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2.1 Crore Indians Are Denied Basic Rights Every Day! 8 Experts Reveal What Needs To Change

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“Do people with disabilities fall in love? Do they drink?”

Yes, these are legit questions that Inclov co-founder Shankar Srinivasan has been asked countless times in the past. A true believer in #Access4All, his response in the face of the apathy he witnesses when talking about this issue is to direct people to Inclov, a unique matchmaking website for people with disabilities.

But Shankar’s experience is not unheard of. Because disability is so rarely discussed in our everyday conversations, many of us are guilty of the same folly. In doing so, however, we fail to recognise the rights of 2.1 crore Indians! (According to Census 2011, that’s the number of people who are living with disabilities in India). Add to that the systematic marginalisation people with disabilities face on a day to day basis, and suddenly things don’t look so good.

This needs changing. And to discuss what should be changed and how, Shankar joined a discussion at YKA and CBM India’s #Access4All event last week, where we learned some important lessons about inclusion of people with disabilities.

1. People With Disabilities Are Not Just Excluded Socially, Also Systematically

Nipun Malhotra, the founder of the Nipman Foundation, kickstarted the discussion with a crucial point: exclusion of people with disabilities doesn’t just end with social stigma, it also extends to our policies and laws.

Schemes and initiatives such as the Odd/Even scheme by the Kejriwal government in Delhi don’t take into account the needs of those with mobility impairment. This also extends to the way public infrastructure is designed, impacting a person’s everyday life, including something as basic and important as public washrooms, which are rarely disability-friendly.

2. Rules, Regulations And Policies Need To Reflect In Our Attitudes, Not Just On Paper

Dipendra Manocha, of Saksham, spoke about the need for a ‘universal design’ for buildings, markets and other public infrastructure that also recognises and takes into account the needs of people with disabilities.

However, he added, this universal design shouldn’t include the needs of people with disabilities as a ‘special feature’. Rather, an intrinsic attitudinal shift needs to be inculcated through careful education to make disability more ‘mainstream’. Only then, he says, can #Access4All be truly achieved.

3. Technology May Be A Game Changer, But It Needs To Support, Not Segregate

Binni Kumari of the Score Foundation shared experiences of facing challenges with the one solution we all fall back on when it comes to addressing the issue of #Access4All: technology.

She aptly pointed out that while technology has made things supremely easy for those with disability, it is not without error, and we must all recognise that. Innovation alone, she said, cannot solve the problem of access. Rather, it needs to be seen as part of the whole solution.

4. Why Doesn’t Our Interest In Learning A New Language Extend To Signing?

An apt question posed by Ruma Roka, of the Noida Deaf Society. The biggest challenge faced by the deaf community in India is communication. One possible solution for change is to make the Sign Language a part of the ‘mainstream curriculum’.

After all, we fight over the need for our regional languages to be recognised as official languages. Why don’t we have the same attitude towards the Indian Sign Language?

5. There Needs To Be Inclusion Of People With Disabilities In Sports

Pradeep Raj, a para-athlete and disability rights activist, steered the conversation in another interesting direction: sports. We’re always cheering for our Olympics champions and our men’s cricket team, but where’s all the noise when it comes to the Paralympics?

The People With Disabilities Act means nothing if we can’t offer aspiring sportspeople with disabilities the opportunities they deserve. Our coaches need to be trained to accommodate the needs of those with disability, not as a special favour, but as a basic necessity.

6. The Government Needs To Lead By Example So Society Can Follow

“How many government buildings are accessible for those with mobility impairments?” asked Guddu Singh Panwar, who rejected the traditional wheelchair for a skateboard as a mode of movement.

The shift in attitude in society will only come if our leaders lead by example. When government centres and buildings shut out a chunk of the population, where do the people go to demand their rights?

7. Inclusion Isn’t Just About Education And Career, But Also For Recreation

Neha Arora, founder of Planet Abled, rounded off the panel discussion with an important insight: people with disabilities are also looking for opportunities to travel, they also want to experience different cities and cultures and see all the famous monuments and places that everyone else talks about.

Many of us think of accessibility in terms of education and careers, but rarely do we acknowledge the need for people with disabilities to enjoy the smaller pleasures, the more recreational things in life. Shouldn’t this come to us naturally, when we talk about inclusion?

Unquestionably then, inclusion is not just about improving infrastructure and technology, but a much larger ask. The attitudinal shift required to build a truly accessible society requires us to recognise and eliminate the privilege that comes with being able-bodied. And, as Parvinder Singh of CBM-India rightly concluded, this needs to be effected partly through political struggle and partly through engaging in an open and free dialogue.

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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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