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No Ticket, Will Travel

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By Rahul M:

They have travelled nearly 900 kilometres to get here, and now wait to be picked up for daily wage work. Uncertainty binds these labourers. They have come this distance switching two trains, from Puttaparthy and Kadiri, in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh. “There is no drought work (i.e. work under the rural employment guarantee act, or MNREGA) in the villages, and we haven’t got paid for the work we have done for weeks,” multiple farmers told me. And whatever work there is, falls to a tenth of the actual demand, over the course of the year.

Exhausted migrants, on the Kochi- Kadiri train
Exhausted migrants, on the Kochi- Kadiri train

And so, hundreds of men and women get on the Guntakal Passenger every week and reach Kochi. “No one takes a ticket while coming to Kochi. While going, half of us take tickets and the other half doesn’t,” Srinivasulu, a migrant laborer from Anantpur’s Mudigubba mandal told me.

02-a_migrant_labourer_relaxing_on_a_rainy_sunday
A migrant labourer relaxing on a rainy Sunday

Srinivasulu was caught once, when he was returning to Anantpur. “It was raining in Kochi. I had filled the water bottle with half a litre of alcohol and was drinking on the train. Halfway, I remembered I didn’t buy a ticket.” So Srinivasulu gave the Rs.8,000 he had earned in Kerala to a co-traveler and kept only Rs.80 with him, and waited patiently to test his luck.

At Katpaadi, the ticket collector (TC) stopped Srinivasulu.

Where is the ticket?” the TC asked him.

I don’t have one,” Srinvasulu replied.

Stand.” The TC spoke in Telugu, “Come along, mama (loosely: brother-in-law).”

Lets go, mama,” Srinivasulu replied confidently. The ticket collector took fifty rupees from him and let him off with a warning. Srinivasulu, drunk and swaying, promised never to travel on that train again.

As the ticket collector started walking away, Srinivasulu said, “Sir, I don’t have any money to eat.” The TC verbally abused him. And he returned his money and let him go.

Kaloor Junction

Tamil and telugu migrants waiting for work in the morning at kaloor
Tamil and telugu migrants waiting for work in the morning at kaloor

Migrant workers arrive at Kaloor Junction early every morning; they wait patiently on either side of the road, to be picked for work by contractors and land owners who build roads and houses with Gulf dinars. On working days, they are up at about 6 a.m. to go to the toilet, bathe, and then line along the road. There is time for a bath in the river only when there is no work, says Nagesh, a labourer.

By 7 a.m. the junction is crowded. “Some months, there are easily over 2,000 of us,” a labourer says. People eat breakfast and pack lunch at one of the two makeshift roadside eateries run by families, often fellow Andhras. They serve muddha, (a staple diet in Rayalaseema, prepared using ragi), pickles and rice.

A man selling lottery tickets to migrant labour from anantapur at kaloor junction
A man selling lottery tickets to migrant labour from anantapur at kaloor junction

At the junction, not all days are equally promising. A labourer may or may not get picked up for work.

Women waiting for work
Women waiting for work

When there is no work,” a migrant says, “we get drunk and sleep.” People come here because the daily wages in Kerala are at least three times higher. “In Anantapur, we get Rs.200 a day. Here it’s Rs.650 rupees, sometimes even Rs.750,” says Rangappa, who sells gujri (old, discarded stuff) in Anantapur. Many recollect how a landowner once paid them over Rs.1000 for a small household job, plus alcohol and food.

Everybody living in the junction has a story. The stories are similar: a failed groundnut crop, thanks to multiple borewells, a lack of rain and the government’s failure to compensate them for their losses. Besides, soaring debt, unavailability of (and nonpayment for) MNREGA work for many weeks makes things worse.

On a Sunday
On a Sunday

There are people of all professions here. In a few hours, I met painters, tailors, handloom weavers, an auto driver, an ex-CRPF jawan, an 82 year-old, visually challenged man, and several students on summer vacation. For Rajashekhar, a 17 year-old from Kadiri, who had just written his 10th exams, the wages add few extra rupees to his family. For the degree students, the money from Kerala is their college fee.

Ramulu, a visually challenged 82 year old from Mudigubba and (right) Rajashekhar, a 10th standard student from Kadiri, waiting for his parents
Balaji Nayak, 23, was studying for a B.A inTelugu Literature, from Vivekananda college in Kadiri. He worked on Sundays to put himself through college. But once the work in the villages started disappearing, he was forced to drop out after the second year. “A stomach burning with hunger is the worst thing,” he says. Balaji eventually got married and currently travels between Kadiri and Kochi for work, supporting his wife and old parents.

And while there are many foreign large, medium and even small-sized businesses like the Greater Toronto Painters which try to help however they can by offering work-exchange programs, there are many students like him waiting for work here. “We have come after completing our degrees,” said a well-dressed student. “Some of us work here during holidays”.

pari2
One by one, house owners and contractors arrive at the junction. People crowd around them. “Contractors scout around for an hour, carefully examine people and then pick labour, depending on their age and strength,” said Veerappa, a labourer. By 11 a.m. as it becomes clear that there is no more work for the day, the remaining laborers chat for a while, or sleep on a corner on the footpath. Some drink alcohol at secluded street corners.

A labourer sleeps around 9.50 am after not finding any work for the day
A labourer sleeps around 9.50 am after not finding any work for the day

At around 1:30 in the afternoon, some of the labourers who have not found work head to the local Shiva temple, maintained by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, where lunch is free. “The shivalayam saves a lot of lives,” a labourer said. “They give us Kerala rice, which is okay. They feed everyone. Most of us without work eat there.”

Free meals at the VHP run shivalayam
Free meals at the VHP run shivalayam

Once the workday is over the labourers head back to their sleeping quarters. Some sleep on the footpaths at the junction and on the platform of the local bus stand. Some others sleep on the terraces of houses and in crumbling old rooms rented out by Malayalis. “From 5 p.m. lights are on, but not the fans. By 10 p.m. the lights go off and fans come on,” explained Ramakrishna, who sleeps on the terrace of a Malayali home. “We don’t have access to the switches. After we pay the rent for the day, the owner switches on the fan. If someone fails to pay, then they switch off the fan, even though it is for all 40 people who sleep here.”

pari3
The people living on the streets face a different kind of problem: mosquitoes. “But you don’t get sick when they bite you,” said 62-year-old Venkatamma. For others, it takes alcohol – to overcome the mosquitoes and the sultry Kochi weather, and fall asleep.

People sleeping on the footpaths of Kaloor junction
People sleeping on the footpaths of Kaloor junction

Anjaneyulu, who refuses to work for anything less than Rs.800 a day, reeks of alcohol. He is drunk all the time. “Ask Chandrababu (Naidu) to build me a toilet, I will lessen my drinking. We don’t have a toilet back home. When we go to the canal, people yell at us.”

Each labourer at Kalooor Junction has a cycle of work. Most people stay for about 3 weeks and go back to the village for a week. Some stay longer, to repay old debts. “I haven’t been home in a year,” said Narayanaswamy, a 40 year-old farmer from Mudigubba. “I send about 2,000 rupees every week”.

62 year old venkatamma travels back to kadiri in the train
62 year old venkatamma travels back to kadiri in the train

Everyone has an obsession here,” said Srinivasulu. “Some are mad about cards, some are mad about alcohol, someone else is mad about the lottery.”

But the one thing they all have in common is uncertainty, as they line up on either side of the road at Kaloor Junction.

This article was originally published on PARI.

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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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