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As The Govt. Continues To Ignore Delhi’s Homeless, This Citizen Initiative Gives Hope

By Ruchika Lall:

A homeless man tries to get some sleep as he shivers, sitting under a bridge while others like him keep themselves warm in blankets on a biting cold day in New Delhi December 28. Chilly winds and a thick blanket of fog have brought temperatures down to 4.7 degree Celsius, making this winter New Delhi's coldest since 1973. At least 14 people have died in the cold snap which was gripped the entire northwest region of the country. Overcast skies and dense fog have also delayed both incoming and outgoing flights for the past three weeks. INDIA - RTR9XK5
Source: Reuters

You may know of the numerous deaths across the city each year of dengue, but did you know that almost an equal number die on Delhi’s pavements of cold, every winter?

Like any big city, the world over, Delhi attracts a large number of migrants searching for better opportunities than those in their villages. However, the harsh reality is that the city does not have adequate housing options that can cater to their needs. As a result, 1.5 lakh to 2.4 lakh people find themselves homeless and on the streets of the capital city. The homeless are resigned to sleep on the footpaths and under the flyovers, vulnerable to fatal diseases and the extremes of summer, monsoons and winters of Delhi. Over the last 9 years, there have been over 33,000 documented deaths of the homeless in Delhi.

One would imagine that, considering the large numbers of those in need, the government would be working towards providing for a majority of them. However, the government night shelters provide for only one-tenth of the number of homeless in the city. Only 13% of the land dedicated by the master plan for night shelters is actually utilized for this purpose!

The homeless are often stereotyped as drug users, criminals and beggars. However, a large number of these individuals are important ‘invisibles’ in the everyday functioning of the city – rickshaw pullers, construction workers, domestic helpers, seasonal labourers and artisans. Some have been victims of multiple evictions while others may be mentally ill or elderly.

Often the condition of homelessness is an entry point into the city for many migrants in search of an upward mobility from their existing circumstances in the village. However, the lack of a basic shelter leaves them vulnerable to disease and sleep deprivation. These adverse conditions force many into a vicious cycle of remaining homeless for several years at a stretch.

Source: mHS City Lab’s Facebook page

Last year, I read an online call for volunteers from the Delhi-based social venture mHS CITY LAB, to crowd-source a project looking to engage with this issue. I joined their ekSHELTER initiative to develop and distribute temporary shelters for the homeless, keeping in mind how critical it is to have a basic roof on one’s head for survival. After months of prototyping and feedback, the mHS CITY LAB team came up with a prototype shelter, similar to a tent. This can be propped up in just 2 minutes to be used at night for sleeping, and can be uninstalled just as quickly to avoid police harassment during the day. Each shelter accommodates a family of 2 adults and 2 children and is assembled out of easily and widely available components – five pieces of bamboo, 2 welded rebar joints, a water resistant canvas stitched along with a mosquito net. Made possible through crowd funding for a pilot project, over a hundred shelters have been distributed so far with the help of the NGO Indo-global Social Service Society (IGSSS), with weekly feedback being collected. mHS CITY LAB hopes that the shelters can be made and used independently by the homeless themselves, without any NGO support in the future.

This November, I was a part of their team for the midnight distribution of shelters near Jhandewalan Metro Station, where approximately 30 families from the same village have been living for the last four to eight years. Their intermittent daily and seasonal income comes from making and selling idols opposite the landmark Hanuman temple. The feedback received from the women indicated they personally benefitted with the possibility of some privacy and safety for children.

In early December, the team set up a few shelters as a part of a public awareness campaign at Raahgiri Day Connaught Place. The conversations that took place varied from positive and thought-provoking reactions to a few skeptical reactions. But, it was a unique way to engage with the general public, seeding a few questions in their minds, and that’s what I hope this article does as well. I believe that people driven initiatives are an urgent necessity in the absence of adequate facilities by the government as well as to stimulate the debate on homelessness in cities. It is time to introspect on the system’s responsibility and means to provide adequate housing for so many migrants who have every right to come to the city in pursuit of a livelihood.

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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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