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Are We Worth The Freedom We’ve Won?

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Bhavya traversed down the memory lane as classic patriotic numbers played out one after the other in her locality. The reminiscences of her humming these songs along with her friends in their school bus brought the rare authentic curve on her lips.

She recollected how she used to wait ardently to gorge on the delectable laddoos offered by her school on the occasion of Independence Day after the flag hoisting event. Her heart yearned for those idyllic days.

Lost in her own thoughts of her erstwhile life, she was blissfully unaware that her next client for the day had stepped into the room and was calling out for her. Her reverie was broken by the honking of a vehicle in close vicinity and she realised that the musical extravaganza had concluded as well. On reflex, she turned around and fear gripped her. Had she frittered her client’s valuable time away?

Before Bhavya could apologise, she had been stripped of her garments and her facade had been put on. Bhavya had become Rosy. Rosy was aware that there was no way to escape from the besmirched, dingy brothel. She wondered if she would ever be able to breathe freedom again. The 17-year-old was awaiting her Independence Day.

Raghu was an optimistic and affable soul. To the world, he was blind. But he could see through the darkness he was born with. At times, he could probably even observe what the people with the finest eyesight missed. He often thought that maybe God had compensated him with this innate knack of sensing people’s emotions and mindsets.

He earned a meagre income – just enough to survive – by performing his daily job as the milk delivery boy in a particular neighbourhood. He had completed his basic education and could also type well on a computer. Those who knew him were often amazed by his independence and self-sufficiency.

Image Credit: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

One day, a lady walked up to him to seek permission to cover a story about him. She clicked his pictures as he posed with a beaming smile and gave him hope when she mentioned about how the story would undeniably go viral and make him instantly famous. Though recognition was nowhere on his priority list, he presumed it would make it easier for him to get another job, a more respectable one, which could help him improve his living conditions and support his debt-ridden family. He was confident about his capabilities but unfortunately, most people did not even give him the benefit of doubt and assumed that his visual impairment would be a deterrent to his dedication and effort.

So, as expected, his story did go viral but nothing altered for Raghu. A few did mention to him that they were proud to share his story as they ‘knew’ him. Life was still the same for him – the same old routine, the same old ‘isolation’ and the same old ‘pitiful stares’. At times, he speculated about the reason why no one out of the many who read his story felt that he was worthy enough. Perhaps they were now engaged in making another story go viral.

Ragini was a social activist – a lady with panache and credence. Her salt and peppered look added elegance and a sublime aura to her personality which always exuded poise. She was admired for her bold and forthright nature, as well as for her ‘no nonsense’ demeanour. Her posts on social media related to women empowerment were appreciated time and again, and she was hailed by her friends as a crusader in the fight for gender equality.

She had been invited to impart a speech and state her opinion about menstrual leave policy for women and she was engrossed in a discussion over the phone with the event coordinator. She was interrupted by the chiming sound of her door bell. It was her domestic help who wanted to take a day off from work due to intense period pain, something that the housemaid had started experiencing after childbirth a few months back. Ragini instructed her help to at least wrap up the basic tasks of cleaning the utensils and mopping the floor. Her husband intervened and asked her to just let it be for a day. Ragini shot a fractious glance at him and whispered, “Please don’t talk when you don’t know anything. These people tell a lot of lies. And what do we pay her so much for? Don’t spoil her by fulfilling her random requests.”

A year had passed but Ujjwala’s wounds were still as sore. She had a heard a lot about the excruciating labour pains but was unfazed. Maybe it is true that one pain takes away our attention from another one. She delivered a healthy baby boy. Destiny’s games were strange. The day she lost her husband was the day her son was born. The words uttered by her father on that fateful day continued to haunt her, “I cannot tolerate having a grandchild from a Muslim.”

In a split second, her world had collapsed. She couldn’t believe that a father could do this to his own daughter.  She had eloped with Asif because their relationship did not find approval from the families involved. But, was it so easy to take the life out of someone? Asif was a sperm donor and after his demise, Ujjwala had decided to bear his child defying all odds. But, suddenly the mother within her was petrified. Would her son meet with the same fate? Would her love be able to win over hatred? Would her family ever realise that there is nothing honourable in smearing their hands with someone’s blood just because of deep-rooted prejudices?

It’s been 70 years since our independence. Over the years, India has witnessed immense growth and has shined in many areas. But how many of us are truly free – free from the clutches of biases and the shackles of patriarchy? Have we been able to free our minds of the prejudices based on gender, ethnicity, occupation and disability? Have we become arm-chair activists? Do we follow what we preach?

Time to introspect, time to ponder and it’s high time we act. I am not even talking about going out of our way to make a difference. That we can and we should in our capacities. But before that, we need to work on ourselves. We need to learn to love, to accept, to be inclusive and to not let our entrenched biases come in the way of righteousness. Freedom was expensive – we lost a lot in the process. Are we worth it?

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  1. Vid B

    We haven’t ‘won’ any freedom. Its not because of Gandhi or Nehru. Its because of WW2 and britain could not continue ruling. The earlier you wake up, the better. The easy freedom in the name of ‘non-violence’ only made its men coward and awarded the partition.

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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.

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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.

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 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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