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Over 2000 Died Due To The Heatwave Last Year. Can India Afford To Take This Lightly?

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People walk through a mirage on a hot day at Rajpath in New Delhi May 14, 2010. Most parts of India saw record high temperatures in March, usually a month of gradual transition from winter to summer, while a severe heat wave had gripped many parts in April. REUTERS/B Mathur (INDIA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT) - RTR2DV81
Image credit: Reuters/B Mathur.

The hottest months in India tend to be May and June, but summer arrived early in the country this year. And the temperatures have consistently risen, as the country has been swept by a brutal pre-monsoon heatwave it had been too unequipped to cope with – more than 330 million people in the country are currently at risk, and thousands have died around the country due to heat strokes and dehydration. Rivers are rapidly drying up.

Remote village areas are the most affected, as Laxman Nale, a villager from a remote Maharashtrian district puts it in his interview to The Times of India, “Most of this water was sent to Latur which is well-connected by the railway. As our village does not have rail access, we could not get any help from the government.” Trains carrying around three million litres of water have been sent to Latur, but Laxman’s village is forced to buy tanker water when supply is cut short for weeks on end, and there is no water left to drink. It is more than they can afford – but they are doing what they can to survive. Besides water shortages, electricity supply is also proving to be a problem – especially for people on the margins of society.

India has witnessed many such prolonged heatstrokes, but none so deadly as this one – each time in 1995 and 1998, the death toll had crossed 1,000. This monstrous wave has deprived people of basic amenities; farmers cannot find the strength to live as droughts continue to kill all hopes of repaying any debts, water is a scarcity at a time when it is most needed, and there is barely any food on the table due to crop failure. Heatwaves have managed to kill 2,422 in the past one year and soaring temperatures continue to kill people in scores; Southern states have been most affected with Telangana and Andhra Pradesh facing t worst ravages.

After an order issued by the High Court, the Indian Premiere League (IPL) shifted 13 of its matches outside the state of Maharashtra due to the flak it faced for wasting water to prepare pitches when man and animal alike were dying due to lack of drinking water. Despite warnings from researchers telling us that the heat wave is going to last for some time now, and the meteorological department providing no immediate relief, the government is yet to treat heat wave attacks as natural calamities.

Even though we recognise hailstorms and even cold waves as natural disasters, we do not give much thought to heat waves. It’s just summer heat, right? Wrong. Summer heat is not supposed to kill people. Even the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) does not provide any more than a list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts‘ that list generic advice to citizens and no real time help. Families who need compensation the most are being denied the money they deserve. India’s Minister for Science & Technology, and Earth Sciences, Harsh Vardhan, said in June, last year, “It is not just unusually hot summer. It is climate change.”

While we cannot dictate nature’s laws, we can certainly ask our governments to protect us from its wrath. Ahmedabad is the only city that has established a Heat Action Plan – a first in South East Asia. Local bodies can help set up water tankers near construction sites to provide cool water to labourers who have no other option but to work in this sweltering heat, and taxi, rickshaw, and bus drivers can be provided with indoor jobs in government sectors through appeal as it gets impossibly hot for them to drive on roads during peak hours.

We have to do the best we can and – for those of us who have that luxury – take all the precautionary measures, like keeping ourselves hydrated and eating light to prevent avoidable heat strokes from occurring. We know it will be some time before the rains provide us with the relief we are wishing and praying for.

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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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