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The Monsoon That Washed Lives Away: 11 Photographs That Capture The Bengal Flood

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By Daniel Mung:

Editor’s Note: While no work is getting done in the Monsoon Session in the Parliament, a deluge that has rendered 2.4 lakh people homeless, and more than 60 dead, is raging in West Bengal. The army has been deployed in Bhardman district to shepherd the panic stricken crowd into 1537 relief camps.

World Vision India’s Photographer Daniel Mung, is currently in Bardhman, documenting the great loss that the area has suffered and the repercussions that this flood would have. The organisation is trying to raise funds for the lakhs of people in the worst affected area.

It's as if their lives don't matter at all. They’re still in waist-deep water, their homes destroyed, their crops lost and their future threatened. Others have been hunkered in evacuation centres for weeks, waiting for the water to wash away, to claw back a life.  And no one outside their community seems to care.
It’s as if their lives don’t matter at all.
They’re still in waist-deep water, their homes destroyed, their crops lost and their future threatened. Others have been hunkered in evacuation centres for weeks, waiting for the water to wash away, to claw back a life.
And no one outside their community seems to care.
For the 15 days, families in West Bengal have been dealing with mass flooding. Locals say it's the worst flooding in 15 years. There are an estimated 13,200 villages in just West Bengal alone affected, with the worst affected district being Bardhaman, where more than 333,000 people are directly affected. In all of India, an estimated 10 million are affected. But it’s not on news stations. It’s not being discussed in public spheres. There’s no mention in newspapers. And I can’t figure out why. For the last five days, I’ve taken tiny hand-dug boats to reach villages cut-off – their road access lost due to the rising waters.
For the 15 days, families in West Bengal have been dealing with mass flooding. Locals say it’s the worst flooding in 15 years. There are an estimated 13,200 villages in just West Bengal alone affected, with the worst affected district being Bardhaman, where more than 333,000 people are directly affected. In all of India, an estimated 10 million are affected.
But it’s not on news stations. It’s not being discussed in public spheres. There’s no mention in newspapers. And I can’t figure out why.
For the last five days, I’ve taken tiny hand-dug boats to reach villages cut-off – their road access lost due to the rising waters.
I’ve been to relief camps set up to offer a dry place for the flooded. These centres are cramped and dingy – but they’re the only place that people can go.  There, children who have lost their clothes in the flood roam naked. There’s obviously a risk – particularly for girls’ safety – in these centres.  And there’s also a risk of child trafficking – families who have lost everything have told me they’re consider sending their children to work in the cities.
I’ve been to relief camps set up to offer a dry place for the flooded. These centres are cramped and dingy – but they’re the only place that people can go.
There, children who have lost their clothes in the flood roam naked. There’s obviously a risk – particularly for girls’ safety – in these centres.
And there’s also a risk of child trafficking – families who have lost everything have told me they’re consider sending their children to work in the cities.
I’ve seen children desperate to go back to their shuddered school. Their school books had been swept away by the floodwater. Others were forced to abandon their exams – which threatened their academic future.  Another girl I met was forced to evacuate to her school. She called the experience of staying inside a classroom – while her home was submerged – ‘sad’. Schools were meant to be fun, enjoyable places, she told me, but now it would have a horrible memory.
I’ve seen children desperate to go back to their shuddered school. Their school books had been swept away by the floodwater. Others were forced to abandon their exams – which threatened their academic future.
Another girl I met was forced to evacuate to her school. She called the experience of staying inside a classroom – while her home was submerged – ‘sad’. Schools were meant to be fun, enjoyable places, she told me, but now it would have a horrible memory.
I’ve met an 8-month pregnant women clinging to hope that the water will recede. She wanted to give birth anywhere but the relief camp her family was stationed. It was too crowded – there were 150 families sharing just one building. She longed to go home.
I’ve met an 8-month pregnant women clinging to hope that the water will recede. She wanted to give birth anywhere but the relief camp her family was stationed. It was too crowded – there were 150 families sharing just one building. She longed to go home.
I’ve met families who have camped out on train platforms for weeks, as it’s the only place not underwater in their community. They’d set up make-shift tents, desperate to survive, while passengers catching trains hurried by, apparently untouched by the need at their footsteps.
I’ve met families who have camped out on train platforms for weeks, as it’s the only place not underwater in their community. They’d set up make-shift tents, desperate to survive, while passengers catching trains hurried by, apparently untouched by the need at their footsteps.
I’ve listened to farmers who say they’ll have to abandon their fields and head to the city for work. They’re crops have been destroyed, their harvest – which offers an annual income – lost. The flooding is so extensive that many of the fields look like rivers now.
I’ve listened to farmers who say they’ll have to abandon their fields and head to the city for work. They’re crops have been destroyed, their harvest – which offers an annual income – lost. The flooding is so extensive that many of the fields look like rivers now.
I’ve wished I could do something more than take their photo, to write a short quote. I am witnessing something horrific.
I’ve wished I could do something more than take their photo, to write a short quote. I am witnessing something horrific.
My only hope is that these images touch a few people who see them.  It’s exhausting mentally to be exposed to people suffering again and again and feeling like there’s little that can be done. Knowing that my photographs can bear witness and tell of the need is what keeps me going.
My only hope is that these images touch a few people who see them.
It’s exhausting mentally to be exposed to people suffering again and again and feeling like there’s little that can be done. Knowing that my photographs can bear witness and tell of the need is what keeps me going.
World Vision aims to provide emergency relief to 100,000 people. They are also looking at how to help farm families in the months to come – so that the lost harvest won’t mean the families collapse.
World Vision aims to provide emergency relief to 100,000 people. They are also looking at how to help farm families in the months to come – so that the lost harvest won’t mean the families collapse.

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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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