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24 Hour Electricity Only When The PM Visits: The Tragedy Of Being Modi’s Constituency

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By Khabar Lahariya

KL Logo 2 (1)Editor’s Note: As part of this new collaboration between Khabar Lahariya and Youth Ki Awaaz, you the readers will get to read stories from the hinterlands of the country’s largest state – Uttar Pradesh. And the reporters of Khabar Lahariya are unique in the way they get these stories to you. Brought out entirely by a collective of rural women, Khabar Lahariya (KL) is the only local language newspaper produced currently in local languages – Bundeli, Awadhi and Bhojpuri. These women report, write, edit, take photographs and design the newspaper and come from some of the most backward districts in Uttar Pradesh. Winner of multiple awards, KL was awarded the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum Award and Rajasthan Pattrika KC Kulish Award for Excellence in Reporting on Health, most recently

On September 18, the ‘first constituency’ of Varanasi finally received Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since the BJP came to power last year, PM Modi’s attempts to visit Varanasi, the seat he won with record margin, have, quite literally, been rained out.

Varanasi ghat

The proposed visit in October last year was called off, when Cyclone Hudhud hit the eastern coast of the country. Visits planned for June and July this year were also cancelled, when Varanasi was hit by heavy monsoon showers and the unseemly death of a worker, who was working on arrangements for the prime minister’s visit at the programme venue in July.

Dev, who was in his early twenties, was part of a group of workers specially called in from West Bengal to supervise the decorations at the DLW grounds. The Midnapore-native died of electrocution and the Power Finance Corporation announced a relief-package of Rs 7.5 lakh for the family.

According to various reports and Khabar Lahariya’s conversations with the district administration, it appears that crores of rupees have been spent on the prime minister’s visits – three cancelled, fourth time lucky. (Estimates vary from Rs 7-9 crore for each visit.) Before each visit, arterial roads were levelled, street hawkers were cleared off the pavements weeks in advance, and the stage at the DLW grounds saw the drawing of special water-proof and fire-proof covers.

Varanasi awaits Swacch Bharat, or Modi, whichever arrives first
Varanasi awaits Swacch Bharat, or Modi, whichever arrives first

Thousands of chairs, fans, coolers were assembled at the grounds. The temporary helipad too came up. Posters, numbering in thousands, were printed for all the visits. Ahead of the cancelled-July visits, we spoke to a few artists working on posters for the rally. About 50,000 posters were designed, to go up on every street corner, intersection, and along all roads leading to the venue. “All these posters have gone to waste, since we also print the date on them,” one of the poster-artists told us.

Even for the September 18 rally, a day after Modi’s 66th birthday, preparations reached a fever-pitch. Officials told us that nearly Rs 4 crore had gone into the re-organisation of arrangements, decorations, etc. However, it appears that in the sound and fury of a prime ministerial visit, the ‘first constituency’ has been a bit of a loser.

Home to fine cricket pitches, where Ranji Trophy matches are played out, football grounds, where state-and-national level players train, and tennis courts, the DLW stadium is often host to the many keen sportspersons of the city. After the cancelled-July visit, when Khabar Lahariya visited DLW, the stadium’s cricket pitch was in ruins. The 22-yard pitch, brown and flat, was littered with the remains of that day – iron nails, plastic bags, shards of glass, and wood. “We’ve been playing here for three years now, and we have never seen the pitch look so bad,” Raju and Shivam told us.

The September visit has further ruined the grounds. Pits and holes have surfaced all over, and the pitch has been declared unfit for play. This could mean that the upcoming knockout rounds of the inter-state railway cricket tournament might not be hosted at DLW grounds. There will be no Swachh Bharat for the stadium.

Varanasi has also had to wait all these months for the PM to officially inaugurate the trauma centre at Banaras Hindu University, to announce the Integrated Power Development Scheme – projects worth Rs 572 crore for the city, the 16.5 km-long Varanasi Ring Road project, and the four-lane national highway-56 from Varanasi city to Babatpur airport.

In early September, when the trauma centre had already begun to function and Khabar Lahariya had gone visiting, the hospital was packed to the gills with patients. But the centre was in some state of disarray. We noticed a lack of wheelchairs to ferry around patients. In one case, a lady had to physically carry her disabled husband to the doctor for a checkup.

It has been more than a year since Modi took office at the Centre, but he is yet to make good on the electoral promise of 24×7 electricity to his constituency. There is no corner of Varanasi that enjoys full supply of electricity. The areas of Lohta, Lallapura, Alaipura and Bazardiha in the western part of the city, which are powerloom hubs, feel the lack of electricity the most. In Lohta alone, around 10,000 weavers work on powerlooms in backbreaking shifts round-the-clock to fashion out Banarsi sarees of all makes – the net cut, katan or applique. The erratic power supply, however, continues to hamper their productivity. On a good day, there’s just eight-nine hours of electricity.

Just last Sunday, at the Vishwanath temple, the famed Ganga arati was held in pitch darkness. Most residents can’t remember the last time they had a 24-hour supply. September 18, the day of Modi’s visit, was one such day.

On that day, PM Modi also announced a range of sops for the city and its residents. Besides the power and infrastructure projects, and the super speciality hospital, Modi gave away 501 cycle rickshaws and 101 e-rickshaws, 602 people were brought under the financial inclusion scheme of Jan Dhan Yojana, 660 dustbins for boatmen on the Ganga, and 6600 hygiene kits, carrying toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and soap, for labourers.

Manoj, 27, is a father of three children. A street vendor, his cart is regularly pulled off the pavements ahead of any high-profile visit, including PM Modi’s. Now, he is one of the 101 people who’ve received e-rickshaws. However, the e-rickshaws have been given out on loan – at Rs 1.8 lakh each, with an interest of Rs 1,156 to be paid weekly. While the ruling Samajwadi Party has protested these ‘gifts’ given out on loan, Manoj hopes to raise the interest amount every week. Packing six-eight people in his brand new vehicle, he ferries workers, professionals and housewives from Manduadih to the cantonment area, charging Rs 15 per sawari for the 4-km ride. “A couple of us heard about this scheme in our area. Not from the BJP, just from the company that makes these e-rickshaws. Seven of us have availed of this scheme,” Manoj told us.

At Assi ghat, dozens of shiny new dustbins have joined the ranks of the older ones. Some of the boatmen have started to carry them on their boats. In the last year, since October 2, 2014, when the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched, Varanasi has seen the mission progress in fits and starts. While the riverfront has seen concerted campaigns for cleanliness, bustling, central areas continue to languish in filth. For instance, Swachh Bharat mission has never come to the road between Englishya Lines and Sigra, which is a prominent intersection in the heart of Varanasi. Less than a kilometre from the city’s municipality, garbage piles up, and farm produce rots.

Not a single beneficiary of the announced ‘hygiene kit’ could be found. When Khabar Lahariya contacted the Varanasi BJP headquarters several times, party-bearers had no idea about the sops or the recipients. Contact numbers were supplied, but no information was forthcoming.

On the first anniversary of the Swachh Bharat Mission, we can only see a city struggling to pick up the pieces after the Prime Minister.

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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.

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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.

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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
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