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Want To Make A Difference In The Society? Stop Being ‘Neutral’

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis” – Dante Alighieri 

Every time I read this statement a sense of regret dawns upon me. It tends to evoke the guilt accumulated so far in my journey of life that had been cleverly obscured by the denial mechanism of my brain. The guilt of being – neutral! For every Indian middle class, this inherent sense of neutrality flows in their blood. We are implicitly taught not to take sides, even if we can clearly demarcate between the wrong and the right.

The credit behind the propagation of this mystical conviction could be given to the years of suppression and injustice promptly served to the right-doers. Be it Ravana or Duryodhana, they led a merry life until the climax of the story, but the protagonists of these great epics have paid years of exile as the sacrifice for not being neutral. The wisdom these great epics impart to every generation that has revered them has explicitly been-‘Dharma always triumphs’. This truth has only been partially emanated, the actual version being “Dharma always triumphs if taken its side!”

The first incident that initiated change into my thinking process was when my Class 8 moral science teacher taught me the story of “The great disciple: Ekalavya”. This story left me desolate and to contemplate its moral – “A culminated level of a student’s dedication to his guru.” Being born in the 21st century, it was not an easy task to digest the “overwhelming gratitude” the story portrayed. I rushed to my father with teeming curiosity and a myriad of thoughts. I searched his eyes for an appropriate reciprocation when a smile slowly spread across his face. He replied:

When Vysa Maharshi wrote the Mahabharata, his holy intention was to enlighten the mankind on numerous life circumstances through storytelling so as to diminish the complexity. He, in fact, did the lighter part of the work and left the remaining diligent tasks into the readers’ able hands. He required the readers to differentiate or comprehend between the right and wrong and to understand situations wherein one should not let go the Dharma! Vsya has left spaces after every major incident that has occurred, and these spaces hold significant importance. They are to be filled by each reader by providing a conclusion on how effectively justice was served in accordance with their perspective of the event.

He aimed to cultivate the habit of thinking amongst the readers. Progressing further, the story has been woven to push readers to the limits of their thinking capacities. However, in the contemporary era, this has been largely forgotten. Children are being forced to evaluate the tales from a single perspective and are hindered from making conclusions. Therefore, what I intend to say is that “The Mahabharata” is phenomenal and can be equated to supremacy as it allows the readers to develop the ability to absorb and to reach conclusions in the context of serving justice, thereby engaging in ethical decision making.”

His answers, to me, were like the first drops of rain in the indigent desert which raved to curb curiosity. Ever since then, I began to evaluate any stories/incidents based on my conscientiousness which in turn has assisted me in taking effective decisions in life.

Coming back to neutrality, I have decided to overlook the preconceived notion, and to look beyond!

On November 8, 2016, one major incident had turned the country upside down and had a devastating effect on people’s life. “Demonetisation had struck”. A large section of the country went against this decision and called it a “monumental blunder”. In my eyes this incident made me see an empowering leader! –Narendra Modi. He has topped my list of one of the most inspiring leaders India has ever witnessed – for he chose not to be neutral.

Corruption had its roots deep in our economy and was slowly permeating into our social lives. It was indeed imperative to take a disruptive step against it. The Modi government had executed it in the most conscientious manner. There was to be an inevitable initial struggle. The impacts of demonetisation are well explained with the following example. An injection that instils a temporary yet excruciating pain is administered to cleanse the body of all the harmful bacteria. However, we would curse the doctor whilst in pain, only to thank him a billion times for the rewards later.

In a nutshell, my perpetual notion has been clearly one thing which I wish to express through the lines of my favourite fictional character, Hercule Poirot, “It is the brain, the little grey cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within – not without.” 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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