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“The Fact That I Didn’t Leave The Building Shows How Lightly I Took The Earthquake”

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By Sahitya Poonacha

It can be a big political event, a terror war, or even a life-changing calamity. As long as we aren’t involved, “What’s the big deal?” A few people will make a hue and cry and news will spread rapidly. Suddenly, once the ‘drama’ subsides, it’s all okay again. The fact that we weren’t directly affected makes it easier to put it aside as a little tit-bit of general knowledge. One day we will look back and remember the event in its most broken down form and pass it on in textbooks to children, it’s now very simply History.

Nepal_Earthquake_2015_01

Sitting on your bed while your building is shaking is something I can talk about now with some confidence of getting the facts right. But the fact that we were standing in our corridors with grins on our faces and treating it like some sort of never-before sighted comet is testimony to our disregard for the situation.

There I was, deep in conversation with my mother over the phone, when suddenly the entire room began shaking noticeably. I thought I was about to faint, but when my roommate turned to me and asked “Is this an earthquake?” It was like the lights had suddenly come on after a power-cut. I cut the call with my mom and heard girls from the other rooms in our PG racing down the corridor. It was a long one, so all of us had enough time to realize its effect.

When it began, it wasn’t panic that set in, the atmosphere, at least for me, was just an unexpected occurrence that I’ve only ever heard about. Of course there were those who moved downstairs quietly, understanding the gravity of the situation. The fact that I didn’t bother vacating the building shows exactly how lightly I took the situation. Conversations on Whatsapp lit up my phone and we were in an awkward frenzy. I feel ashamed to admit it now, but as someone who had never experienced this before, it was extremely satisfying. It became something I could tell people about.

Maybe it was our discomfort that translated into dry humor, I think in our minds we all had a fair idea of how dangerous this could be. We laughed at jokes of how we’d be sleeping and never wake up to it, or what if we were locked in the building, it definitely doesn’t sound funny to me now. I stood with my back to the wall, a stupefied expression on my face as I felt the walls vibrating, saying excitedly to my friends “It’s happening yaar!” and the others nodded along equally fascinated. Since the tremors were not as severe as they were in Bihar or Nepal, we felt that we had a right to play the situation down. Somehow we managed to take our calmness in the situation to a whole new level, that of complete optimism.

When we turned on the news and the damage sat before our eyes like a glaring headlight, staring at us with accusation, I felt like I had undermined the situation far too much. Had we performed the same spectacle during a real earthquake, we’d be in one hell of a pickle.

The whole experience also made me see how materialistic I actually am. After the earthquake had passed, I thought, God forbid, if there ever was an earthquake- would I be able to leave my precious diaries, my laptop and my mobile phone, that one shirt that means the world to me, my Harry Potter posters that I couldn’t dream of leaving behind under any circumstance and all my notes and readings that I protected with my life, oh! And my wallet that is literally my life-saver? My heart plummeted at the very thought that all these things would vanish within moments. I knew in a heartbeat that I was not yet ready for a calamity and as a side-note; that my priorities are completely messed up. How low can I go?

Among other realizations, another epiphany that struck me was that this was a hypothetical situation, just a scenario, and so I don’t really have to worry about it. But in Nepal where this had already happened, it wasn’t hypothetical any more. Houses have shattered, more than 3000 lives have been lost, UNESCO heritage sites destroyed, people’s belongings too (more than just Harry Potter posters).

No matter what compensation is offered to them, life will never be the same. I don’t have the solution to their problem, I can’t do much. But what I can do, is change my attitude, maybe now I can be a little more conscious and a little less excited when a tremor hits, I can be a little more sensitive and a lot less materialistic. I don’t want to be that person who thinks “What’s the big deal?” I have been very lucky to have escaped any disaster. For all the times I have told myself that “My life is the absolute worst” I have been wrong every time.

We need to take time out to appreciate the safety we have, we never know when a calamity could strike. There is no system of predicting these occurrences, the least we can do is be intelligent and grounded when it happens and try not to attach value to non-living things, those are replaceable, but life isn’t. I realize now that getting stuck in the rain when you don’t have an umbrella, or spilling soup on a silk shirt, losing a game or not getting those extra few marks on an exam, conversations not going right or stepping in dung, dropping a phone, etc. doesn’t on any level mean that you are unlucky. It just means that you can be a little more careful, work a little harder, and be a bit nicer. At least, you have what you really care about, your life, exactly how it is right now, comfortable.

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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.

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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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