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DURGA PUJA: A FESTIVAL TO LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS

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Durga Puja is probably the biggest festival of the year in Kolkata. A bengali who resides in the city would agree to this without a second thought. The lights, the sound of dhaak, the fun and excitement in the air, shopping madness and spending quality time with loved ones take us to a different planet altogether for a few days. We can also look forward to light up the life of those around us to a certain extent at least. I am talking about those who are not as privileged as many of us are. Perhaps we have it in ourselves to look beyond ourselves. Every year we pray to Maa Durga to make this world a better place to live. Prayer should go hand in hand with some sort of activity of reaching out these homeless and deprived people. They are one of us who for some reason or the other aren’t leading a normal life.  Durga Puja is one of the best times of the year where we can think about them, make them feel better. The sight of these homeless people sleeping at cornered lanes, street, roads and railway stations is the same feeling as a heart break. Watch them begging and asking for money isn’t an encouraging sight at all. People from many other states as well as countries come to embrace the occasion. This is probably the best time of the year to have them with us to come and help rescue these unfortunate ones.

   I wonder if the thought of helping them goes invisible from our mind. The crowd, the huge gatherings at different pandals, the bhog and prasad distribution and such activities take place almost everywhere.  Recently, the floods that took place in North Bengal rendered many people homeless. I wonder if we should wait for these happenings to take place in order to come forward and help the needy. It would be great if the message is spread through various other platforms. How about having a theme pujo which gives the message of helping the poor ones? Instead of massive advertisement hoardings, how about having this message being labeled as something which is a message from the almighty herself? Everytime I shop for clothes, shoes, and similar necessary day to day life use products, I wonder the donation box they display at the payment counter is serving its purpose or not. I am not here to discourage advertisements for products and services or any such activity. I would love to find another advertisement of a similar size which can help spread the awareness on a greater scale. I so wish that we grow and graduate to more than just appreciating the portrayal of the “larger than life” story of a poor man who builds an empire from the ashes.

The countless schemes for the poor seem to have made many people blind to their day to day struggles. Out of the 365 days in a year, we can definitely pick one day to make them feel better. Although it may not be as equal as offering fruits and similar kind of foods for Puja to the goddess, it will be a “larger than life” deed for each one of us. As I was scrolling through the news, I was reading about the budget of different clubs and associations. It is a lot of money out of which a small portion should be reserved for donating some clothes and food to the poor. Many clubs and associations have already started such activities and it is so encouraging. I so wish that the number of people begging on the streets and local trains goes down in the coming years. Many of them don’t have a voter id card, or pan card or aadhar card to make them eligible to apply for various government welfare schemes.  We can also make a difference by enlisting their names by helping them to fill up various forms. We can do so much more than just praying for their well being. Many libraries offer free of cost membership and we can help them to take up membership. There is so much that we can do for them and that too by using our puja holidays. Even if we manage to do it once in every three to four years, the participation of all would surely make a massive difference to their lives and eventually to ours as well.

Durga Puja shouldn’t be limited to the worship of a goddess. We should just think about more ways to add meaning to this festival. This, I think would be possible by a miniscule activity of donating something to the poor or helping out the unprivileged children. This festival if celebrated in a different way can surely light up the lives of these people around us. All of us have busy lives where we tend to forget a lot of things and it is quite normal.  Why not spare just one day or a few hours to reach out to these poor souls and bring a smile on their faces?  Many people are into such activities including myself and believe me it is a great source of satisfaction. We aim to reach new heights career-wise and earning-wise to fulfill our dreams. How about an aim of donating a small portion of your income or belongings to the unprivileged ones? How about uniting this Puja to continue with adda sessions and some spare time to help the needy that we find in trains, railway stations, bus stops and almost everywhere?                   

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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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