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It’s Time To Move Past The Romance Of Indian Railways And See The Real Problem

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The Indian railways have always been presented as a legacy of the British colonial times in India. From being dubbed as the symbol of crony socialism to ministers utilising it for their political agenda – it has been a national shame.

However, that does not undermine the countless enjoyable journeys one has on Indian railways, despite the ironical paranoid agony for the safety and comfort of the Indian railways. The shameful and heart-wrenching incidents of derailment due to human error or infrastructural bottlenecks and sabotage theories end up just as another piece of news and government compensation carnival packages. Last mile connectivity in India through the railways honestly has not seen much progress since the time the British left.

The Indian Railway’s mascot ‘Bholu‘ is a bit funny but may be quite apt regarding the Indian way of being an elephant. The regal combined with the laziness aptly paints the picture of Indian railway of today. On one hand Indian railways operates “Palace on wheels”, “Deccan Queen” and “Maharaja Express” in the most luxurious segment of railway journeys around the world. On the other, you have some of the most crowded railways.

Similarly, from personal experience, it can be shared that if you want to move from the west to the east of India via train, then you are either jobless or looking to travel the country on a budget. The contractors for the Indian railways who are given the jobs to supply the blankets and other amenities subcontract them to the other smaller parties. When it comes to service, it is not of much help.

The system is hung over from the British times. From the method of manually checking tickets to the state of the bathrooms, not much has changed.

When it comes to speed of the train travel, it is another universe. The safety and the sheer pressure of the Indian railways regarding volume in proportion to the investment it has received is akin to a termite chewing at wooden furniture or a book that hasn’t been cared for in decades.

My maternal grandfather who had served in the Indian railways could not help lamenting at the deterioration of the railways over the decades. I actually travelled from Kolkata to Ahmedabad, traversing 2000 kilometres. It felt like going on a trans-Siberian railways journey. However, it was not that romantic except for the natural beauty of India.

The restrooms lacked water from the second day. Although a journey on the Indian railways overnight can make you acquainted with passengers as if they were family, the filth generated is not that great. The pantry had been discarded from the train which had set out for a 51-hour journey. The food safety audits had dismissed the food quality as being unfit for human consumption. This was a slap in the face of Indian railways.

Here we are craving to be an active nation while a critical artery for the country’s economy – the Indian railways, has been neglected regarding service quality. Criticism alone does not help, and features like cleanliness complaint on Twitter, the introduction of Tejas like posh trains based on western standards are steps being taken in the recent slew of measures.

However, one cannot help but wonder if these measures, along with investment in bullet trains, are actually the beginning of the turnaround in the Indian railways. Talks about the transfer of technology from France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland had been doing the rounds for last couple of years. However, whether the technology transfer can actually result in speedier travel remains to be seen.

While the Indian Railways has been treated as a stepchild concerning policy implementation, the aviation sector has picked up and is looking for more footprints regarding revenue earning in India. Infrastructure build-up of the government entity that employs more than a million people is not just the need of the hour, but of the very moment. Being an Indian myself, I have heard, read and felt that the greater change will come to the platforms to make them at least decent if not world class

The government has tried to provide free wifi in collaboration with Google. The quest to keep the stations clean despite the questionable civic sense of a significant chunk of Indians is also commendable. However, the policy implementation required to bring the Indian railways – the original national transport across the vast geographic expanse of India – out of its coma is surely waiting. Not patiently, but restlessly.

The recent tragedy of stampede in Mumbai is another glaring example of how understaffed and underprepared the Indian railway infrastructure is. Scenic journeys across beautiful landscapes, giving joy to individuals, groups, or families, can only be enhanced if the care for Indian railways is shown properly.

We need to be realistic and rather than Europe, China should serve as a prime example of how railways in a vastly developing nation can be brought to a world-class level. It is easier said than done in India, where the diversity or political games being played make it a frustratingly complex and super bureaucratic task.

The responsibility and pride of the employees of the Indian Railways have been dangling for a long time, probably on a thin straw of people who work tirelessly and sincerely for its upkeep. The sheer vacancies and the nepotism in filling those vacancies can spin the Indian economy into a whole new orbit.

Speaking of a dedicated freight corridor alongside the industrial corridors of the near future such as Delhi to Mumbai can only be pushed through a rejuvenation of Indian railways. I don’t want to make it a monologue and even less a policy commentary, but unless we look hard at the fallacies of the Indian railways, derailments and more loss of human life and precious resources are always waiting to happen.

In the ecosystem of the Indian railways, everyone from porters (rechristened as sevaks– ‘helpers’ in Hindi, instead of the lowly ‘coolie’ used by the British) to the shopkeepers, railway track checkers, station masters, train attendants, etc. has a role to play. Notwithstanding the government circles, of course.

Hopefully, we can steer the railways towards a better future.

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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.

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)’.

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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.”

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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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