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Will Modi’s Insurance Scheme Stop 25000 Farmers From Committing Suicide?

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By Ankita Ghosh:

Amid reports of Prime Minister Modi’s proposal for a universal health insurance scheme on I-Day, insurance-covered India went evoking its annual quota of patriotic sentiments. The ‘other’ India in the meantime is caught in a perpetual financial threat making them desperate enough to appeal to the President to commit suicide. 25,000 farmers reportedly sought assent of Pranab Mukherjee to be able to take their own lives on August 15th in Mathura,- a cumulative effect of several decades of grievances and failed agrarian movements. The croppers here have awaited government compensation for 17 long years without as much as a nod of approval from the latter. Farmers there have been agitating since 1998 over government compensation for 700 acres of land that they’d lost to the construction of the Gokul Barrage.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A good 14% of all suicides in India between 1995 and 2012 have been committed by farmers, statistics reveal, with 3000 farmer suicides in the last 3 years. Several states seem to have denied access to data since that which is accessible on online portals is often flawed or repeated. Is the newly constituted government hiding behind half-truths?

So are we failing to ensure food security to those that grow our food for us? What do we make of government data that suggests a sharp 50% drop in suicide rate among farmers?  Meanwhile successive governments make digs at each other, try to pass off the blames for India’s collapsing agricultural sector to the opposition but keep on encroaching cultivable land for ambitious industrial projects. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh sparked off controversy after blaming ‘love affairs’ and dowry disputes for agriculture failure prompting CPM leader Sitaram Yechury to attribute farmers’ distress to the impotency of the government.

A recent claim identifying the introduction and subsequent proliferation of Genetically Modified Organisms in farming contributing to the spike in the number of suicides cannot be dismissed. 2013 rallies and heated protests against use of GMO and Bt cotton seeds in cultivation, pointed at Monsanto, an American Agri-business, as the chief culprit. Bt cotton seeds, officially approved in 2002 has since been overwhelmingly embraced by farmers. Monsanto’s official website and its supporting sector in India argue that the cost-effective seeds had initially augmented production and even reduced the gross use of pesticides. The opposing opinion points at large-scale crop failure from what is being called the ‘suicide seeds’ as the reason for increasing debt-burden of farmers. The story however is more complex than what it appears. While GMO technology backfiring on the interests of the farmers cannot be ruled out, there is no denying that agriculture in India is a largely undermined and failed sector. An agrarian country with 60% of its population depending upon farming fails to contribute more than 21% to its GDP largely because of debt, high input-costs, lopsided growth, poor resource sharing, water crisis, pest attacks and diseases. Poor infrastructure of the agro-sector, policy measures driven by political rather than field outputs, disappointing institutional credit have equal shares in hampering agricultural yield and pushing farmers to consume unused vials of pesticide. Agriculture still provides for the largest share of livelihood and the hapless condition of the same should mean that Indian agriculture wasn’t given enough protection against the effects of trade liberalization policies.

The proposed Universal Health Insurance Scheme is an umbrella plan to cover health insurance of an entire family under a single cover amount. It is to offer coverage of up to 50,000 Rupees for a maximum age of 60 years, for a family of up to 5 members. It will cover pre-existing diseases and hospital cost at subsidized premium rates and will be sold by Government and undertaking agencies as well as private insurance corporate. Privately held statistics confirm that over 20% farmers in India are without insurance making them more vulnerable to weather, accident, crop/livestock/cattle failure and breakdown of technology. Prime Minister Modi’s decision to fast track the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojna, amending the Land Acquisition Act 2013 and integrating the NREGA with it, starting multi-level projects with the Ministries of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development, recycling already existing projects and monitoring the outcomes are part of his pro-farmer pro-poor initiative. While this certainly is a commendable effort on paper, we cannot overlook the fact that project implementation has always been a weak point with India’s governance machinery. Success is intrinsically linked with redressal of grievances and it is time that the country outgrows its indifference towards the rights of the tillers of land.

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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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