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Heading For A ‘Relaxing Shower’? This Writer Has Something To Ask Of You Before That

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By Anushree Gupta:

A woman carries empty containers to fetch water from a municipal water tap in New Delhi, India, February 21, 2016. India deployed thousands of troops in a northern state on Sunday to quell protests that have severely hit water supplies to Delhi, a city of more than 20 million people, forced factories to close and killed 10 people. Rioting and looting in Haryana by the Jats, a rural caste, is symptomatic of increasingly fierce competition for government jobs and educational openings in India, whose growing population is set to overtake China's within a decade. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee - RTX27W7D
Image credit: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee.

It was 15 minutes since I had been in the washroom, waiting around a corner for the hot shower to turn cooler. In this north-central part of India (26.8467° N, 80.9462° E), the temperatures during the summer reach as high as 47 degrees centigrade and the water storage tank, which is placed over the roof contains almost boiling water all day and even at 2100 hours by the clock, it remains beyond bearable to the human skin. Anyhow, I had already switched on the motor fitted outside my house which pulls cool water from beneath and takes it up to the tank. After a prolonged wait, I put forward my bare hand and the water felt a little better.

It had been a tiring day. A lot of emails were sent and received. I happened to meet a few people and we had visitors over for evening tea. Finally, after a long day, this was the hour to relax and create a positive frame of mind to be able to work after dinner.

I had already dimmed the lights in my room and had adjusted the air conditioner at 24°C, so that after the shower, I did not have to feel the heat anymore. But, all of a sudden, I turned the tap, the shower subsided. There was a constant drip of water (when you do not tighten the knob enough and the drops of water fall just one at a time). Although my mind was concentrated on some thought, very specific and keen, I could hear it very clearly, every single drop. I rushed to my room, switched off the air conditioner and started writing on a new Word file.

It was a thought, an image of people standing in a queue, in the scorching sun, waiting for something, as if they were being given some money for free, all desperate faces, mostly women, all ages, with sweat dripping from their foreheads. And as the thought became clearer, I could see a hand pump at the other end of the line. It was not money, but water, that they seemed to be waiting for.

And I could relate to all the information I have been coming across in recent days, all the news about the drought, the famine, and the water crises. I could clearly see inside my mind, people waking up as early as four in the morning and travelling with their empty vessels to reach far off places to fetch water. They walk on their feet with their vessels in their hands (empty one way and filled up on the other if they are lucky, that is). I also thought about how sometimes people need to get down to some seriously dangerous water sources, where they might fall and drown or hurt themselves. But they cannot fail to make the attempt. After all, it’s about survival. They do not have options.

I began to think about the quality of water. It was just the previous week when this news report stated the number of fatalities due to unclean and unhygienic water consumption. It all made more sense as I looked up the internet and came across the Water Aid India page that read, “across India, women are wasting precious time collecting dirty water, children are dying from preventable diarrhoeal diseases.” Furthermore, by the estimates of the WHO and UNICEF joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation, around 1.8 billion people consume water which is ‘faecally contaminated’ and a larger number drinks water which is channelled without necessary protection against sanitary hazards.

However, the need to drink water is more urgent compared to passing judgements on the quality of it. It is here in the metros that we worry about the quality of water, while a thirsty throat, out in the sun, looks for water primarily, quality comes later. I understand, it’s all about priorities. First water, then clean water. First, water to drink, then water to fulfil other needs. First, water for family, then water for oneself.

I could easily relate to the idea often talked about by philosophers, ‘there is no right without duty’. If I were exercising my right without performing a corresponding duty, it would simply mean I am depriving someone somewhere. I was so awestruck, still thinking if I owed a duty to think before I spend as much water as I desire for my relaxing shower without worrying about those who yearn for just a little to drink. Will my little saving make the situation any better? And is there any surety that this saving will reach those who need it? Well, maybe I have been thinking too much, hedonism is not that bad an approach!

But, yes, some things are clearer to me. When the law Courts discuss the right to water, in the big cities, people do not really get the crux of it. I remember, some days back, the motor for the water system in my house had some trouble (just for about 36 hours). My mother, father and I were filling buckets and drums in the morning and evening when the water supply resumed. It was such a tedious job. One had to keep track of time, collect all the containers and carry them to the government supply tap and then carry the vessels back to the kitchen, washrooms, and the veranda and also to take care of every unit of water. One has to think if the face needs to be washed! Or, if taking a shower is a real necessity. Washing clothes was out of the question. What to cook? What to clean? And so on.

It is necessary that we understand that water is the essence of human survival. It is a priority beyond all priorities, not just for you or me but for each and every living soul. There are a number of programmes run by the government and other organisations that are eager to assist in providing water aid throughout the country, yet it is not enough. And there is no doubt that we need to participate at our individual level. Not everyone can rush to water-scarce regions to provide aid. Yet, everyone can keep the concern in mind and curb their own need; that part of their need which has overgrown and extended much beyond the basic.

It must not only be taken care of through government policies and schemes. Each and every individual who has water to drink and for all other purposes must think of those who might need it more. There is no surety if your saving water is helping someone somewhere. But, at least, we can play our part, so that when we drink a glass of clean water and breathe freely, we do not feel that we are not entitled to it.

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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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