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Another Massive Train Accident Proves The Need To Re-Examine The Ailing Railway Ministry

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By Ankita Ghosh:

On 5th of August 2015, two passenger trains ran headlong into a very billowy Machak river, between Khirkiya and Bhirangi stations on Khandwa-Irasi sections, some 160 km from Bhopal, in Northern Madhya Pradesh. Kamayani express connecting Mumbai to Varanasi and Janta Express from Patna, bound for Mumbai hit the river only minutes after each other following a late-night derailment, killing 29 passengers, a number that is currently being debated. Railway officials report that 250 passengers have been rescued from the site of accident, while an enquiry has been set up and compensation announced, keeping the number of casualties conveniently guarded. Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu attributes complete responsibility of the accident to the wrath of nature that washed out the base-line of tracks making overhead engine contact come off. The opposition in the meantime seems to have forgotten their days in the treasury and has been making a lot of noise through protests and demands for resignation over social network.

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Statistics suggest that an average of 100 railroad accidents take place in India annually inclusive of derailments, level-crossing accidents, fires in bogies and miscellaneous accidents with 15000 casualties in approximation. Section 124 of Railways Act 1989 states that railways are liable when there occurs, (a) either a collision between trains of which one is a train carrying passengers, (b) the derailment of or (c) other accident to a train or any part of a train carrying passengers. Statutory amount of compensation being INR 4 lakhs upon death remains tough to claim, considering the fact that the claimant has to prove that the deceased was not acting out of negligence.

Indian Railways, last-man-standing among state-sponsored services, generating annual revenue of close to 20 billion US Dollars recruits for the largest number of government offices in the country. Home to the fourth largest network of railway lines in the world, India has untapped opportunity available in this sector, but seems to be rewarding a Cabinet-rank ministry to an ineffective leadership. Rail travel that reduces cost of conveyance in comparison to road or air commute, reveals poor shape of overall infrastructure and hapless financial state according to the high-level safety review committee (2012). Government whip-cracking in the railways division has yielded nothing but disappointing revenue and an overwhelming number of train-accidents. Entire five-year-plans have failed to bring in infrastructure investment in this division and the only reason why Indian Railways haven’t totally succumbed is perhaps the lack of competition from the private sector. Terrible condition of manufacturing units have given way to dilapidated tracks, platforms and crumbling parts, that easily give away.

The railway budget 2015-16 has received mixed reaction on the proposed investment plan for the fiscal year. A grand total of INR 856020 crore includes INR 193000 crores for Network Expansion, INR 39000 crore for National Projects, INR 127000 crores towards Safety, INR 5000 crores for IT and Research and INR 12500 crores for passenger amenities among other expenditure. While the budget document has been clearly and comprehensively structured it remains ambiguous about any tangible plan of action. Certain areas of focus have shown temperament of reform like considerations on women’s safety, question of minimizing the lofty annual figures of rail accidents, fetching Minister Prabhu accolades within the party and among allies. However the budget fails to clearly spell out how the government plans to raise such enormous funds as needed to support said proposals. Passenger fares have yet again escaped escalation, a trend that has been going on for a decade yet a raise in freight charges has created a divisive opinion. In the light of an industrious Railway Budget it should be remembered that the railway remains one of the most fertile areas for exploitation and money-laundering. The multi-crore railgate scam that shook the backbone of the erstwhile government and a generally healthy trend of railway bribery, railway ticket frauds and such other should in all probability sound as a warning siren for the newly constituted government. The Ministry via the 2015 Railway budget highlights need for building partnerships, leveraging additional resources, revamping management and HR and still greater need for better governance and transparency.

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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, 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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