo Hills first and then the water flowed down to nearby areas, putting life on hold.

As reported by The Indian Express: “Official figures have indicated that 52 persons lost their lives, mostly in the Garo Hills region, and properties including road, houses, livestock and agriculture worth about Rs 2,000 crore got damaged,” Deputy Chief Minister Roytre C Laloo is quoted as saying.

The situation in Meghalaya is fast coming back to normal, according to government sources at least. But a conversation with Namratha, who hails from the affected Tura region in the state revealed otherwise.

“Government has not done anything real yet. CM took one aerial visit and flood camps were set up for just one day after that. There are no big organizations helping either, as if nobody cares. Only people coming up to help are local volunteers,” she told us.

It is clear that there are plenty of problems on ground and relief work is falling way short of the requirements due to zero or no media attention as well as the public apathy towards the disaster in these two states.

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Assam on the other hand has been reeling under the similar floods which have ended up claiming lives in up to 6-7 districts and the death toll has been reported to have climbed upwards of 45 in the official figures.

Struggles of People: Waiting for Help since Weeks

Unlike flash floods caused due to natural disturbances, these floods were reported as common yearly events by those in affected areas. They, however, expressed disillusion and detest against the ineffective government machinery which has ended up ostracizing them in this terrible situation.

In my personal investigation, Anupam, a doctor from Assam’s affected district, shared his own set of problems in providing relief. He has been doing his flood duty for the last 3 weeks and he reports acute shortage of medicine as well as medical staff. According to him, there have been casualties in 25 villages around him and he is the only one catering to the population of over 31000. Over the phone, he expressed angst against lack of coverage and inaction of the organizations as well, since only community leaders and some units of the Army appear to be helping right now.

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“The government and authorities have been at the fault here. There were no warning signals and they don’t do any preventive action. There’s an acute shortage of drugs. I am working in 31 villages but there seems to be no official help for us to get more staff or medicines. There’s only one highway for the entire district and it is flooded. The railway is not working either. Boats and ferries are the only way to commute but we are soon running out of those means too,” he reported.

“Only Families Care about their Own”

A little digging up about relief efforts revealed the significant apathy that exists in the areas outside those that are affected. There are hardly any initiatives to help out on the ground, and those sending aid are only those whose family and friends are stuck in the disaster.

One such lady, Julien, whose family is stuck in Meghalaya right now, told us about her misery:

“My whole family is stuck in the Chengalma area near Bajong, Meghalaya. The internet is erratic and phone communication is dependent on spotting an aid worker who can establish contact. There is acute shortage of food supplies, clothing, and blankets since winters have started there already. We are trying to send baby food, medicines and other supplies on our own since the Meghalaya House and ministers in the government never responded in time.”

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Within this widespread panic, she has been able to collect some contributions and sent the first contingent of relief aid through a train today itself, but the mode of transport is slow and it might be days before it reaches them. Airlines haven’t agreed yet to airlift the aid and deliver to the affected regions; they are trying hard for it.

Here’s How You Can Help

Right now, the most important way one can help out the flood relief efforts in both the states is through spreading information and building communication channels. More buzz about it will mean media coverage which will transform into action from authorities. Individually however, you can contribute to the following initiatives:

Contribute to Goonj’s flood relief efforts here.

You can also check the near-real time requirements, drop off information, and collection centres being updated on the Citizens Disaster Response Force here or on the Twitter handle here.

On ground reports on Assam floods are also being posted on this Facebook page.

You can also sign the petition to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to help airlift aid for affected regions here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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