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An Open Letter To PM Modi On World Environment Day

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To our honourable Prime Minister,

Greetings on World Environment Day! I would like to bring to your kind notice your reply highlighting India’s stance towards the climate change discussion at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia, in May 2017. Your speech gave hope to every Indian who dreams of a Bharat, where there is a harmonious co-existence between nature (prakriti) and man (purush). In the process, you also reiterated the Vedic philosophy that emphasises the underlying unity between all living and non-living forms of life.

However, certain measures, policies, and initiatives taken by the Indian government which starkly contradict the Vedic way of living you referred to in your reply to the US news anchor, Megyn Kelly.

In my opinion, these are the top three areas that require your immediate attention:

1. Agriculture – GM Seeds

While the West has a different approach to solving problems that involves scientific experiments based on hypothesis, India can turn to the ancient wisdom of the Vedas that provide insights into the problems faced by the human race. For example, scientists invested enormous funds in building a Large Hadron Collider at the CERN Research Institute near Geneva, Switzerland to detect a particle that is responsible for all physical forces. I believe that in the Vedas, this particle is referred to as the Hiranyagarbha (Golden Embryo) which appears in the ‘womb’ of an atom and is believed to constitute the foundation of creation by imparting mass to elementary particles. Scientists named their discovery as the Higgs-Boson particle or the ‘god particle’.

Analogous to the above example, the world faces the challenge of increasing the productivity of agricultural produce to meet the burgeoning demand for food of the ever-increasing world population. For this, countries in the West have resorted to scientific experiments and produced GM (Genetically-Modified) seeds, which are resistant to worms and other parasites.

But this invention has adverse effects which include crop contamination, the formation of ‘superweeds’ and lowering the fertility of soil over a period of time. More relevantly, these even threaten to destroy the indigenous farming cultures in India and other nations around the world. The WHO has already declared that five of the major chemical herbicides used to grow GMO crops are likely to be (or are definitely) cancerous. As of 2015, 38 countries had already banned the cultivation of GM crops. Many other countries have started to put regulations in place to protect their population and environment from the environmental and health damage caused by GM crops.

But India is eyeing GM foods as a solution to tackle the food crisis in the country. When India has its own ancient wisdom of ‘Rishi-Krishi’ (an ancient farming technique proposed by the rishis thousands of years ago to improve crop yield and its quality), why should India ape the solutions of the West – and an incorrect one at that too? Rather, I think India should resume its practice of the Jagadguru system, by which it can provide solutions to the world to end food crisis by means of ‘divine farming’, permaculture and eco-agriculture. All of these have been a part of the Indian lifestyle for many centuries together.

GM food is the perfect recipe to destroy the Indian culture that promotes sustainable farming. Thus, the introduction of GM seeds directly contradicts the Vedic philosophy that you had proposed in Russia. Encouraging GM crops in India contradicts the commitment of the government towards the conservation (savrakshan) and development (savardhan) of the natural resources in the country.

2. Deforestation

 

The development of infrastructure (roads, bridges, ports, power plants, real estate, etc.) serves as a driving factor for the nation’s economy – only as long as it maintains the sovereignty of the nation’s natural resources without adversely affecting the climate. The depletion of natural resources due to rampant industrialisation, urbanisation, mining and infrastructure development is turning out to be a huge cost to the nation.

In fact, India is paying a heavy price for deforestation – in the form of heatwaves, droughts, floods, imbalanced ecosystems, loss of natural habitats and the extinction of many species.

Here, the nation can learn from the Vedas, Manusmriti, Arthshahtra and several other ancient texts about sustainable infrastructure development. Vedic philosophy propagates the interdependence of five elements of nature – earth, fire, water, air, and ether (panchmahabhut) – in the lives of humans. Therefore, it can be argued with reasonable certainty that most (if not all) development activities during Vedic era – right from agriculture to constructions – took into consideration these five elements before planning their execution.  The consequences of this type of development led to the sustenance of clean air, fertile soil, unpolluted water – and overall, happy humans.

In this context, the rapidly-depleting forest cover in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh (among many others) conflicts with the promise made by Modi (during the St Petersberg interview) of delivering a beautiful earth to the future generations. In Mumbai, for instance, the state government has ambitious plans to destroy its only surviving green lungs in the Aarey Colony and the Sanjay Gandhi National Park by building metro car-sheds and tunnels, respectively. The mindless development of infrastructure – without considering the environmental impact – suggests that the decision-makers are completely naïve about the environmental consequences of their actions.

In my opinion, there are two ways to tackle the problem of unsustainable infrastructure development in India:

a. Sensitising the bureaucrats/public servants through compulsory training which involves developing a holistic approach to infrastructure development by understanding the scientific, socio-economic and policy aspects related to environment and resource management.

b. India needs a social-audit department (independent from the state pollution boards and environmental committees) comprising of environmentalists, scientists, local tribes, citizens and bureaucrats. The department should ideally identify and assess the environmental risk in a given infrastructure project, and grant sanctions to a project only if it meets the required environmental checks.

In absence of a proper framework to check rapid deforestation in India, India will ultimately be epitomized as a country that not only milks nature but also exploits in its full might.

3. Education

The promise of gifting our future generations a beautiful earth will not be fulfilled until we educate the present generation about the fundamental philosophy that has governed our land for ages. This philosophy entails a deeper understanding of the body, mind, soul and its connection with the universe.

Popularly known as ‘spiritual wisdom’, I believe that this knowledge is fundamental to any form of education. Children are taught about the mechanism of machines, but not about the most indigenous machine they have within themselves – their body and mind. The Vedas, Yogsutra, and the Upanishads are replete with the secrets of the human body and mind as well as the universal constitution. This allows us to have a deeper understanding about the interdependence between nature (jad) and the living consciousness (chetan). Furthermore, this knowledge develops a scientific attitude (vigyan) and creativity that is essential for an innovation-driven progressive economy. Most importantly, this ancient wisdom can produce bright, sharp, enthusiastic and happy children who will be the foundation for a beautiful future.

Thus, the introduction of Vedic education within the regular school curriculum should be of utmost importance if India wants to grow as an ecologically and environmentally-strong nation.

For me, these insights can be considered as a part of people’s participation in the growth of our nation – something that marks the success of a democracy as propounded by you.

I thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

An Indian citizen

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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.

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 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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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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