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‘There Is No System In Place To Deal With Such An Emergency’

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By Sharbani Chattoraj:

Reams have been written both for and against demonetisation; so much so that it has been the reigning topic of discussion over chai and samosa since the day it has been announced. That is all we can afford to buy, really, because we are keeping our Rs. 100 notes for emergencies and getting change for the Rs. 2000 is a problem only for those fortunate enough to have one or two in their possession. While the aim of curbing black money is laudable and deserves all our support, the execution of the demonetisation drive could have been better.

India has historically been and continues to be a cash-intensive economy. Some estimates even suggest that more than 95% of transactions (volume) and 65% (value) are in cash. Number of of PoS (point of sale) machines is not even one-tenth of the estimated number of merchants in the country. As per data released by RBI, in India, as on August 2016, all banks put together had only 2,02,801 ATMs and 14,61,672 PoS machines (machines on which you can use credit and debit cards to make payments instead of cash). India has roughly 26 million credit cards and 697 million debit cards.

Considering that the tech-savvy generation owns at least 4-5 cards per individual, and the fact that many of the cards issued remain inactive or are used less than five times a year, the reach of what are called alternate channels of payment is much lesser than the number of cards issued would suggest. In fact, as reported by Live Mint in April this year, India’s average number of card transactions per inhabitant at 6.7 is one of the lowest in the world. In Australia, the number stands at 249.3, in Canada it is 247.9, in the UK it is 201.7, Brazil 54.8, and it is 16.6 in Mexico and 14.4 in China. Data analysis also suggests that in India, there is a huge gap between number of ATMs and number of POS machines.

According to ‘Card Acceptance Infrastructure – A Concept Paper‘ released by Reserve Bank of India earlier this year, use of debit cards at ATMs (i.e., primarily for withdrawal of cash) constitutes an overwhelming 88% of all debit card transactions, and “usage of debit cards at PoS machines accounts for only around 12% of total volume and 6% of total value of debit card transactions.” RBI noted with concern that the growth of card acceptance infrastructure was lagging far behind the growth of the number of debit and credit cards in the country. Such growth as has been seen in the growth of necessary infrastructure was mainly concentrated in urban metro areas. RBI has gone on to list out the reasons for this – high cost of acquiring business, low utilisation of cards, lack of adequate and low cost telecommunication infrastructure (needed even for the much-in-news Paytm), insufficient awareness, lack of incentives to merchants for accepting cards, and the perceived cost of Merchant Discount Rate (MDR).

In such a situation, suddenly declaring 85% of cash available in the market as illegal is causing tremendous hardship to the lowest strata of the society which is going largely unreported or reported as one-off instances of ‘collateral damage’, a dangerous phrase one does not want to hear in association with our own citizenry.

Somewhere in the public discourse on this matter, a more disturbing development is creeping into mainstream media. That is the dissolution of the distinction between the State and the Government. The nation-state of India, to which we belong and which gives us our national identity, is distinct from the government which happens to be in power at any given point of time. Simply put, governments may come and go, but the State – the idea of India – endures and provides the framework for our democratic polity. Now, however, if one has any objection, any dissenting point of view, any critique of the actions of the Government, immediately one is branded as anti-national and scoffed at, ridiculed and abused for not supporting the anti-corruption drive of the Government.

The fourth estate, the media, is supposed to be the watchdog of democracy. In a country with democratic values, we are supposed to have the right to express our opinion in a civilised manner. Dissent is supposed to be a cherished right of the citizenry in a democracy. Our soldiers, who are being often highlighted as patriots making supreme sacrifices for our country – which they are – are making those sacrifices precisely so that our cherished democratic values may flourish.

Expressing a minority opinion has almost become equal to a criminal offence. Never mind that the real criminals are those dealing in black money. Never mind that a miniscule percentage of the black money transactions are actually in cash. Never mind that money and cash are not synonymous words. Never mind that we have equated hoarding with black money, forgetting the essential definition of black money being money (not cash) obtained through illegal activities. Never mind that in our country, a large number of legal, genuine transactions which used to happen in cash are stuck now because a whopping 86% of the cash in circulation became useless one fine day. Never mind that there is no system in place to deal with such an emergency.

Because that is what it is, an emergency.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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