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These ‘Warriors’ Are Saving The Himalayas From Your Waste, And How!

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Last year, I was sitting at a cafe in Kasol. The artwork on the walls of this chic restaurant attracted me enough to visit and spend some time – until I noticed something that irked me. I noticed that the restaurant was dumping its waste into the Parvati river. Upon asking, they replied, “Sab karte hain, toh hum bhi kar rahe hain (We do it because everyone else is doing it).” It was startling to see that this cafe was not even being run by the locals but by an educated-looking lady, probably from Delhi, who was spending her sabbatical period hiding in this beautiful valley (and possibly ruining it).

The influx of tourists in Himachal Pradesh is increasing every year. The mountains of Manali, Shimla, Rishikesh, Mcleodganj are only a few of the destinations which are crowded by tourists every year. The trekking trails of Kheerganga, Triund, Hampta Pass have been destroyed and are now filled with plastic bottles and packets of chips and  instant noodles lying everywhere. Worse, you can even see used tissue and toilet papers flying in the air right next to the camp sites.

Today, there are a number of NGOs in Himachal and Uttarakhand that have sprung up to make sure that these trekking trails remain the way they are supposed to be. One of these NGOs, Waste Warriors, is battling with the rapid tourist commute in Mcleodganj, which is killing the ecology of the place.

My first experience of working with Waste Warriors was in the year 2014. We went to Triund with a group of 15 volunteers, removed the garbage from the trail and then returned with a victory smile. We returned to Triund the next week and collected the same amount of garbage.

Three years have passed since then. When I started working with them in the summer of 2017, I saw things getting worse.

(Image Source: untamed_bachelor/Instagram)

Who Is Responsible?

Despite installing dustbins in the major trekking areas of Mcleodganj, many tourists prefer to dump their bottles wherever they empty it. Walking a few steps looking for a dump site sounds like an impossible task for them. Many locals contribute to making this worse. They have set shops at different points with makeshift tarpaulin sheets, without proper garbage dumping facilities. The plates of Maggi and bottles of Coca Cola continue to lie around their shop, in the hope that the cleaning group will come and take them away.

Garbage lying at Hampta Pass (Image source: Facebook)

What Is The Solution?

The best way to overcome this issue is by educating women and children. Somehow, they seem to be the ones who are able to grasp the value of garbage disposal and segregation and pass it on to others. On the other hand, many male tourists take a lot of enthusiasm in trashing the place and are even ready to fight when asked not to.

Avoiding plastic bottles is the best way to make sure that the ecology of these regions are not damaged in the long run. A 500 ml thermoflask is equal to several mineral water bottles – and will only cost you around ₹200. The hills have fresh water in the rivers, waterfalls – and many shops even offer refills for a nominal price of ₹10 or ₹20. Adopting this small practice will only save the environment of the place from getting ruined. If you cannot find a dustbin, then the best way to prevent the accumulation of trash and garbage is to make sure that you don’t buy anything worth throwing along the road in the first place.

Triund cleanup drive (Image source: Waste Warriors – Dharamsala/Facebook)

According to the volunteers of the Waste Warriors, the biggest hurdle in cleaning these trails is the lack of sensibility among casual tourists. They have made graffitis, artworks and even conducted street shows to overcome this issue – but their achievement seems so little in front of the hurdles they face on regular basis.

This year, Triund saw more than 4000 people during the Independence Day weekend. Come winter, the condition of these trails will improve as the footfall of tourists goes down in the mountains. But soon, summer will arrive and so will the hectic work schedule of these NGOs, short of volunteers and funds – and yet trying their best to keep the ecology of the place unharmed.

You can connect with Waste Warriors for volunteering through their Facebook page and their website.


Image sources: Waste Warriors – Dharamsala/Facebook
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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, 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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