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This Is The Story Of Hamida Who Had To Pretend That She Wasn’t Coughing Up Blood…

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By Dr. Shelly Batra

That night Hamida tasted blood again.

mother and child
For representation only

It began as a cough, a slow, lingering and painful cough, which suddenly became tearing and explosive. She felt as if her chest would tear apart and her entire lungs explode with the violence of the cough. With the cough came the unmistakable taste of blood and phlegm in the mouth.

Hamida was frightened. She rolled on the floor and found her menstrual rag. Wash one, use one, her mother had taught her years ago. Luckily it was the washed one. She stuffed it in her mouth, trying to suppress the hacking sounds. Her husband lay on a narrow cot nearby, snoring loudly, and deep in the arms of Morpheus. Lucky for me he had a drink last night, thought Hamida, he will never know about the blood. If at all he notices, I could pass it off as the ‘woman thing’, and he will never know.

Ever since her marriage, Hamida had been frightened of her husband. Tall and good looking, he nevertheless had a roving eye and jaunty demeanor and never failed to inform her that he was entitled to three more wives. Initially, it didn’t matter, but when the children came, 3 girls in quick succession, Hamida’s fears intensified. More so when the mother-in-law would scream- no son! Allah have mercy upon us! Who will save my son from this miserable wretch he calls a wife, this no-good defective piece, who hasn’t given him a single son?

Hamida always knew that if she could not produce a son, her husband would take another woman. But what could she do? Two years had passed since the last childbirth, and she wasn’t pregnant yet. Worse still was the cough that started a year ago. The cough, and the tiredness, and she couldn’t carry firewood anymore, and once when she was dragging her feet she had seen the old woman give her a suspicious look and so she had taken a deep breath and walked fast and brisk and tried to put a spring in her walk, even though her limbs were feeling like molten lead.

And now, there was the blood. Sometimes it would be just a streak. Last month it was a huge mouthful, and she was frightened. She knew what it meant. It was TB, the Killer Disease. Hamida knew she was doomed to die. Hadn’t she seen her own parents and 2 brothers die of TB? And what if the children got the disease? As it is the youngest girl was listless all the time. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t play. Why, she looked like a 6-month-old! And what if her mother in law found out? Nothing escaped her sharp eyes! What would happen to the children if I am thrown out of the house, thought Hamida in panic? Who will take care of them? And where will I go?

She looked around. It was a small hut, 6 feet by 6 feet, made of cardboard sheets, with a thick plastic sheet as a roof to ward off the rain. Nothing great, she thought glumly. Every year during the monsoons the roof would come down and the walls collapse. She hated the rains. Everything would be soaked and soggy, the bedclothes on the floor, the firewood, the food in the corner, and the mother-in-law would scream more than usual and curse Hamida loudly when the fire wouldn’t burn and there would be no food. But at least, it was her home. And it was her identity. She knew she must stay on, here with her family, in this little space she called home. She had nowhere else to go to.

Again it happened, the cough, the blood. The mother-in-law stirred in her sleep. Hamida got up from the floor. The youngest child whimpered and clutched her hand, but she resolutely pushed the girl aside to steal out of the hut, for nobody should hear her coughing and nobody should see the blood and nobody should know. She walked out and sat on the cold, hard ground away a little away from the hut, and waited for the paroxysm to pass. Nobody should know. That was the key to survival.

Hamida’s story is a reflection of the experiences of millions of women who suffer from TB in India with over 4.7 lakh women being affected each year. Reports suggest that TB diagnosis in men is almost two times higher than among women, but that might also be because the access women have to diagnosis and treatment is far more restricted. As evident from Hamida’s story, social stigma is what stops so many women from availing treatment for TB as they think that it will affect their marriage prospects or existing marriages. Even though data collected by the government’s national programme says that women are more likely to follow the due course of treatment (7% men default, as compared to only 4% women), unfortunately the low diagnosis rate among them reflects how it is an opportunity denied to them to live a cured, healthy life, as opposed to the men.

Leaving such a huge section of our population to suffer is a sad fact that needs to change now. #NoMoreTB

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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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