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Why India Needs Strong Public Opinion (But Not On ‘Saas-Bahu’ Soaps & Hrithik’s Emails)

By Sandeep Motwani:

It’s the last week of June. Schools are about to start the new session. At a humble two BHK at Nagpur, 10-year-old Saakshi is playing with her daadi. She wraps her mother’s dupatta around herself as a saree and they both have a good laugh. Grandchildren are always special. In old age, while your children are busy making a living through jobs, it’s their children who have all the time for you. That same afternoon, while others were having a nap at home, Saakshi was caught by the air cooler in an electric shock. She didn’t make it.

It was a cruel Sunday which is why no doctor except a junior one was present at the nearest government hospital. It did not take an expert to tell that he was not in a position to handle such emergencies.

Talk-of-the-town is how rampant betting has become in our society. If India is playing today, even a toddler knows the ‘bhaav’ thanks to apps on his mother’s smartphone. One can see a great business model in this situation. Wrap a thirsty youngster (desirably poor) in greed of easy money, wait for him till he bets big and loses (which everyone eventually does), convert the winnings into a loan with interest as high as 10% per month and sit on your back for the rest of your life.

It was just another day for Iqbal going to a house and wrecking everything, breaking the television set and threatening worse if he wasn’t paid soon. Except this time, Pankaj stood up for the poor and paid from his pocket. Soon, Pankaj, now a Robin Hood, was becoming a problem for Iqbal coming in his way of scaring and threatening poor people. Business is business. So, one night, Iqbal murders Pankaj in front of a crowd, crushes his brain out with a boulder. No one raises their voice. There is a collective public uproar for the following week; Iqbal is arrested because of this pressure.

Fast forward four months, I see Iqbal sitting on the next table in a renowned restaurant. How could he be convicted without any evidence or witness? Life goes on, right?
Where is our judicial system? Where does our public health care system stand?

We the public have a knack for bashing our own nation, blaming the system. Saying things like ‘It can happen only in India’ is perceived to be humorous and cool. The nation is waiting for its ‘Nayak’, unaware that we ourselves are one. Strong public opinion has time and again brought desired changes in the system.

  • The last central government’s tenure saw scams of lakhs of crores being exposed. The result: the Opposition makes tall promises of a ‘corruption free government’, wins and actively starts taking steps towards transparency.
  • People became aware of the black money situation, agitated and today we see the shadow economy shrinking by the day. Indian money in Swiss banks is reducing; it’s tougher than ever to take money out of India.
  • The Nirbhaya rape case happened. The whole nation erupted and we saw commissions being set-up, reports submitted, laws changed in record time.
  • A juvenile convict escapes harsh punishment and, tada! Laws change to lower the age for trial in a court of law for select cases!
  • The Right to Information, a revolutionary law, came into existence only after years and years of strong public opinion in favour of transparency.
  • The draconian law that was used in the Emergency during the 1970s was scrapped immediately after next Lok Sabha elections.
  • Telangana was recently formed after it was impossible to ignore the growing voice of the public for smaller states.

The examples can go on. The point is that no major changes in our society have come without the public taking interest, educating itself, and asking for change. It is often said that we think as a nation only during an India-Pakistan cricket match. Why do we laugh such things off? The saying is ‘Great people make great nations’ and not the reverse.

It’s time the youth takes an interest in things other than Page 3, saas-bahu daily soaps, Salman’s marriage, Hrithik’s emails and Virat’s relationship status. It’s time we move on to make this country a better place to live. It will be wise to not wait for the calamity to hit our homes.

Every time we have ‘had enough’, we have made it very clear and changed things. The question is how many Saakshis have to die, before we wake up to ask for a robust healthcare system guaranteed to everyone including the poor? How many more Pankajs have to lay their lives to goons who take advantage of the weak judicial system? The issues don’t stop at just healthcare and judiciary.

The vacuum of public opinion is taking lives, silently.

Featured image shows people protesting against rape laws and government inaction at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.

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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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