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Was Destroying 408 Houses Inside Amchang Reserve Forest The Only Way To Save It?

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Imagine a situation where you are suddenly deprived of your place of shelter. A place of living is not only a concrete place made up of materialistic amenities to sustain a species – it is also a cocoon of psychic, cultural and social comfort.

Human beings mark their distinct existence in the natural surroundings with their capacity to use natural elements for producing subsistence to sustain humanity. Humanity, on the other hand, is comprised of social relations, interactions with nature, cultural doctrines, ethics and values.

Where the stable material existence of shelter gives comfort in the personal sphere – the neighbourhood, comprised of other such shelters, give the assurance of existence within a collective lot. Thus, the reciprocal relationship between personal and collective spheres creates a sustainable culture of human civilisation in a particular area.

Moreover, the one significant element which deeply triggers both the public and the collective spheres is the natural surroundings. The natural or ecological background of a place of shelter directly or indirectly defines the way of life (food habits, sacred elements in a ritual practice, livelihood sources and so on). So, imagining a situation where our shelter is being destroyed not only destroys our personal comfort – it also demolishes the total structure of social, economic and cultural spheres. This is because here, both the personal and collective spheres get devastated.

Now, the action of destruction often comes with the rationale of priority. If we go with the contemporary, preferred rationale of the majority with material and political power, they obviously move in the direction where there are more sources of gain, to further multiply their arenas of power. Their ‘ethical lust’ is not centred on the preservation of ethical, cultural, social and ecological properties of the collective. Rather, it is bent on treating every minute element as a source for attaining an individualistic goal. The decision-makers, who are in the powerful position of moulding the circumstances of the social milieu, often seem to go with their preference of their personal rationale – thereby overpowering the rationale of the collective.

Thus, when 408 or more houses were destroyed by the state government as part of an eviction process in the Amchang protected forest area in Guwahati, it reflected the preference of playing with the social equilibrium of people. These were mostly Mishing people from the flood-prone areas of Lakhimpur, Dhemaji and Majuli districts of Assam, who had left their native places due to flood-related problems. The rationale for the eviction, according to the authorities, was that the ecological equilibrium of the forest which was being destroyed due to ‘illegal human sheltering’, needed to be protected.

The protection of ecological equilibrium and wildlife, and the conservation of natural resources and protection are of course immensely important. But, these considerations usually get overlooked when it comes to allowing a powerful authority to encroach upon the many-such forested areas to imprint them with their materialistic establishments. This is a hopelessly-bitter truth of a stratified society, where hypocritical measures are often favoured to further the individualistic goals of the authority in power.

However, this is also the time to go slightly beyond these double-standards. Efforts should be made to strive for the collective good – and to look for a sustained solution to this unpleasant interaction between human desires (for creating or producing subsistence) and nature and the animal world (which are being exploited by the human drives).

The intellectual minds in the decision-making power can ponder upon the need for diversified natural, social and cultural milieus. This means that using the same kind of model of upliftment, for socio-economic issues and ecological issues, is not sustainable. Thus, area-specific scrutinies, analyses and planning, which will definitely focus on the native human population and the nature in the area.

Amchang Reserved Forest eviction drive (Image source: Lokash Chanda/Facebook)

There is a need to prepare pragmatic plans and programmes with policy guidelines for the rehabilitation of people affected by floods and erosion. Such plans also need to be made for people who have lost their lands and livelihood. At the same time, in the case of evacuating people from reserve forests or protected areas, there must be a proper plan for rehabilitation, particularly of indigenous communities.

Moreover, it is evident that the circumstances of the areas witness changes – and these come with various new ecological, social, economic and ethnic problems. In many ways, the universal problem of climate change triggers these problems. So, untimely floods are one of the problems in Assam.

But, moving people from flood-prone areas to a safer area, or, the construction of temporary rescue shelters, will not solve the bigger issue. Moving people from their native places will definitely build up psychic or emotional guilt for departing from the collective social, cultural and moral consciousness of the native place. Being the social animals they are, the displaced people will definitely suffer from identity crises by staying far away from the collective consciousness.

Removing the people and their shelters from protected areas will never serve the greater purpose of ecological equilibrium. There is a need to adopt a broader perspective of inclusive decision-making by situating oneself away from hypocritical standards.

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Featured image source: Lokash Chanda/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.

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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.

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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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