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Sorry Soldiers, But We Dont Care

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January 15 2017, a normal Sunday for most of us Indians, we look in the newspapers, look up the web the world is going the way it is. Is there anything special about that day? To most of us maybe not but January 15 is Army Day. January 15 is the day. It is the day Lieutenant General K. M. Cariappa took over as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army from General Sir Francis Butcher, the last British Commander-in-Chief of India on 15 January 1949. It was a major day in our history yet finds no mention in our history textbooks like the thousands of soldiers who have lost their lives yet are not important enough to mark the pages of those books.

The last year has been very interesting with regards to the Indian Army. They found so much mention in the media which I don’t think they did ever before maybe except Kargil War because what better way to make money than selling the patriotism and death of a soldier? The Army should be indebted to the media because they showered our soldiers with such spotlight which they mostly don’t waste on them.

Talking about our soldiers, we love them, don’t we? We know how they work and what they go through so it is our right to convict them or exonerate them. We love them so much that when they die we see red. We want blood for blood, we want war. We prize them so much, yet according to our defence minister Manohar Parrikar, the Indian Army faces a shortage of nearly 10,000 officers. The naked truth is, sorry soldiers, but we don’t really care.

Time and again, we have proven the fact that we don’t really care for our soldiers. We castigate them at the drop of a doubt. We readily stand up for people of ‘questionable’ character but we hesitate when it comes to our soldiers. Their words are dictated by politicians who use them for their popularity and vote bank, be it BJP taking the credit for surgical strikes or Mamta Banerjee calling a normal and regular Army exercise a ‘military coup’. What do we care about a man who stays away from his family all year long in a place where he can actually die any moment for a salary that will put all of us to shame? We don’t.

Two years ago when I was in Kashmir, I got to know that a convoy carrying soldiers home had been attacked and unfortunately some of them died in the attack. This news never made it to any newspaper. There are many such incidents that never see the light of the day. There was a time that at least one soldier died each week but it was not important enough for anyone to share.

We don’t know what they go through, we are not in their boots. We blame them for the death of civilians but never ask whose bullet was it that pierced the victim’s heart, could it have been the terrorist’s? We never ask how many times they have faced a situation where a person under the pretence of hiding took a family hostage indirectly. They move forward, they are guilty, they retreat, more people die. They live in a place where they see the death of their brothers, can you even imagine what effect this has on their psyche? We can’t. No one is above law, not even them, so if someone is guilty, punishment should be meted out but they don’t deserve the double standards that we always follow in their case. Most important of all, we forget that these men and women follow orders from someone way up in the chain who lives in a lavish bungalow and faces no real consequences of those orders.

Death is a soldier’s friend. We mourned them in Uri and Pathankot but where were we when was the mourning before that? Is it just limited to when we can put a hashtag before it? India came together to support people of Kashmir and it made me feel so proud but why hasn’t this India come out to support justice for Capt. Saurabh Kalia. His parents have been fighting for years, alone, in hope of justice. Why are there no candle marches on the anniversary of Kaluchak attack? Why don’t we remember Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan on the anniversary of 26/11? When we can debate over Burhan Wani then why do we forget Col. M.N. Rai?

These men and women put their lives in jeopardy for a nation that mostly doesn’t care. Their families are not safe. A new low was when their children were targeted with hate during the 2016 Kashmir crisis by many people. When they die what do they get? Nothing. How many of us come forward to support their families after they have passed away? After a day of media hype, they are forgotten only to be remembered with a wreath twice a year for upholding political image and in name of tradition. We don’t respect them. Not really, not from the heart.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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