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The ‘Great’ Indian Science Congress Circus! Helmet On Mars And Surgery With Sugar, More?

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By Ezra Rynjah:

At a time when we are worried about the future, and all the uncertainties of our climatically altered planet, and are looking towards science to solve our problems, we’re given answers by the most unlikely source: Sanskrit scholars (amongst others) at the prestigious 102nd Indian Science Congress conducted by Mumbai University on the 4th of January, 2015. These answers came from the symposium titled “Ancient Science through Sanskrit”. Here, was revealed to us, the marvellous achievements of the Indians of yore whose milestones are almost lost to the cruel march of time (and reason).

INDIA-SCIENCE Congress

They were presented in many forms to suit different needs – there was a presentation on ancient flying machines that could traverse not only trans-continental boundaries but inter-planetary ones as well! I’m delighted that you ask for evidence! There’s a helmet to be found on Mars, said one presenter, Kiran Naik. Oh ye of little faith! Do you need any more proof!?

There were other claims being made at the Congress, such as the invention of radar, the derivation of the Pythagorean Theorem by a Sanskrit scholar centuries before Pythagoras himself, the neuroscience of yoga, the method of performing post-mortems after floating a body in water, different methods in veterinary science, and the possibility of plastic surgery through the use of heated sugar as an adhesive (so as to attach an elephant head to a human torso).

It is difficult for a layman like me to separate these claims from being fact or fiction. Some may have enough empirical evidence to back them up such as medical practices or mathematical derivations, but for the rest, I remain firmly sceptical. I have to question how these qualify as being scientific in the first place. Do they not require any verification before they’re presented at such a premier platform? In fact, the claims made here seem so outrageous that it has taken away from any genuine advances present day scientists may have made. The public doesn’t care about that. It is only attracted to the spectacle, which is exactly what this is.

Let us trace this to a hypothetical point of origin. First, there was the incredulous claim made by our esteemed Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his teachers’ day speech about how the earth’s climate has not changed but rather, we have. And that we have become less able to deal with extremes in climate. (Personally, I’d like him to tell that to the iconic polar bear floating on a shrinking piece of ice).

Then we were flabbergasted as the rational public when he again made a statement, towards the end of October last year, about how genetic science existed in the Mahabharat and that plastic surgery was used to transplant an elephant’s head onto a human’s body to explain the existence of Ganesh. Now in January, we have a symposium that is entirely dedicated to the exploration of ancient science. Surely there is a method in this madness? I’m sure someone from the Science Congress would tell me that the stars are too well aligned for it to be a coincidence!

But honestly, all it seems to be is a scheme to confuse the rationality out of all of us and to cripple our ability to act. It could also be a lie being repeated so often that we don’t know what the truth is anymore. [Where have we seen this before? (Hint: Goebbels)]

We can see each of the three cases of alluding to India’s glorious past as instances of diversions and distractions. What tends to happen is that, as in this article, we become focused on the outrageous that has been stated or presented. We miss out on that which is not being said. As in the speech about climate change, why do we not question what India is doing with respect to its policy on wildlife and forest conservation and emission caps? In terms of the PM’s claim on health care, why don’t we ask how the government intends to provide affordable healthcare for everyone? At our Science Congress, why do we not ask where our present day, cutting-edge inventions and innovations are? These are questions that our leaders would not like to answer. These are questions that will never be asked because we are too busy getting tangled up in the repertoire of ridiculous claims that can and will be made to keep us occupied and effectively ineffectual in our criticism of the government. Sure we can laugh, giggle and guffaw at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but all the entertainment shouldn’t distract us either.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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