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The Indian Railways Doesn’t Need More Funds, It Needs More Attention

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Not long ago, we hailed Mr Suresh Prabhu as the most tech savvy and active Railway Minister we have ever had. To an extent this is true since the service delivery system during his tenure has touched great heights, be it with regards to cleanliness, food quality or safety, you were just a tweet away from him.

I can say this with surety because I once tweeted about the cockroaches and rats that were making my travel a nightmare. I was replied to within two hours, and the cleanliness staff came in with all the pest repellent/control tools. Though I still had to sleep with those rats/cockroaches nearby, what made me happy was the promptness and the responsibility the Ministry took in solving the issue.

Such pro-activeness in service delivery is a rare chapter in the political history of Indian Railways.

Like every coin has a flip side, the Railway Ministry too fallacies that we fail to condemn since we are not the aggrieved party. Every year, we witness dozens of stories about railway accidents/derailments/fires-with lives lost, people injured, routes hauled, politicians scanning the situation from the sky, investigation teams formulated, etc.

Out of all of this, the only thing that remains constant is the frequency of such disasters that are mostly man-made. A majority of these disasters occur due to factors like the negligence of the driver, the signalman’s error, mechanical failure of rolling stock/track/bridges, vandalism by people, sabotage and terrorism, carriage of dangerous/hazardous goods, the ineffectiveness of brakes and inadequacy of the operating rules.

This year has been special because of the recurrence of such disasters in a particular state-Uttar Pradesh. We have already witnessed six train accidents this year, out of which four of them occurred in the state.

Such recurrence in a particular state expresses the saddening state of Indian Railways, particularly on the Uttar Pradesh-Bihar route. One reason for this can be lack of defined authority-responsibility relationship within the government institutions that necessitates periodic security checks. The other reason is the failure of the internal audit mechanism.

A highlighting feature of the most cases of train accidents this year is the word ‘derailment’. Derailment occurs when a train runs off its rails. Causes of derailment can be-collision with another object, operational error, mechanical failure of tracks (broken rails), mechanical failure of wheels, etc. None of the cases, can’t be fixed with regular examination and security checks. Hence, the major cause of such incidents turns out to be pure negligence.

A proof of negligence is the telephonic conversation between a railway employee and the gateman, presented by the Times of India pertaining to the Utkal Express derailment. The gateman informed that a part of the track was being fixed and welding work was due. Also, the work was going on without any block on the route. When the train passed, track’s part was in place but was not welded causing the derailment.

Though, the authenticity of such claims can’t be relied on. But, even if it is 20% correct, we are witnessing the epitome of human errors and lack of responsibility. If a man recruited by the government’s detailed/stringent process (even the lowest order of government jobs necessitates a written examination and training) performs their task with such laxity, then how on earth are we civilians going to trust the government and its agencies?

The government’s role here should be to review such incidents, figure out the cause, pool in investments, and make the administration work even on their days off so that the people can trust the institutions. But, this is what you expect out of a government that truly cares for its citizens. Our government is rather interested in doubling its vote banks and tripling its account balances. The Ministers will come up with ways with which it can gather sympathy votes :

  •  Compensations of lakhs to the family of the dead, a lesser amount to those injured: The injured ones are satisfied that they are alive and the family of the dead are in a state of shock and are too weak (emotionally/financially) to question the government. The rest of us are too busy with our lives that nothing bothers us until it touches us/our family.
  • Sudden incorporation of investigation teams/committees and task force: These committees will present their report in a month or two and will conclude by supporting the government, declaring none of the employees/ministers guilty of any charge. Sometimes they even turn the facts around and present it as a terrorist attack.
  • At last, when every strategy fails to clear off the image of the government, the ministers bring in their trump card-“I offer to resign”statement. I wonder why they just offer to leave? Why don’t they just resign? Also, if they truly are taking the moral responsibility of the accidents, they should be answerable to the victims/public instead of avoiding any media briefings. Instead of undertaking any stringent actions against the employees responsible, these employees are sent on forced leave (not suspension). These actions are obvious since it is the moral responsibility of the political masters to protect their political trainees.

Mr Suresh Prabhu in last year’s budget came up with a new way to seek attention, through the new ‘Railway Suraksha Kosh’. The fund was proposed with a corpus of ₹1 lakh crores to accomplish the ‘zero accident mission’, of the government. This fund was to be used for replacement of electrical assets, improvement of the signalling system, and upgrading the rolling stock.

Today, the government isn’t even sure about the sources that will fund this project. While delivering last year’s Railway budget, Mr Prabhu was applauded for acting on the issue of Railway accidents/derailments on a priority basis. A year later, the situation is still grim, unchanging or even worse.

The population of India is expanding and we will take over China in a few decades. But, that doesn’t mean that should let our people die over petty issues like lack of oxygen supplies, over beef consumption or because government servants are too lazy to check if the railway tracks are in place and functional!

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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, 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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