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15 Photos That Capture The Aartis, Ghats And ‘No Bikini Signboards’ Of Rishikesh

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By Chintan Malhotra

It was a peaceful evening in Rishikesh, people had started gathering for the daily evening Ganga Aarti. While the Sun could be seen gradually turning away, temporarily taking its golden charm, Ganga could be still seen embracing its traces. I sat there quietly in a corner trying to absorb as much I could from the surroundings, because it’s not everyday that the winds around you have so much to receive from. I somehow wanted to take this particular state of mind and sensation back home. May be like in a bottle of perfume and spray it around whenever I wanted. For quite a long time all I was looking at was the flowing water, my mind was in a total contrast to it, like I had never seen the water before. Gradually, people started to gather around. The ambient noise had a very smooth transition in it. The noise of footsteps, the crowd, setting up of microphones, a variety of languages and accents quickly brushing off my ears, a few horns etc. Which started to settle down very smoothly to reach the moment of silence, complete silence. Just like it would happen before the first take of a silent movie scene.

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I too then stood up to join the crowd slowly assembling near the Ghaat. The young boys from the Gurukul walked in together into the centre of the open arena like space. All beautifully dressed up in yellow Dhoti-Kurtas, entering the area in a queue and spreading to take their seats in a very smooth and organized manner. As if, after the Sun had set, they came in like a ray of that golden light and enchanted the whole space around them. The Havan-Kund in the centre of the crowd was also lit up, which was quite close to where I was sitting. The warmth of the pure flame and the organic smell was adding to the essence of the whole place. The young boys there, recited the chants and shlokas from the ancient Vedic texts in chorus. Their discipline and dedication represented how well they were being educated in the Gurukul. Many of them were orphans and now were affectionately addressed as ‘Rishikumar’.

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The crowd had people from many different places and a pleasing big number from outside India. Even the ones not from India were actively present in the whole process and some even recited along the shlokas and chants. The peace on their faces was so contagious, some just sat still with eyes closed and some were seen swinging in a rhythm and had a faint smile. Everybody stood up for the Aarti, the zeal and devotion the people showed was very enticing. Regardless of one’s religion or ability to understand Hindi or Sanskrit, the power of the Aarti was somewhat universal.

The spiritual chief of Parmarth Niketan (H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji) then stood up to address the gathering, He recently came back from Nepal after serving there with the rescue team. As he started speaking he introduced a very prestigious guest they had there, the Air Chief Marshal with his family. Swami Ji after acknowledging them, lovingly presented them with a token of honor, a plant sapling.

Two very prominent personalities stood right in front of a huge gathering. A soldier and a saint, and both held a very strong presence and role there, for everyone. I believe both are very alike in real life too! They both put on stake a lot of things, go through a lot of detachment in their lives, they give up so much to give in for the nation and for the people. It really inspired me to see the two of them standing there holding the little plant carefully together. It was the perfect moment describing the need, for the two very different but very alike, to join hands for a better planet ahead! In fact we all should take inspiration from the two, and constantly make some small or big efforts to make this planet a better place to live in. We could all just start by planting a tree. And if there’s not much that you can do personally, there are many great organizations who are working for the same, at least we can lend them some support!

I have been visiting this city since childhood, and it always has been my favourite. There is a true essence of rich Indian culture in surroundings, the people and the places. This is one of the many reasons that you will always find people from all over the world visiting it often.

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Many of them even stay back for months and even years, learning Yoga and the ancient Vedic Science. The local markets are very colorful and vibrant. The narrow streets have many different kinds of people, some who beg, some who sing or play instruments, some sell handicrafts and some just sit and chant/meditate for hours. The banks of the river Ganga are also very peaceful and calm. Many saints have their permanent abodes there. You can sit for hours alongside the river Ganga watching people do different things which are a part of their religious beliefs.

Some foreigners can also be seen sunbathing on the banks, which is known as the beach by the local guides. The local people have put up some sign boards on the walls near Ghaats, that read things like ‘no bikini’, ‘respect local culture’ etc. It is a beautiful place altogether and I get to learn or experience something new each time!

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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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