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Rajasthan’s Citizens Are On A Unique Journey To Demand Govt. Action On Pressing Issues

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By Rajat Kumar:

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Image shared on AID’s timeline, Facebook.

Tikam belongs to the Bheel community – a marginalised tribal community of Rajasthan. His father died when he was young, making him the oldest, and sole breadwinner in his family. He completed a diploma in hotel management and was working as a chef in a five-star hotel in Kumbhalgarh. He had to work in front of the tandoor (an oven for cooking chicken and rotis) for long hours, which exposed him to smoke for long durations and caused burning sensations in his chest.

Tikam is currently one of the young yatris (traveller) in the ongoing ‘Jawabdehi Yatra’ in Rajasthan and an active member of the natak (drama) group. Like Tikam, there are many yatris, with their own struggles and stories, who are part of the Jawabdehi Yatra that is creating awareness and demanding the implementation of the ‘Jawabdehi Kanoon’ (Accountability Law) in the state.

The participants on the yatra may seem to be from ordinary backgrounds but they have come together for an extraordinary effort to bring about real and sustained change. The Jawabdehi Yatra is a caravan of about 70 people traveling through 33 districts, including 100 blocks of Rajasthan to gain support for the Accountability Law. As Shankar Singh of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) explains, the law focuses on two main aspects: first, ensuring efficiency in bureaucratic offices, particularly after the recommendations of the 7th pay commission for salary hikes; and second, demanding penalisation for those public officials who are corrupt and delay service delivery. Till now, the Yatra has covered 21 districts including remote rural areas.

In each of the district headquarters, a Jawabdehi Mela is held. Everywhere, people actively participate in the Yatra connected by the fact that they have all have faced similar problems when dealing with public officials. The yatris are involved in raising awareness through nataks, songs, grievance camps, and rallies. One of the popular songs in the Yatra is “Jawabdehi Yatra jawab puche re…bolo kyun ni re”, which is a Rajasthani song that questions the irresponsible behavior of the bureaucracy and public officials. The nataks are based on local parables which reflect the problems faced by the people when claiming their entitlements. The yatra enjoys huge support in the areas it visits.

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Grievance camps are conducted to record and lodge the grievances of people where public officials have failed to respond or perform duties. The grievance form is detailed and provides receipts to the complainant. Till now, the Yatra has filed about 7,000 grievances varying from delay in pension and ration, issues of forest land, delay in payments of NREGA, unavailability of electricity and water connection, delay in payments for construction of toilets under the ‘Swach Bharat Abhiyan’ to problems of service delivery in government schools and hospitals, and many more. The district campaign ends with a meeting between the district collector and the yatris and detailed discussions with district level officials about the implementation and delivery issues as reflected in the complaints.

The Yatra travels across Rajasthan in the unique Jawabdehi Bus. The Jawabdehi Bus is colorfully decorated with slogans and puppets that make it lively and especially grabs the attention of children. The bus is as interesting from inside as it looks from outside, and houses about 50 people, from talented artists, drummers, singers, puppeteers to activists, students, and academicians. One of the unique artists in the Jawabdehi bus is Gokuldas, who plays mandal (a clay form of a dholak). Gokuldas belongs to Mota Guda (a small village in Dewair Panchayat). The thumps of a mandal are different from the dholak and it attracts people from far off places. Other musical instruments like thali, manjira, dholak and dhol are also used.

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Along with the bus there are the ‘RTI on Wheels’ and ‘Soochna Seva’ vehicles to write people’s grievances and follow up. “These people are looking for answers in a bus,” was what a man whispered to his friend in Kumbhalgarh. This is the question that occurs to everyone. How can a make a bus government accountable?

At all places covered by the Yatra so far, people have been blatantly excluded from access to their basic entitlements. Public officials claim that the reason for exclusion is because the masses are unaware of their entitlements. In my experience, people are aware and come to the grievance camps with all their entitlement cards. It is a matter of public officials being sensitive to the inequalities and barriers that people face.

The Yatra uses people’s grievances as evidence to evaluate policy and implementation. It also puts the existing grievance redressal mechanisms to test and creates a better understanding of the need for a strong and robust accountability mechanism. The yatra proposes an accountability law which would contain penalties on officials for non-compliance, compensation for delays in providing entitlements, and quick, independent investigation and appropriate action on corruption. While none of this seems like a threat, perhaps when it is all put together it poses a challenge to the ruling establishment and its vested interests.

This is probably what made the MLA of Manohar thana along with his goons attack the jawabdehi yatris like Tikam in Aklera? On the 16th of January, the Jawabdehi Yatra was allegedly attacked by a mob led by the MLA of Manohar thana in Jhalawar district. The pre-planned, unprovoked attack by almost 30 lathi-wielding goons who mercilessly beat the yatris, including women and students, created shock and anger. While demands for the MLA’s arrest continue, it is important for us to understand what this yatra has been about and what it represents along with its components and agenda.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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
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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