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Why Hitch-Hiking In Punjab Turned Out To Be An Experience I’ll Never Forget

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By Hitesh Bhatt

hitch hiking hitesh bhattIn last five odd months, I have hitch-hiked in almost all the places I have gone to, including Nepal. I have hitched on the back of a bullock-cart; travelled with truckers; spent kilometers talking to tractor-drivers while hitching with them; hitched a sedan and bicycles. Of all the places I have hitched to, there is one place worth talking about: Punjab.

I started from Delhi to Punjab on the third week of October last year. I stood on the NH1 where I was dropped by a trucker. There were a number of trucks pulled over in a row. Papers were being checked by police. I passed the checkpoint and found that a couple of trucks were parked near a tea stall. It almost had to beg to get a ride from one trucker. Later, while riding with him, he said that people in Delhi were not good and he wasn’t sure if I wasn’t a thug. He said had he been in Punjab he would have stopped his truck without asking. He was so true about that! He drove the truck to a vegetable market in Ambala. We chatted the whole night. He told me about his village, about his wife, about how studious his kids were. He even invited me to his house.

I slept in his truck until dawn. When I woke up, he got me tea and bread. Upon seeing sunlight, I decided to move as I had to reach Barnala which was still 170km away. I walked up to the highway and within five minutes, a tractor stopped. He offered me a ride up to Rajpura Road. He told me that he and his brothers are farmers and they all live together, happily. Wishing me luck, he dropped me and headed home.

It was merely 6 in the morning. I was standing right where a flyover ends. Within 10 minutes, a truck crossed me in a good speed and pulled over more than a 100mtr ahead. Much to my surprise, by the time I reached the truck, he had already taken out a bottle and glasses and was pouring a drink for himself and his cleaning man. I wondered if I should hop on to a drunkard’s truck but decided to anyway. I realised he was pretty drunk but he was funny as well. He drove me up to Ludhiana and the whole journey was hilarious. He was around 37 and the cleaning man was a 76-year-old veteran ex-trucker. The driver would tell me that the old man was a godfather to him as he taught him everything about trucks and driving. But when high on alcohol, he would swear at him saying, “This motherfucker is a useless old chap, he just feeds on my earnings; he is a parasite.”

IMG_6073The driver drove the truck the way many ride their motorcycles. At the speed of 80, he was able to make pegs for himself. I got off at Ludhiana and hitched another truck to Barnala.

I met a friend of mine in Barnala and we decided to go all the way back to Chandigarh to spend some time with his friends. But to reach Chandigarh, it involved a hitch with a truck, on a tractor, on a bullock-cart, and on an all-new sedan!

While coming back to Delhi, Punjab was going through a huge social unrest due to the desecration of the holy book by some hatemongering group. All the roads were blocked and a lot of people and police were injured, few of them even killed. In such atmosphere, I was rescued by a Mother-Dairy tanker. We drove through the villages, broken roads and he dropped me at Karnal. I took a bus from there to Delhi.

Punjab overwhelmed me with its hospitality. I can’t thank all the people enough who made me feel like the part of a world where goodness still overshadows evil. I have made friends with a few truckers who still call me to know how my journey is going on and when I would visit Punjab again. I learnt a good deal about lives of truckers.

A piece of advice: Hitch-hiking is one of the most common ways in which budget travellers commute throughout the world. In case of India, it is not so popular yet and it makes me sad to say that one needs to keep in mind many factors before opting for a hitch-hike here. It is all the more challenging for a solo woman to try hitch-hiking. Though I know a few brave Indian female travellers who do that, I wouldn’t personally recommend this to any woman. All I can say is follow your gut instincts before doing so, assess the situation you are in, and keep your safety the priority.

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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.

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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.

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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, 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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