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As We Proudly Wave Our National Flag, It’s Good To Remember The Challenges Ahead

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By Vaagisha Das

Congratulating India on its 69th Independence Day, US Secretary of State John Kerry called India “a beacon for the world“. He applauds India for being united and inclusive. However, can we – as the ever pragmatic citizens of India – concede this to be true? India’s former president of India, the late Dr. Abdul Kalam, wanted India to compete amongst developed nations, but India is yet to be counted among those at the zenith. As India comes a year closer to completing seven decades of its independence, here’s how we know that we still have a long way to go.

boy holding indian flag
Thirty years ago, India was home to one-fifth of world’s poor, but now it houses one-third of poor people. This means we now have more poor in India as compared to thirty years ago. The most prominent measure of poverty is the much attacked Poverty Line. This is, for appropriate reasons, also called the ‘starvation line’- it measures the calories you consume, and determines whether you qualify for being poor on the basis of this alone. So no matter if you do not have access to basic amenities like shelter, education, or even clean water- as long as you are eating bread daily, you are not counted as being poor. How do you tackle an issue if it doesn’t exist?

Unsurprisingly, most of the rural poor belong to what were once the downtrodden castes in India- which are still marginalised. The country’s great, liberal constitution was supposed to end the old obsession with the idea that your place in life, including your occupation, is set at birth. It abolished “untouchability“, which has now mostly disappeared from Indian society. Various laws forbid discrimination by caste. Which is why it is ironic how voters in ‘modern India’ are easily swayed by notions of the candidate belonging to a particular caste- Mayawati, the leader of the Dalit party, wins by landslides on the very notion. Add to this the instance of the Madhya Pradesh government refusing eggs for mid- day meals (it does not conform to their notions of upper caste meals, never mind the malnutrition suffered) and the situation becomes downright absurd. If we see how far we’ve come by looking at the serious notion of honour killings, and is it clear, not far at all.

Khap panchayats are not the only ones practicing dangerous forms of moral policing. The attacks by the RSS on Valentine’s Day- and the ensuing ‘Kiss Of Love‘ campaign show exactly what the people thought of poorly made attempts to “protect Indian culture“- which apparently, does not include the right to privacy. While the ‘politicians’ of our country are busy berating those who hold hands in public, rape trials go on for months, and policies are poorly implemented. A shift in this laser like focus would do the country- and the public they seem so intent on protecting-a whole world of good.

When India’s Human Development Index is adjusted for gender inequality, it becomes south Asia’s worst performing country after Afghanistan. Women in India are paid 27 per cent less than men for the same work in the corporate sector, and continue to face the drudgery of harsh manual labour as domestic workers. This is to say nothing of the fact that they are expected to manage the home and hearth- doing tasks such as gathering firewood and water, and nurturing children- all without any pay. Meanwhile, the law seems to be on the men’s side as well, an example being the case of the 14 year old who was denied permission by the High Court to abort her child after she was raped. There seems to be less of a focus on women’s rights as individuals and more on them living on society’s conditions of existence.

Indians seem to turn a blind eye to events occurring in their own county, as exemplified by a majority of Indian facebook users changing to rainbow coloured profile pictures to celebrate the SCOTUS judgement on same sex marriage. Most of them seem to care little about the pitiful conditions of the LGBTQ+ community in India, who face criminalisation just for being themselves.

If we start actively looking, we would find no dearth of such many more examples. We celebrate India’s struggle for independence, not only for what it accomplished, but for what it still challenges us to do. So, as we enjoy our traditional waving of the jhanda, it’d be good to remember that we’re not done yet. As the man in ‘Rang De Basanti’ says, “Koi bhi desh perfect nahi hota, use perfect banana padta hai. (No country is perfect, you have to make it perfect).

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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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