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RIP You ‘Abominable Critic’ Of This Chaotic World, Remembering Eduardo Galeano

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By Antara Mukherjee:

On the 13th of April, 2014, the world lost one the most beautiful human being on this earth, Eduardo Galeano. He was a poet, a journalist, a historian, an activist and above all, an abominable critic in the crudest sense. No wonder then that he had lived a large part of his life in exile from the dictatorial regime of his home country, Uruguay, and ever since then he is always known to have remained in the limelight given his indefatigable intellectual investments and energies to take on the most powerful, directly head on.

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He became famous in India when in a historical event, Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, “presented” a copy of Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America to Barack Obama during a historical visit of the former to the United States. This book talks of the five hundred years of plunder of the Latin American continent by European colonizers and by the imperialist forces of the United States. The Indian press gave it huge coverage and liberal Indian intellectuals were completely overwhelmed with this Latin American writer.

His writings draw from a varied range of historical and contemporary themes from across civilizations, nations and religious or ethnic identities. They dwell on issues of social injustice, exile and un-belonging, political games of powerhouses, ideologies and interest groups, situations of war and feigned peace, violence and hatred, or even of love and tragedy, of football and masculinity. There’s almost nothing about which he hasn’t ever written  or no nation or peoples whom he haven’t covered! The most exciting aspect of his writing though is the format; he borrows from the most scandalously popular genres such as the graffiti, TV serials, documentaries, posters, sketching, comic strips and more. This is what make his writing so fantastically reader friendly and really exciting. They are written in bits and pieces so that one need not have to read it from the beginning to the end. It is a really unique experience.

When he wrote about India, he did not indulge in any false adulations about an oriental past, rather he criticised our caste system, our manufactured and chronic poverty and issues of systematized violence against the Dalit and against women; thus he has severe encounters with Manu to raise issues about female foeticides for example, or with Phoolan Devi to empathize with her as a victim of poverty and caste politics. He questions the practice of Sati which was legitimized by Brahmans to expose the politics of such rituals!

There is almost not a single nation or identity that he did not criticize. However, perhaps it was Europe and the United States which were at the most violent receiving end of his intellectual ballistics. His books such as Upside Down, A Primer for the Looking Glass World or The Mirrors or Children of the Days: A Calender of Human Histories are his most famous ones of recent times. He once said in an interview that “Always in all my books I’m trying to reveal or help to reveal the hidden greatness of the small, of the little, of the unknown-and the pettiness of the big.”

As a huge fan of Galeano, it is refreshing to see someone bring out the rawness of everyday actions, things that we take for granted and put them into perspective. His way of writing is full of dry wit, satire and an absolute intolerance for injustice and oppression. His words are charming enough to persuade you to surrender to his world of ideas.

And in the event of his death, the world has lost an intellectual who refused to back down, like many others, from speaking the truth, no matter how ugly. He took it upon himself to represent every facet of the world in his charismatic rants. And that is what this world has lost. A writer who has moved and will keep moving generations of people to think, to recognise the little things, to appreciate the diversity of people, to look down on inequality and oppression, and to do it all with amazing yet unsettling connections of realities. He brings out the fear and the anxiety of our chaotic world.

“It is the time of fear.
Women’s fear of violent men, men’s fear of fearless women.
Fear of thieves and fear of the police.
Fear of doors without locks, of time without watches, of children without television; fear of the night without sleeping pills and day without pills to wake up.
Fear of crowds, fear of solitude, fear of what was and what could be, fear of dying, fear of living.” (Upside Down, 1998)

One read of his works and you’ll find yourself recognising the ugly realities that we have so systematically ignored for centuries. His narration will drift you into a realm where you’ll watch the horror unfold and grow feeling a sense of realisation. When we are ready to face these realities, he will push you to think, to recollect and to remember. And there can be no one as reliable as Galeano for acquiring that knowledge and no one as genuine to help you step into a radical worldview, one that doesn’t convince you to be like him, but to be alongside him with your own interpretations.

Galeano’s identity cannot just be limited to Uruguay or Latin America, he belongs to the world. And that is why the whole world is suffering from an irreparable sense of loss and remorse. May his soul rest in peace.

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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, 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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