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Will India’s Environmental Crisis Ever Become A Real Part Of Elections?

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In his book, “The Great Derangement”, author Amitav Ghosh writes, “For the body politic, this vision of politics as moral journey has also had the consequence of creating an ever-growing divergence between a public sphere of political performance and the realm of actual governance: the latter is now controlled by largely invisible establishments that are guided by imperatives of their own. And as the public sphere grows ever more performative, at every level from presidential campaigns to online petitions, its ability to influence the actual exercise of power becomes increasingly attenuated.”

This can be paraphrased in the form of a question: If the government does not act on what people expect from them, remains popular and gets re-elected, does there remain any meaning of the democracy for the society?

In India, especially in recent times, with demonetisation, the difference between ‘performative’ and actual governance has become extraordinarily clear. The general emphasis of the government has been on being performative. Take the example of the inauguration of Sardar Sarovar Dam over the Narmada in the Gujarat, by the Narendra Modi. While the performative: inauguration of the dam by Prime Minister and his lofty ‘speech’, got enormous media and public attention, the struggle of people, who have been displaced, agitating for proper compensation and rehabilitation did not get any significant attention. In this context, one worries if environmental issues can ever become part of ‘real’ electoral agenda.

The myth of the rigid dichotomy between environmental protection and the development paradigm needs to be broken in the public consciousness for any further conversation and movement to happen. Another myth which needs to be broken is that of considering peoples’ movements as obstructionist. Recently, senior journalist Shekhar Gupta tweeted, “Narmada irrigation/power project is India’s most transformational. For 56 years, it has been people of Gujarat versus career activists. People won.

His tweet, in a way, testifies the existence of both the myths. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a peoples’ movement, articulated the social, environmental and economic disasters that a big dam creates. Hundreds of thousands of tribal and poor people have been displaced and their livelihoods lost, thousands of hectares of forests and fertile land have been submerged, and, those who are displaced have not received proper compensation and rehabilitation. Had NBA not been there, how would these issues have come into the knowledge of larger public and policymakers?

The assertion that people won also need examination. The new findings on big dams conclude that they are not socially, environmentally or economically feasible. Environmental challenges do not exist in isolation. Environmental degradation affects the most marginalised communities the most, who depend on the environment for their livelihoods and sustenance directly. The paradigm of sustainable development essentially addresses this myth of dichotomy. However, changing the perception around peoples’ movement remains a challenge.

The NBA is one example of organising people on a social and environmental issue. Can people be asked to vote on an environmental issue? The water crisis and agrarian distress, which are in a way causal to each other, present an opportunity to organise people electorally around it. One does not vote on the basis of just one factor.

How the challenges of economic distress of the farmers, climate change, mega water crisis and the government’s apathy are being articulated coherently and logically in the farmer’s movements going on in India today is interesting. In the southern phase of Kisan Mukti Yatra, one of its leaders, Yogendra Yadav, mentioning the ‘unmanaged groundwater situation, unabated river sand mafia, unresolved Kaveri dispute’ asked, “Isn’t the Tamil Nadu drought a man-made calamity?”

The precarious situation of groundwater in India is directly linked to the farming crisis, as agriculture in India is almost entirely dependent on groundwater. It is also related to the challenges of safe drinking water and sanitation in rural India. Sand mining is a question of ecological sustainability a the river, and is a branch of corruption, with a complex political economy. The inter-state water dispute is a constitutional, political, social and cultural question.

These are inter-related narratives which need to be bundled and politicised. Currently, only farmers have been talking about it. But, the groundwater crisis affects urban India as well. A river equally belongs to urban India too. Yet, one finds little mobilisation in the urban areas around such issues. Even in rural India, the degree of emphasis on issues other than economic stress and their acceptability needs an examination.

Nonetheless, some leaders are willing and able to stop and consider this. However, climate change presents an unprecedented threat to the prevalent patterns of consumption. Given the obsession in India with economic growth, how and for how long the efforts of these leaders would be considered as satisfactory?

Beyond addressing the economic concerns of a class interlinked with the environmental issues – how a larger narrative for environmental governance and a change in the developmental paradigm can be built is the ‘real’ challenge. This no doubt requires a cultural shift. Can it ‘really’ be achieved through electoral politics? Or, do we need someone like Sadhguru of Isha Foundation to take up the ‘burden’!

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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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