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Are Modi’s Development Dreams Restricted To The Upper Classes?

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By Video Volunteers:

An Anganwadi centre in Bihar has been running in a dilapidated state for 7 years. Every day, children sit beside crumbling walls, under a makeshift roof. The parents’ appeals to the Child Development Program Officer, that the school urgently be rebuilt, have been ignored consistently. These children are the human face of our rural infrastructure crisis. When we see what it is like to try to study in a building where you fear the roof will collapse on your head, we understand that the country’s infrastructure crisis is not just about highways and electricity poles; it’s about children and education and healthcare.

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The most urgent infrastructure related need is, in fact, rebuilding schools, anganwadis, and medical facilities in the countryside. This is just as urgent, if not more, than building new highways and smart cities, but it is massively under-prioritised by the government.

Politicians continue to pay lip service to the Gandhian principles, but Mahatma Gandhi’s focus on creating self-sufficient village economies has been conveniently forgotten. “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West. If an entire nation of 300 million (now 1.3 billion) took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts,” he had warned. Nothing makes the shift from the Gandhian ideas of rural prosperity clearer than the Central Government’s development plan. One of the ideas for infrastructural development floated by the new government is the creation of 100 Smart Cities (a.k.a, 100 ‘little Singapores’ ) as satellite towns of the larger cities and by modernising the existing mid-sized cities. Though very little detail has been given, it is certain that this is a plan designed for  urban India — which consists of less than one-third of India’s population.

A dedicated website to the smart cities project, states that 31% of the population currently living in the urban areas is responsible for 60% of the GDP. It is expected that by 2051, 50% of the population will still be living in the rural areas, but the vast majority of the GDP – 75 to 80% is expected to come from the cities. These numbers suggest that the plan is to make the rural areas increasingly less important to the economy as time goes on. This surely means that the people  living in the rural areas will themselves become increasingly less important; increasingly marginalized. (And here, we won’t even get to the question  of whether India’s and the world’s environment can sustain this plan.) Whether one has to cross a river to reach the main road, or someone is living in an area where it is difficult to distinguish between the roads and the fields, it won’t matter.

Community Correspondent Nitu Chakiya has shown how the absence of a proper road has left the people disillusioned with the democratic process and angry at all the politicians in Odisha no matter what party the politicians are from. Though many complaints about this, particularly, bad road were ignored, CC Nitu mobilised the community, and got the authorities to take action. “When people see that someone is trying to work for them, they help in all possible ways,” she told us later. Adding further, she said, “Most of the people don’t even file complaints anymore, because they don’t think that it will lead anywhere.” Nitu, here, in this small victory, has managed to restore some faith  in the government and that it can be made to work. She will soon be making another video about the successful completion of the road and her work in trying to restore the people’s faith in the democratic process.

Like Nitu, the CCs at Video Volunteers are not far-flung reporters trying to understand the problem like an outsider; they are living the problems that they are trying to highlight. Every single one of the 170 community correspondents is someone who lives in the area that they are trying to report on. It is of their immediate interest to change the prevalence of mis-governance.

Even though, there have been schemes and policies that have tried to develop the rural India – building roads, providing electricity and water, and creating opportunities for employment – a lot still needs to be done to bridge the widening gap. To try and tackle malnutrition, maternal health centres are needed. Literacy rates will not rise without school buildings with proper facilities. There is no point in having metros running in the smart cities, if the villages aren’t even connected to them by roads.

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In the last financial year, the Smart Cities project was allocated INR 7060 crores (USD 1.7 billion), while the Central Government’s scheme responsible for building the rural roads, Pradhanmantri Gram Sadak Yojana, got double of that amount. It seems here that the program, which is connecting the villages with roads, has been rightly given priority. But what one has to consider is that the former is for 100 cities and the latter for 600,000 villages.

The vast difference between what the communities need and what is being built is appalling. Policies that aren’t inclusive will not change anything for the vast majority of Indians. The satellite cities can create job opportunities for migrant labourers, but they will truly be smart only when they can provide affordable housing so that people don’t have to squat on pavements. And for that to happen, it is important to include communities in this debate. Without that, we can only pretend to be developing towards a brighter tomorrow.

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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 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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