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Govt. Survey Reveals Shameful State Of Affairs In Rural India: 50% Population Deprived

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By Devika Kohli:

Independent India released its first Social Economic Caste Census survey findings last Friday, demonstrating statistics which reflect the state of poverty and deprivation in rural India as well as important social trends such as ownership of assets, gender dynamics, marital status, education and employment.

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The crux however of this report can be simply stated in a single line which is that 50% of India’s population is deprived.

Some unfortunate facts revealed by the Socio Economic Caste Census

The shameful practice of manual scavenging persists in our country with 180,657 people (from the lowest rungs of the Hindu caste system) carrying out the practice of collecting human waste from primitive dry latrines by hand, despite it being outlawed.

Also, barely 20 per cent of households own any kind of motor vehicle. Nearly 40% of households don’t own land and earn wages through casual, manual labor. Agriculture is tough work, with 40% of rural land still lacking irrigation facilities.

In over 90 per cent of households, the main earning member makes less than Rs. 10,000 a month. Nearly half of rural households still live in what are called “kuccha” houses, which include structures made of materials such as thatch, mud, plastic and wood.

Just over 3 per cent of rural households have a family member who is a graduate, so the chances of getting a job are few .

Do the government’s actions match its ‘intent’ of addressing poverty?

Many allege that the government has not been spending the money especially set aside for the advancement of groups chosen for affirmative action (such as scheduled castes or Dalits and scheduled tribes) but using these funds for other purposes. Moreover, the government’s investment in the social sector has been on a gradual decline in the last few years. For instance, according to the SECC report, in around 75 percent of rural households the main earning member’s wage is less than Rs.5000 per month. The MGNREGA (legislation passed to provide employment in the form of manual labor to all rural households on demand) is an initiative of the government to address this problem and enhance the basic incomes of this very constituency. However, the scheme’s performance has been dismal.

Similarly, the SECC results also report that less than 10 % of youth of rural households reach the higher secondary level or above and, households with no literate adult above the age of 25 amount to a shocking 4.21 crore. However, despite these grim numbers the government’s allocation to the education sector is quiet dismal. The allocation to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (the only centrally-funded intervention designed to achieve universalized elementary education) fell from Rs.24, 380 crore (2014-15) to Rs.19, 800 crore (2015-16), while the allocation for the Department of School Education and Literacy fell from Rs.46, 805 crore (2014-15) to Rs.42, 200 crore (2015-16) .

These are just two such examples amongst many others of the government’s unabated trend of cutting budgets for social sector schemes devised to address poverty.

The pitfalls of the SECC

The Socio Economic Caste Census has formulated an “exclusion criteria” consisting of 14 parameters which could now become the basis for excluding 40% of the rural households from availing government entitlements. If a rural household ticks off even one of these 14 parameters, it will be left outside the ambit of government entitlements.

The parameters include ownership of motorized vehicles, Kisan Credit Card with credit limit of over Rs 50,000, households with members employed by the government and any household with one member earning above Rs 10,000 a month, among others. However, reports state that 40% of rural households fall under any one of the parameters resulting in dire consequences for the poor. By this measure, four in ten rural households may not be considered for government aid.

India is not just in the cities: Our country is a long way from being the paragon of success

The numbers discussed above should come as a reality check for those who brag about India’s unprecedented growth and arrival on the global stage as a superpower. We are a long way from even finding jobs that can pull families out of poverty. No number of investor summits, foreign MoUs and attempts at canvassing an image of India to the outside world can compensate for the grim realities revealed via the SECC. This is an India that most of us sitting safely tucked away in metropolitan cities may not (choose not to) ever see.

It would be well advised for the government to release caste-wise information on socio-economic indicators collected by the SECC but not yet put in the public domain as these numbers would allow for a comparison of relative socio-economic status of different caste groups and thus help in framing policies of affirmative action.

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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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