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What The TMC And Opposition Parties Need To Promise Before Promising Free WiFi

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By Abhismita Sen:

Life in West Bengal keeps getting interesting with each passing day, making the news channels no less entertaining than the daily soaps.

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As the tensions with the centre ensue, the state government, desperate to undo the ills of the Saradha Scam prior to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections, is coming up with the most bizarrely amusing tactics to appease the electorate. The latest amongst these is the (tentative) installation of free WiFi throughout Kolkata, claiming the facility to be the first of its kind in the country.

When the All India Trinamool Congress was campaigning before its victory in 2011, the residents of West Bengal were promised a brighter future with better standards of living, greater access to educational resources, and wider scopes of employment.

I am a resident of Jagannathpur in the Sonarpur area of the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal.

As per reliable resources, the distance between the Jadavpur area (famous for the Jadavpur University and its proximity to the South City mall, which hosts every signature feature of Trinamool aesthetics, such as trident lights and Rabindra Sangeet at each traffic signal), and Sonarpur, is barely around 10-13 kms. Legislatively too, Sonarpur happens to be a part of the Jadavpur Constituency, which recently elected Professor Sugato Bose (who like the other stakeholders of the municipality was never visible after the elections). But, there remains an obdurate contrast between the scenarios amongst these “two parts” of the Jadavpur constituency.

Sonarpur has its own municipality, known as the Rajpur Sonarpur Municipality, and it has failed to take care of its open drains on both sides of the streets even after decades of its establishment, while Kolkata Municipal Corporation is busy installing free WiFi in its area of discretion, which is in the same constitutional area. This automatically clarifies the condition of government responsibility in the sphere of healthcare in this sector.

The unique feature of the auto rickshaws (it is the only available conveyance barring the further unsafe trains) in this locality is that they ply at least 7 passengers at a time, although, they are legally bound not to carry more than 4. Complains of transport safety are of course vain exercises in a state where rapes are termed as “staged strategies” and transport ministers are convicted miscreants.

Power remains a crisis in the Sonarpur area, which faces cuts ranging from 45 minutes to 1 hour everyday. Often, this extends up to 4-6 hours. While a large chunk of the area remains true to the manners of a “semi urban” locale, the availability of empty spaces has catalyzed the establishments of a considerable number of modern residential complexes that are virtually paralyzed during such long power cuts. The water supplied to this municipality has traditionally been rich in arsenic, and no attempts have been made for its sterilization by the state government thus far. While tridents illuminate the “posh areas” of the city, there are virtually no streetlights in this area, making driving at night quite a treasure hunt.

The Trinamool Government seems anxious to compete with the other states in terms of administration. In this regard, it is no secret that Kolkata lags not only far behind any other metropolitan city in the nation, but also some of the nonmetropolitan cities. Industries are limited. Development is tediously slow in comparison to Delhi or Mumbai, or even Bangalore. But, what sets the city apart is while the outskirts of other metropolitans like Noida or Goregaon have seen considerable development and growth, the “outskirt” zones of Kolkata have continued to receive the same step motherly treatment in the 4 years of Trinamool administration as it did in the 34 years of the left administration, barring the exception of Salt Lake, where again the status of safety and sanitation remains dubious.

I would end with a humble appeal to the custodians of administration and political rights of the city on behalf of its youth at large. We, the youth of West Bengal, do not gauge development in terms of commodious criterion like digitalization, rather we would be much better off if development is reflected by the parameters of human development and basic amenities of habitation, such as better standards of living, and enabling measures, and better scopes to avail the same through a proactive and employment-wise convenient and feasible education system. Access to these parameters should be our right and not a privilege, irrespective of our means and social status as we pay taxes to the state government, which binds the administrators to provide these to us.

Ultimately, let us not forget that unlike it is being preached, Kolkata is not really the first state in India to be digitalized, instead it was Mysore. I hope this revelation would not drag me where other whistle blowers in the state have been taken since 2011. Aren’t the prisons too full nowadays anyway?

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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.

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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, 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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