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Why ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ Is A Crucial Intervention, And How We Can Make It Work

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By Chinmaya Shah:

I remember that episode where comedian Russell Peters mentioned about his visit to India and his senses went to extremes as soon as he landed at the airport. Though I was offended, but hey, isn’t that a reality? Don’t we agree that we have adjusted ourselves of getting used to filth and heaps of waste lying around us?

manual scavenging India

In a backdrop of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan‘ (Clean India Campaign) inaugurated by our PM, the Ministry Of Urban Development released a list of an urban city rating where Chandigarh, not surprisingly, topped as the cleanest city with 73.48 points, followed by Mysore. For many reasons, Le Corbusier and his chief architects must have been happy today as the first planned city clearly had enough credentials to get its work noticed. A city divided into sectors with each constituting its own school, market, hospital, government buildings and lanes – all placed perfectly in a cobweb along with crossroads simultaneously. Scoring well on traffic and waste management, however, it failed to do well in the ‘Green’ category. The capital city Delhi ranked 4th with 68.26 points. Not to mention that recently WHO marked Delhi as one of the most polluted cities in Asia in terms of air pollution. What an irony!

With 4260 crore rupees getting annually spent on rural sanitation, a little of it is seen to come for the rescue. Even in the case of Delhi, where NDMC spends a lot of money in the upkeep of toilets, open defecation hasn’t been put to a halt. Interestingly, in many places around the capital, local people have teamed up by placing images of a religious deity on walls. However, one finds a person urinating at some considerable distance from those divine images. Certainly, ‘urgency’ knows its ways to fit in.

Having grown up in an era of ‘yojanas’ and ‘abhiayans’, it is important for me to seeSwachh Bharat Abhiyan as not getting flushed away in mere tokenism. At a point where government will try its best to meet the deadline by 2019, the structural flaws are some key points to be looked upon to make the campaign effective. A report suggested that a large part of money, energy and time is consumed in order to bring waste materials (sewage and solid) to treatment plants and decomposition sites. On the one hand where Indian cities are witnessing an ever expanding rate, and wastage treatment plants being located in suburbs, it’s high time for the government to come up with localized solutions. As cities are getting flocked with thousands of people every day, the entire city structure doesn’t seem capable of holding on for long in terms of clean water, health and sanitation, forget food and shelter alone. Rivers like Yamuna and Sabarmati, along which major industries have been established, have ended up as ‘nullahs’. Also, these are the rivers supplying water to irrigation fields, thus endangering even those elite few who think of not getting affected by pollution and sanitation crisis.

The list released by the Ministry Of Urban Development also listed Churu in Rajasthan as the dirtiest city, followed by Lakhimpur and Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh. 423 Indian cities were surveyed and rated on 19 sanitation indicators on a 100 points scale.

So, what can be done? The ‘Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana’ encourages members of both the houses to choose a model village by 2016 in an attempt to cover 2500 villages of the 6 lakh villages all over India. But not only intense monitoring and realization of civic responsibility by leaders is needed, but also engagement of local citizens should find relevance here. On a personal note, my work with ‘Vimarsh’, an NGO in the Himalayan belt of Uttarakhand region, focused on volunteers engaging with children and senior people from different villages and educating them on the consequences of defecating in the open, through posters and other mediums.

In many hill stations, Nainital being the case in point, a community level program has been started in order to counter disturbance in the local ecological sphere. ‘Mission Butterfly’ was launched by civic workers along with local administration to segregate biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste before its processing. It also included awareness campaigns in schools, with students educating people and providing shops with biodegradable bags. Also, municipalities made some areas a no-plastic zone, charging 500 rupees for anyone carrying it. However, latter part of it proved to be a failure as the garbage was dumped in the outskirts. But, surely, some effective measures to work on small level communities can be drawn from there. Dustbins in the form of penguins are visible and are kept at a distance of 200 meters from each other, not only working to its cause, but also attracting attention of youngsters in whose minds its usage is needed to be taught.

There lies an urgent need to make people realize that their public space should also be treated as private, as it needs equal attention. Unlike other campaigns, this most hyped ‘swachh bharat campaign’ bears the burden of expectations as it caters to all sections of society moving beyond caste, creed and religion, focusing more on personal hygiene and sanitation. Also, it’s time for us to introspect and try to engage with it in some way or the other. Since blaming the government every time will not clean our mess. Remember, the next time you litter, the garbage will be cleaned by someone working under inhospitable conditions, in potholes as a manual scavenger, or as a rag picker in their attempt to maintain a breathing space for us. But their story, as always, will unfortunately remain untold.

As the global leader in consumer health and hygiene, RB (formerly called Reckitt Benckiser), has launched a new campaign on Strepsils, “Ab Montu Bolega”. The campaign is digital at heart and resides on an exclusive online platform here. The campaign is encouraging people to speak their mind without any inhibitions. The main essence here is to communicate to the citizens who have been a silent observer towards an unclean India. They have stood by silently while others littered without a care in the world. Not anymore. It’s time we stop watching and raise a voice for a cleaner India.

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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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