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Our Paralympians Won Two Gold Medals, But We Still Failed Them

By Nakul Gupta:

India’s Rio sojourn, has finally come to an end, which will be for reasons well-substantiated, a track and field event wherein the very hollow crux of the Indian society and it’s polity, stood for its best exposé. Irony, as it is, has been the biggest blot on the system’s upbringing; a system rooted in our very hearts, where quantity has been the best savior, while quality wept in the backyard, where the likes of orthodoxy has eroded our very rational selves, and wherein, against passionate speeches, actions have always been cold.

Mariyappan Thangavelu wasn’t a household name, against the likes of Olympians, who regularly featured in the documentaries in the run up to the event, or the day-long debates on what will be the tragedy of the bout that overtook the political discussions. But, then, as evident, he didn’t even require this paid advert, decided in the closed editorial meets, because these are small things when you’ve struggled against bigger hardships in life.

What is frightening over here, is the grave inequality with which Olympians and Paralympians, have been treated in India, while contemporary countries realise the significance of a Paralympic medal, as much as an Olympic one. Twitter was flooded even when any one of the 119-member strong Olympic contingent, advanced through a stage, but was relatively mum when it came to Paralympic success. I fail to understand, the extent to which Jhajharia’s gold added, has been under-estimated, when a silver at the Olympics is still doing rounds of conclaves, interviews, felicitations, and road-shows.

As far as ‘the’ Olympics was concerned, the sheer downfall of expectations led to the exaggeration of a few victories, and that is, in all justified circumstances, true for any human existence. However, what defines the whole mismatch of the system, is this very incomprehensible silence when, those who were left on their own, got the Indian National Anthem played, not once, but twice, even when they weren’t soothing for officials in terms of numbers.

There’s a popular demand in the market, much so in the market of scrupulous intentions and fabricated statements, for an equal sporting honor for the Paralympians, as was extended to nearly a quarter of the Olympic contingent which represented this very system-ridden nation. While polity’s governance will play its own cards, the very question of societal outlook towards the participant athletes in Paralympics 2016, is a demand we must struggle for, as these sporting honors have in the chaos of the bureaucracy, descended far from their esteemed positions to a matter people lobby hard for.

Mariyappan’s Rs. 30 lakh donation to his government school, of the official prize money, also reflects how education plays a role in building a resolute inner-self, while the system still denies them a equal say, by denying for a major segment, the accessibility to these resources.

It is true, for the self-defeated, to hide under the pretext that India is a comparably backward and traditional society, compared to the Western’s progressive ones. But, is this even a fair argument, while the comparison seems absolutely ridiculous? The question one must ask is what holds them back when even the very concept of ‘disabled‘ has been visualised as ‘divine‘ in PM Modi’s words.

The President of the International Paralympic Committee outlined the vision for which Paralympics stand, “Over the years, the Paralympic Games have developed a strong track record for changing and challenging deep-rooted views in society regarding disability,” and these will have to be for, India also, as for the world, the ultimate “catalyst to grow.”

There’s a committee in pipeline, to increase the quantum of medals India brings back home. But, as far as winning Paralympics is concerned, what’s needed is not a committee, but an amalgamation of passionate doctors and healthcare, an optimistic societal approach, and the pleasure in being born to achieve a dividend, and not to perish behind the curtains, and on the wheels, that wouldn’t strive for the freedom for a budding athlete, and for that matter, a professional, that the heart yearns to be.

Even, on this triumphant spree, there were heroes, who weren’t the usual discriminatory lot, and strived, in the face of societal tantrums, to make them realise the potential within themselves.

Let’s cheer for Mariyappan, Varun, Deepa and Devendra, and the 19-member strong team, who had a mission which surpassed the glitters of medal, on having accomplished their feat, of letting the Paralympic story reach the masses.

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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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