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As India Sleeps On Its ‘Swachh Bharat’ Dreams, These Villages Show How It’s Done

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By Parth Sharma:

LixaoCatadores20080220MarcelloCasalJrAgenciaBrasilOf the 62 million tonnes of waste generated every year in India, 45 million goes unattended —straight to the landfill. The waste is only going to escalate as India is estimated to produce 165 million tonnes of waste by the year 2031 and 436 million tonnes by 2050 if the trends continue unnoticed.

India stands third, after China and US, in the world, regarding the quantity of waste produced. However in its attitude towards Solid Waste Management, it even lags behind Sri Lanka and Bhutan. India’s seriousness is also exposed looking at the number of waste-to-energy (WTE) plants—producing electricity, recycling goods, and creating compost. While the European Union operates 445, China has about 150, USA a little over 86 and India only 13. Of these thirteen none are operating at their full capacity and the area around these plants has also turned into a landfill.

Now even if we assume that setting up of WTE plants is quite difficult, it is hardly irrefutable that the government has failed to utilize its most abundant resource — the people. Chintan, an NGO claims that in India all the 20-25% of recycling that happens, becomes possible only because of the segregation done by waste pickers. Chintan along with Safai Sena, a registered organization of waste pickers and recyclers, run a recycling unit in Bhopura, near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, where 70 waste pickers hired to segregate, recycle, and compost the dry and wet litter work with a success rate of about 85-90%. They have asked the government to follow in their footsteps but to no avail.
With such scandalous figures to its name and such lackadaisical attitude in matters pertaining to Solid Waste Management, India’s hopes of becoming a “Swachh Bharat” lie pretty deep in the trash can.

However, on other side of the spectrum, we have something quite astonishing. Sweden, a small country in the EU is undergoing a “recycling revolution.” While India is still struggling to wriggle out of the mess it has accumulated, Sweden has become 99% waste free. With its 32 WTE plants it not only recycles all the waste they generate but also imports 800,000 thousand tonnes of waste from U.K, Italy, and Norway for energy production.

Now, as quickly as you may believe that Indians are a hopeless lot ever to achieve anything like Sweden, let me tell you there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel. This time, it shines from one of the poorest states in India, Chattisgarh, which has shown that – it does care.

The Darra Panchayat of Balod district has banned the use of plastics and disposables in wedding and funeral ceremonies. They have advised people to bring their cutlery and utensils when attending the ceremony. They have also banned the offering of ‘kafan’ (shroud for the deceased, which is later burnt) asking people to donate the money of the kafan to the family of the deceased which can be used for the cremation ceremony.

Jalmala village has even banned Holika and Ravan ‘Dahan’ to save wood and environment. The priests and temple committee of the Ganga Maiya Temple in the village have also managed to curb the use of polybags thus making it one of the cleanest temples even after a footfall of 10,000 every day during Navratri. Ambikapur, another district in Chattisgarh, has achieved something remarkably significant. It has earned its badge of becoming the first dustbin-free municipal corporation in the country. By digitizing their garbage management along with segregation of waste at the source by distributing red boxes (for inorganic) and green ones (for organic) to residents, they’ve successfully implemented the idea of converting ‘garbage to gold’; making Ambikapur India’s ‘little Sweden’—which doesn’t need a dumping ground.

Most of this achievement is attributed to the people of Chattisgarh who have positively responded to such initiatives rather than being a spoil sport by saying “why should only I do it?” Maybe they’re privy to the fact that if they don’t—no one would. A pretty civilized lesson from a state with 65.18% literacy don’t you think? But what will this entail for the rest of India? We’ll have to wait and watch. Or, should we do something about it? I think it’s high time we should.

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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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