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What Are Delhi”s MLAs Up To? An Afternoon With AAP’s Saurabh Bhardwaj

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By Digant Raj Kapoor:

Arvind Kejriwal resigned as Chief Minister in early 2014 and the consequent imposition of President’s rule means that the Lieutenant Governor, Najeeb Jung, is running the Government machinery in Delhi. The State’s Legislative Assembly has not yet been dissolved by either the UPA or the NDA Governments for political reasons, nor has any alternative Government been formed over the last 8 months. Thus, the Legislative Assembly of Delhi remains in a state of suspended animation, which means that Delhi still has elected representatives at the State level, but with no Government, the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) do not gather at the State Assembly to form legislation. Media coverage of Delhi politics has largely focused on whether the BJP will be able to form Government or whether Delhi voters will return to the polls. While these questions have no immediate answers, another unanswered question remains neglected: what are Delhi’s MLAs up to? In the hopes of answering this question, I decided to track down my constituency’s (Greater Kailash) MLA.

Saurabh Bhardwaj is a first-time MLA and was the Minister for Food & Supply, Transport, Environment, Election, and General Administration during AAP’s 49-day government. Today, it is easy to miss Bhardwaj’s party office along a narrow street in Chirag Delhi. The space can seat a maximum of 10 people. At the office, Bhardwaj greeted me personally and apologized for not being able to honour my interview request because he had to inspect ongoing public work within his constituency. I was welcome to tag along.

Saurabh Bhardwaj1

Although it was a hot day, a day when standing 4-minutes in the sun was enough to work up a sweat, Bhardwaj was about to sit on the backseat of a scooter. It is a sight I’ll never forget in my life. My MLA was taking the initiative to inspect public work, being on time was important to him, and he could care less for the mode of transportation. I insisted he ride with me in my car, suspecting it would be the only time I would get to ask the questions on my mind. Bhardwaj commented on how the stature of being a Minister, versus an MLA, affected the receptiveness of Government workers.

We arrived at Shahpur Jat, an urban village that is literally a stone’s throw from Panchsheel Park, which is one of Delhi’s most affluent neighbourhoods. It was my first time in an urban village, and what I saw was grounding. Residents of Shahpur Jat had congregated at various points throughout the neighbourhood to voice their concern over the unbearably unreliable water supply. The pipes hadn’t delivered a single-drop in about 13 days. The nature and complexity of the problem commanded great attention and urgency. A resident expressed that water supply to this area was a problem that all political parties had neglected for over 25 years.

shahpur jat

Public work was underway; the ground was dug up exposing the labyrinth of pipe work below. It was 2pm and the women of the neighbourhood were understandably angry. Not only did their waking hours revolve around inspecting the taps to check whether water was finally flowing, but they could not get a good night’s sleep. Water could start to flow at 2am, 3am, or even 4am. The unreliability of the supply meant no one had a way of knowing when the water might flow. At the sight of the slightest trickle, the women of the family acted swiftly to store as much water as was possible for their household work.

Bhardwaj had coordinated this visit with the Jal Board (Water Board) Engineer in charge of this area. Every interaction with a group of women had the same pattern. First their anger manifested as they complained about the water issues. Then they agreed to give the Engineer some time to study the problem in order to devise a sustainable solution. Finally, they thanked Bhardwaj for his work, and support. The residents claimed their support for Bhardwaj with pride, and mentioned how no other political party had taken their concerns seriously. “Politicians only come to the area in the run-up to elections, extending empty promises in exchange for votes, but Saurabh ji regularly visits and ensures that work is being done” a resident beamed. Another said, “Before the Aam Aadmi Party won 28 seats in Delhi, MLAs were often seen being driven in a motorcade, the cars adorned with the red VIP light,” which the occupants interpreted as a license to break the law.

Saurabh Bhardwaj

After a 3-hour survey of the area, we had covered the entire neighbourhood on foot and spoken with over 150 residents. The scale and diversity of governance failures in Delhi are daunting to say the least, but it is encouraging to see MLAs like Saurabh Bhardwaj actively engage with their constituents to find out how to deliver on these problems. Needless to say, it is a refreshing change from the blame-game rhetoric that many of our traditional parties are mired in!

Note: This post was originally published on the author’s personal blog.

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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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