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The Woman Who Carried Her Baby In The Garbage Cart

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By Manabi Katoch:

It’s been a year in Chennai now. Living here has not been easy at all. The weather, the culture, the language, the salty water – everything was a challenge for us. We came during the Navratras and were happy with the only good news that knocked our door in the form of a pamphlet, which said that there was a famous preschool chain being inaugurated in the lane just behind our house. Chennai has a culture of Vijay Dashami admissions. So, we and our family friends who got transferred here from Noida were more than happy to get admissions for our kids in this school. My daughter started happily to the school, only to realize soon that it’s totally different from the school she used to go to, back in Noida. They asked kids to take out their shoes outside the premises and made them sit on the floor. If a student were wearing socks, it used to be all drenched in water as they had no slippers to go to the washroom either. Soon my daughter started falling sick every other day. Consistent request to the school administrations to allow shoes or slippers even to the washroom was overheard. I hated the school for not following the basic hygiene rules for kids. As a mother, I have always taught my child to use a slipper to the washroom, wash her hands every time she comes from outside, drink only bottled water etc. And these school people were just ruining her health by exposing her to so many germs every day. Finally, I decided to just change the school and did so by the end of six months.



This was not the only headache that this new city gifted us. To my despair, there were no dustbins around our locality and the garbage collector was seen only twice or thrice a week for the collection. As a result, the empty plots on the sides, back and forth of our house were used as the garbage dump yards by all the residents unanimously. The few days when the garbage collector lady used to feel like working, she used to give a feedback paper to fill in. As the paper was in Tamil, my building mate mostly did the formalities. Frustrated with this filth around, I asked my Tamilian building mates several times to ask her to come every day. I even offered a bribe of Rs.50 per month if she would come every day. To this, she said something in Tamil which was translated to me as follows, “she is just a single garbage collector for the whole area, and how can she cover the whole area alone, so she comes to just one lane each day”. I asked about the feedback form and got a reply that why to complain about her, poor lady, what’s her fault. I was shocked to see that none of my neighbors cared enough for this serious issue. However, I couldn’t take it and took the responsibility of filling the feedback form. With the help of a Tamilian neighbor, I quickly mugged up the translations of the heading of the columns given in the form. I kept complaining about the few visits of the garbage collector without fail. I also refused to give the monthly charges collected by the authorities for this useless service.

Finally, one day, I heard the garbage collector’s whistle early in the morning. This was not unusual for me as I could hear the whistle only after a week and there was no fixed time for her to come. I took out the dustbin with rubbing eyes and to my over pleasant surprise, I saw a new lady collecting the garbage very efficiently. I couldn’t resist thanking God when I asked the new lady in English whether she would be coming everyday and she replied in Hindi, ‘haan ab main aaungi roz’. Those who don’t belong to Chennai won’t understand how soothing it is to hear someone speaking in Hindi in Chennai.

But when I peeked out of my gate, and had a look at her garbage cart, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a veil tied to the two corners of the cart full of garbage. I stepped a little forward to prove my sleepy eyes wrong. But to my disbelief, it was a baby inside the veil.

The whole episode of me fighting with my daughter’s school authority to stop them from exposing her to the germs in their washroom was in front of me in a flash of seconds. The baby was crying and her mother picked her up with millions of germs in her hand. I almost choked in that moment. Laxmi came everyday with Bhagya lying in the same veil made as a swing attached to the garbage cart. She collected garbage every single morning without complaining about how big the area was or how small her baby was. Bhagya is now 7 months old and sits on the handle of the garbage cart, enjoying her ride with her mother. Laxmi still collects garbage very efficiently. She sometimes asks for leftover food and old toys for her daughter. I feel more than happy to do this bit for her. Laxmi and my clean premises make me hope for a better tomorrow.

You must be to comment.
  1. Cees Tompot

    My impression is that you expect a lot from others. May I ask what your own contribution is towards a cleaner area? Apart from offering some leftovers that were going to be thrown into the garbage, of course. Is there some class based influence to be read in your article?

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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.

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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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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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