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How I Got Along With Former Dacoits To Save India’s Forests

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By Prabhat Misra:

Prabhat with village childrenSince childhood, I have always had a great love for nature. But it was only when I was transferred to district Etawah (Uttar Pradesh), and got a chance to see the ravine area of the National Chambal sanctuary and the Yamuna forest areas, I realised that deforestation, the depleting biodiversity and climate change threatened their very existence. I was convinced that sustaining natural ways to achieve the desired 350 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 level in the atmosphere was critical.

I, however, realised that there was very little awareness about such issues at the grassroots levels in Erawah, one of the main reasons being the problem of dacoits in the region. I wondered how we could create awareness among the village people and it struck me – by tying red tapes on tree trunks, I could generate awareness through this symbolic gesture; after all, red is a sign of danger and through this activity we could send a message that to cut trees is dangerous for life. So, on June 5, 2008, I started the Red Tape Movement in Etawah, a peaceful, non-violent movement to generate awareness about the importance of trees to our environment.

Our approach is quite simple. We choose a village, visit and tie red tapes on existing trees trunks. Our message is this – to cut trees is lethal for our present and future generations. We also make villagers aware of climate change and the importance of forest and biodiversity conservation. Initially, cooperation was low. But with continuous awareness campaigns, especially in villages, attitudes started changing. So far we have visited over 200 villages and have tied red tape to over on more than 10,000 trees trunks and planted over 2000 trees!

Raising awareness is a key agenda of this movement, and the biggest impact that we have had is that in villages like Chitbhawan, Aasayi, Dadaura and Bahadurpur, people have started only cutting the amount of wood they require for daily needs, and not whole trees, like they would before. During the recent Earth Hour on March 19, we even organised, along with the village assembly in Bilhaur, Kanpur, a candlelight vigil around the trees, in which the villagers have started taking great pride. In 2014, students of the Elgin High School in Chicago, conducted an ecological project in the vicinity of their school. As part of the project, they tied red forestry tape on trees throughout the school property to raise awareness about their ecological impact. They also advocated this activity to other schools.

Over time we have evolved into a true “Peoples Participation Movement”, and I am no longer the only one who plans activities. People across the country and world are also doing it. In December 2015, Founder of Chipko Movement, Magsaysay Award winner and Gandhi Peace Prize awardee Chandi Prasad Bhatt also tied Red Tape on an Ashoka tree, which he had planted himself.

Fomer dacoitsInterestingly, my journey, which started in a place where dacoits were a major concern has come full circle. In 2015, I met former bandit Seema Parihar, who was keen to join the movement. So, on March 21, this year, when an NGO the ‘Sri Kalptaru Society’ organised an environmental awareness event in Jaipur, Seema Parihar, herself organised the red tape activity, which attended by former dacoits and bandits Renu Yadav, Malkhan Singh, Preetam Singh “Gabbar Singh”, Pancham Singh, Pehalwan Singh, Mansingh and Ram Singh Chauhan!

Personally, this movement has been a really positive, energetic experience for me. Since we started, international organisations and initiatives like IUCN, Earth Hour, Ashoka India and Greenpeace India have followed our work on Twitter. “Red Tape Movement is helping trees deliver a message on their environmental importance,” IUCN tweeted to us. Appreciation like this not only encourages me, but all those who have decided to make a change by participating in this movement in their own way – it could be by conducting seminars and events in educational campuses, neighbourhoods or workplaces, and following it up with a red tape activity. After all, we are the guardians of the trees in our own neighbourhoods. So, why not tie a red tape within your school, college or colony, today, and spread awareness about why we need to protect trees in our own vicinity?

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  1. Sankara Menon

    I am constrained to say he is an idiot for more reasons than one. the most important reason is he is entrapped by youth ki avaaz

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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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