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How Our Dangerous ‘Addiction’ To Online Shopping Is Messing With The Environment

By Aakash Karkare:

online_garbageI entered the world of online shopping, as one enters most things, while in the midst of an existential crisis. I was in Pune studying law which I didn’t want to and spending time with people I didn’t really like. Long ago, I had read books like The Stranger and The Trial, books that told me what I was feeling was normal. But now I needed something more in tune with my situation. On the internet, I looked for “best existential books” or, “top 10 books about loneliness” or, “top 10 books of the year.” Not a single book on those lists was available in either of the chain book stores in Mumbai or Pune. I was sure that I wouldn’t find any answers to life, the universe and everything else in John Grisham and Maeve Binchy books. Perhaps, I would be doomed to the fate of most adults, with nothing to help explain the gamut of emotions I was feeling in my adolescent years. I would give up books altogether. It was around this time that online book stores entered Indian shores, and with cash-on-delivery, meaning that I didn’t need a debit/credit card, which meant that purchases didn’t have to be mediated through parental channels. I began ordering books with a vengeance.

That was 2009. In 2015, with a constant stream of short visual media and my attention span reduced, my book buying has slowed down considerably. Around this time, I began living alone. The first problem that strikes you when you live alone is the problem of feeding yourself. Where I live, the only options that used to be available were the local fast food places where you can have dosas, pav bhaji and the ubiquitous dal khichadi. The food becomes repetitive so, for variety, you move on to fast food chains. Even that gets boring so you begin relying on new start up food delivery services. Their USP is food in impeccable packaging that tastes like packaging. Meanwhile, you realise that you are no longer a young man, and if you want to get through a day without acidity, you need ‘ghar ka khana’. As a result, you must learn to cook.

There is no time to go shopping in the local ‘bhaaji’ markets. Nor do you know what most ingredients look like; how is toor dal different from urad dal? You don’t have the will to bargain and consequently you always feel cheated. So from the safety and comfort of your bedroom, you order groceries from various hyper local online delivery startups. You can double-check and triple-check with pictures on Google and buy from two-three different sources to get the best deals. You become so addicted to online shopping that you order everything from dustpans and brooms to scented candles and cuts of pomfret. Slowly but steadily, you become an adult and are finally able to feed yourself.

No one taught you to completely scrape off your pots, pans and plates before dumping them in the sink. So your pipes clog and water leaks out everywhere. While soaking up the puddles of water that slowly spread over the house, you wonder why you went to school after all. Why couldn’t they teach you important things, the things that really mattered – like the proper way to soak up water in the shortest possible time. You don’t know any plumbers so you look for them on the internet. Since Facebook stalks you constantly, you are given recommendations for online housekeeping services on your timeline. It all sounds very professional, as if robots will come to your house and magically fix everything, so you choose one of the services.

When the man finally arrives, the air becomes thick with uncertainty and dread. No one know he is here or where he came from. After he’s done, he asks you if you have anything else for him to fix. When you say no, he asks if he should take a look around the house and look for broken things. His smile seems too creepy, he has realised you are living alone, or maybe you are a little too paranoid, but you decline his offer. You must pay the ‘champion’ whatever you wish. You don’t mind paying it but you went online to avoid the messiness of offline interactions. You would have liked it if the the company had actually sent robots. For reputable plumbers, you would have been better off asking the building watchman or god forbid, one of your neighbours.

The sink unclogged, you return to cooking with gusto. But something starts to claw at you. You live alone at home so you do everything. You unpack all your groceries and tear them out from layers of plastic. You remove all the cardboard and bubble wrap from the books you order. You collect in a cheap black plastic bag and leave it outside every night. You remember a documentary you saw long ago, in which the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek stands in a dump, pontificating on the nature of garbage, “part of our daily perception is that trash disappears from the world.” The perception has shattered for you because you can quantify the amount of trash you generate. You can feel the trash in your hands, you feel it everywhere. If you generate so much, how much does the world generate?

The horror of what you have been doing slowly dawns on you. Every single thing you order comes with cheap packaging that occupies landfills for millennia. You can do nothing with the French fries’ containers or with pizza boxes. At least, the round plastic containers that the Udipis send can be reused as lunch boxes. The plastic boxes that electrical appliances come in are of no use to anyone. Not even the rag pickers – the green collar workers, who are the only people who seem to recycle in this country. When you buy furniture online, just before you pay the bill, you are asked if you would like to plant a tree. While you happily pay the extra fee, something about the transaction is unsettling, so you return to the world of Zizek and watch The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, in which he talks about the ingenuity of this type of sales tactic, “In the old days of pure consumerism, you bought a product and then you felt bad. You had to do something to counteract your pure destructive consumerism.” With packaging that says it is recyclable or soaps that contribute to the education of children, this bad feeling is taken away without you having to do anything about it. In an ideal world, everything would work perfectly and you could trust the corporations unconditionally. In our imperfect world, you question them unceasingly.

In the depths of Mumbai’s never-ending summer, you relax with a glass of sugarcane juice and observe a multitude of tempos go by. They are packed with all the products you’d ordered. All the products the whole city had ordered. Shipped in from different parts of the world. You see the exhaust pipe release fumes into the atmosphere. It goes into your eyes and nose and you cough. Later that night, you switch on the air conditioner to full blast. It has become impossible to sleep without it. It gets hotter and hotter outside while you make it cooler and cooler inside, which makes it hotter and hotter outside. You try to reduce your consumption but like a junkie going back to get one last fix, you keep making “one last purchase.” You feel guiltier and guiltier so you began watching stand up to cheer yourself up. Just as you are about to relax and enjoy a good laugh, Bill Burr predicts your future, “Everything you ever used is out there somewhere. New phone can’t fit the old charger? You gotta throw it out and it ends up around some octopus’ neck. Six months later, you go out for sushi, you think you are being healthy – you’re eating your own rollerblades.”

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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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