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India’s Plans Of Urbanisation Are Linked To These Factors That Could Cost Us Our Lives

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By Brototi Roy

The last couple of weeks have been promising, to say the least, for the air pollution problems of the country’s capital. The odd-even formula gained massive support from Delhi’s netizens, with #OddEvenMovement trending on Twitter feeds, wherein the local people are sharing their stories of carpooling, use of public transport and finding a significant improvement in the traffic and reduced air pollution. Although there are practical hurdles to be overcome, and the jury is out on the viability of long-term implementation of this scheme, these last few days have shown us that the people of Delhi are willing to forgo the luxuries of their private vehicles, and make a change in order to improve the air quality.

High rise buildings are seen behind a slum in Mumbai April 28, 2009. REUTERS/Arko Datta (INDIA SOCIETY BUSINESS) - RTXEIGM
Source: REUTERS/Arko Datta

Today, urban India is more aware of the impact it has on the environment, and a three-day conference, held at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, in the first week of January, where over 200 environmental and ecological economics scholars, activists, practitioners and students had assembled to discuss and debate on the theme of “Urbanisation and the Environment“, reinforced the willingness to understand and engage in finding practical solutions and policy recommendations to address the challenges of urbanisation.

The conference, which was organized by the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, had two broad themes. The first was to generate interdisciplinary knowledge on the various aspects of urban production, distribution, and consumption, and the second was to enable a well-informed academic and policy debate on the relationships between urbanisation and the environment in India.

The inaugural keynote address, delivered by Sunita Narain, the Director General of Center for Science and Environment, and Editor, Down To Earth, emphasized the need for fair and equitable urbanisation if we wish to make our cities sustainable. She stressed that we cannot depend on technological miracles to solve our air pollution problems. We must re-define mobility if we wish to have clean breathing air.

One of the key questions raised in the conference was the link of urbanisation with climate change, and how it is unequal in the effects it has on the different strata of the society. It was found that the urban labourers, who are directly working in the polluting industries, contribute the least to urban pollution and yet, suffer the most. It was also found that urbanisation has drastic impacts on land use changes, irrigation patterns, and ground water tables, which again harms the sections of urban society (the lower income group) who are directly dependent on groundwater for their survival. Thus, for planning smart cities, social cohesive indicators, which measure the trust people have on each other (to upkeep policies and follow regulations), along with the climate change impact need to be studied in detail before proposing policy recommendations.

A positive finding was that the concern about safety and non-toxicity of our food has led to the introduction of organic farming in many Indian cities. Many households, especially in Bangalore, are increasingly taking up urban agriculture to ensure good quality food products. This trend to bring back the primary rural activity of food production in the urban spaces is yet another dimension of urban India’s growing need to improve quality of life.

There were also discussions on the challenges of urban governance, for both water and air pollution in the cities. It was felt that there is a lack of accountability mechanisms for urban commons, and that the poor were disproportionately affected by pollution. It was also felt that technological advancements are often ignored by city planners, and should be integrated more to ensure better air and water quality in the cities.

Female workers remove labels from plastic bottles at a compression plant in Srinagar October 14, 2009. The bottles will be crushed and then sold to a recycling plant. Srinagar city uses an average of a hundred thousand plastic bottles containing water and other soft drinks per day, a number that has been rising over the years, Manzoor Ahmad Taray, a solid waste management officer said on Wednesday. He added that the increased use of plastic bottles has had an impact on pollution in the lakes, rivers and wetlands. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY BUSINESS) - RTXPML3
REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

A crucial aspect of urbanisation that we generally disregard is the waste economy, which includes everything from the rag-pickers of the informal economy to the big incinerators being operated by the municipality. The waste economy needs much more detailed analysis in terms of the biophysical and toxic material transformations, the private gains and transactions, economic costs, social biases and political vested interests. Another important aspect of urbanisation that we tend to overlook is our one-way dependence on rural India, which creates massive inequalities. The conference raised concerns about how much and till when can the rural supply natural resources to the urban population sustainably. It was recommended that we needed a deeper political understanding of resource valuation and power relationships for policy makers to draft proposals which take into account both the urban and the rural environment.

All in all, the conference was a big step in understanding the main threats of urbanisation on the environment and a few different ways in which it can be addressed, so that we are entitled to implement policies which take into account all the aspects of urban planning to create a holistic living environment.

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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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