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I Have Found My Career Calling, It Is To Save Aarey Forest

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In 2002, travelling to papa’s shop meant a 35-minute long bone crushing train journey to Goregaon. Needless to say, it was seldom a happy affair. Whenever it was, it was because of the visit to Chota Kashmir, VIP guesthouse, Picnic Point, Film City, Tapeshwar Mahadev Mandir, all under the green canopy of Aarey Milk Colony lined up as a promise for me.

It soothed me, I could run, dance, watch butterflies and birds from up close, be scared of the leopards (which never appeared, phew!), lookout for jungle cats, have a splash in the tiny rivulets, eat fresh mulberries. Yes. All of this, right here in the currently concrete Mumbai.

There was enough time for Mumbaikars to romanticise Mumbai. Loving the rains, the street food, the nightlife, the beaches, the seafronts, the architecture, the cool winds that flow around the fort area, the economic powerhouse called Dharavi, the festivals, the glitz and glamour that come with the media industry and the Mumbai spirit. The spirit that comes handy during floods, fires, blasts, attacks.

The spirit exists all over this vast country perhaps, but because of the dense, hot, thus closely knit concrete box prone to disasters that Mumbai is, it comes handy every time.

There was enough time for Mumbaikars to romanticise Mumbai. Until now.

The rains, traffic, heat, pipeline bursts, fires – nothing is funny anymore.

In his book “Mumbai Safari: Nature In The Extreme”, Sunjoy Monga showed that there has been a 50% decline in wetlands, grasslands and agricultural land in Mumbai region in the decade from 2003-04, and more worryingly, a phenomenal 80% worsening of the quality of habitat, which led to a decline in several species. A drop in the ground-level foliage and grasslands meant a loss of ground birds. Bats and butterfly species, too, had reduced as the tree cover on the eastern side made way for buildings. His book ought to be made compulsory reading for all those in charge of the city’s development plan – Smart BKC project, Mumbai Next endeavour and suchlike.

The next big assault on the city is, of course, on Aarey Milk Colony land that has been earmarked for a metro car-shed and an elevated road among other constructions.

Two student researchers, Rajesh Sanap and Zeeshan Mirza, who studied the area for the past eight years documented, according to reports, a list of 77 different bird species, more than 90 types of spiders, six species of scorpions, 86 species of butterflies and six species of venomous snakes. Others who have tracked Mumbai’s biodiversity believe the city is rather rich in this sector too. The extended Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) holds its own biodiversity wealth, hardly documented but now threatened. A pity then that those with power are not on its side.

As someone who has loved every bit of the 21 years here, and wants to love every bit of the future too, I got personally attacked when I first read about the planned massacre at Aarey. All the sweet memories came rushing to me, I hugged them tightly. All through my years of graduation, in bits and parts, I tried to be a part of the Save Aarey movement. As an aspiring ad-man, it was inspiring to see big names and great writers coming in support of the movement. This year, after graduating with a major in advertising, I knew one thing for sure, I want to Save Aarey Forest.

The pace at which Mumbai has grown is undoubtedly phenomenal. Slowly creeping into northern suburbs years after reclaiming land in the south, Mumbai is bursting at its seams. Yet somehow creepily it is still expanding. To make things better, we need a good transport system. And in some years, we’ll need it to be the best.

No pun intended, but the B.E.S.T. (Bombay Electric Supply and Tramway Company Limited) is being cut off from funds, while private cars, private taxi services are increasing day by day. The amount of money invested in metro trains, if invested properly in the Mumbai Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) or well-planned bus fleets, will solve a lot of travel problems in a much efficient way, Not only a metro. I do not know how much the ₹3600 crore Shivaji Statue will give back to Mumbai. But I sure know that Shivaji too would have loved to see that kind of money improving our transport systems in a sustainable manner.

Among many other problems that the island city is facing with the messiah metro, the worst one is the threat to Aarey- the lungs of Mumbai. I just want to say one thing, come to Aarey. Experience its beauty. And visit the other alternatives to Aarey at hand. Aarey, often confused as a milk colony and only a milk colony, is a part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and rightly so. The energy it infuses into you, because of its biodiversity spread across acres of tracts of trees of all kinds, is phenomenal. A metro car shed can be anywhere else in the city but Aarey.

The Save Aarey movement has been going on since 2014 and it is time we realise, this needs to end. Once and for all. Shut the idea of building a parking lot at Aarey. Declare it a highly protected zone. The polluting activities that come along with a car shed, are better kept off from my jungle. The alternatives are barren, with no comparable ecological damage, and on the same route as the Metro 3.

As I said before, it is not about the corruption, the legalities that will anyway be looked into by the National Green Tribunal on November 10, 2017. It is about every Mumbaikar’s right to keep breathing what these 3500 plus trees keep exhaling, the right to have a better Mithi river, on whose catchment, the proposed-illegal-much disliked car shed is being built. If you believe the authorities care, look at what has been done to the Yeoor hills, the mangroves all around Mumbai, Tungareshwar National Park, Mithi river, Poisar river, Ulhas river, beaches of Mumbai and now, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. (Yes! They plan to build a parking lot there as well as a Goregaon- Mulund Link Road plans to rip apart its belly. Forest lands are being converted into commercial lands all across the country).

But the plain fact remains- Mumbai cannot afford to give away even an inch of Aarey, forget 33 hectares and 3,500 trees amongst other things. At this crucial hour, we need to rise up and take support from all corners. Our family, friends, colleagues, influencers, leaders all need to have at least a viewpoint on the issue. Take sides. Do not hide behind veils of ignorance and silence. Read about the struggle, reach out to the Save Aarey volunteers, talk to legal experts, question MMRC and other leaders of Mumbai involved.

It is we who build our cities the way we want. And if we want to build them to be sustainable – who can stop us?


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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.”

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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.

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 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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