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When Was The Last Time You Drank Water From A Lake?

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By Arun Krishnamurthy:

Editor’s note: Youth Ki Awaaz and Environmentalist Foundation of India have joined hands to help save India’s water bodies. Watch this space for stories, photo galleries and ideas on what you can do to be a part of this growing movement.

My life in Chennai had always been dominated by coffee, movies and beaches. Chennai’s rivers, lakes and animals didn’t matter to me, just like it didn’t to the vast majority in the city. However, the encroachment of a pond in my neighbourhood and the aftermath has changed my life forever. An eight-year-long journey to understand my hometown’s ecology better coupled with a fascinating turn of events every day ensures the excitement to conserve what is left.

arun krishnamurthy
Arun Krishnamurthy, pictured during a lake clean-up in 2012.

Chennai with her three rivers, 300+ lakes, marshlands, hills, coastline and scrub jungles awe-inspires me and makes me question, why we are not sensitised on the ecological significance of our cities. We have been waiting for that ‘somebody’ to be the change. I believe each one of us need to become that ‘somebody’ in conserving India’s environment; thus started my journey in the form of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI) to volunteer for result-oriented conservation projects. But more on that later.

First, let me ask you a question. When was the last time any one of us, in our cities, could walk up to a natural freshwater body, and drink water from it? We have lake-view structures being built on our lakes, without a lake to be viewed. Cities like Chennai, Delhi, Coimbatore, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are fine examples of how we have exploited our urban lakes. With close to 300+ lakes, Chennai could very well be the global leader in Urban Lake Management, however, we chose otherwise. Sadly, we have ruined our freshwater sources to the point of no return. The Keezhkattalai Lake in Chennai is subject to roadside dumping of trash, Perumbakkam Lake is exploited by tankers that dump septic tank waste, Kapra Lake in Hyderabad was taken over for religious dumping and the Gangaram Cheruvu is a drain point for neighbourhood liquid waste. Bengaluru has seen instances of burning lakes. The Sanjay Lake in Mayur Vihar, in the National Capital Region is a neglected ecology right under the supervision of influential policy makers. The story ain’t different in Thane, Vadodara, Jamshedpur or Thiruvananthapuram.

The Crime We Commit Everyday

The untreated and unregulated flow of sewage into our lakes, ponds and rivers is an accepted crime, committed by every single one of us. Large amounts of trash, generated by our cities, are dumped indiscriminately into water bodies, thereby creating multiple levels of land, water and air pollution. Leachate, which leaks from our landfills is polluting our groundwater sources and the permanent layer of dust cloud spread across South Asia, in the form of the Asian Brown Cloud, is congesting our lives.

In 2015, many parts of the city of the city of Chennai was wrecked havoc by floods. There were instances when the entire neighbourhood was under sheets of water and the lake in the area was bone dry. Why is this? Because all inlets leading to the lake have been built upon, thus wasting precious rainwater. It is a methodical plan to take over a water body; it looks spontaneous, however, it’s not. First comes domestic waste from a few houses, then trash on a truck, followed by construction debris. Following this, is the illegal parking of large vehicles atop the trash and construction debris. This is paired with a real estate board advertising for a property at drowning prices. Within the span of a few years, lakes that stood for thousands of years have vanished into the ugly concrete jungle.

There is, of course, one more culprit in the scheme of things – religious and spiritual debris are a major cause of concern, however, environmental voices are tagged as ‘anti-religion’. The voice is not ‘anti’ anything, it’s ‘pro’ environment. From sacrifices to plaster of Paris, idols and polythene wrapped dump, are choking our freshwater habitats. Personally, I believe that nature worship is the greatest spiritual experience and that the public needs to be sensitised on the same.

The Way Ahead

Poor urban planning has led to the concretisation and commercialisation of our water bodies. It is also a recipe for broad-daylight looting. These lakes are home to several species, ranging from amphibians, aquatics, reptiles, birds and more. Development of these freshwater bodies should be based purely on logic and science, not just on aesthetic appeal that doesn’t suit the ecology. A human-centric development is detrimental to all life forms.

Is there something we can do? Yes! In fact, several like-minded citizens in Chennai, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Delhi have taken it upon themselves to restore these habitats. They are tirelessly volunteering with EFI to clean over 39 lakes in this country. The idea is to ensure real-time, result-oriented environment conservation of the lakes. Scientific restoration of India’s freshwater habitats needs to be our top priority, a common goal beyond any division.

Cause is the real hero and we are racing against time to revive these water bodies. A positive approach to cleaning and reviving these lakes is vital for a future India. Environment conservation is not just about protecting the forests, tigers and sea turtles. If we need to continue to walk on the face of this planet, we have to live by the rules of nature. You can know more about what you can do, here.

Editor’s note: Watch this space for more stories on India’s lakes and what we can do to restore them to their former glory!

Read more about Arun’s work: Meet Arun Krishnamurthy, The Rockstar Activist Working For Environmental Conservation

Featured image source: Getty

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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.

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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, 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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