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Friends Or Foes: Our Actual Relationship With Mother Earth

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Summer of ’69? Besides being a witness to few of the major events which occurred in 1969 –

On July 20, one of man’s crowning achievements occurred when American Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon and uttered the immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Bfore that, the Apollo 10 mission had also transmitted the first colour pictures of Earth from space. The US fought the Vietnam War and the last episode of the original “Star Trek” aired on NBC – titled, “The Turnabout Intruder”.

Another (then-major, forgotten-now) group that came into foreground was, “Friends of the Earth”. The group founded by Donald Aitken, David Brower and Jerry Mander were extremely passionate about environmentalism and human rights.

No, do not take me wrong – I am not here to tell you stories of the past. I am here, trying to make a consensus or may be, strike a deal (if that sounds better) between what we give Earth and what we expect in return – the barter that we are following for ages, intentionally or unintentionally for quite some time now.

“Friends of the Earth” – it is quite interesting to note how this title can be condensed to just being called, “FOES”. And it is even more interesting to note how each one of us, in particular, is as big a foe to Earth as any one of us in general.

So we were talking about striking the deal – now in business, when a deal is made, many aspects are studied. Analysts put all their Business intelligence to use, there are legal advisors telling you the legality of the contract – how to escape if you breach it and how you hamper the opposite party’s evasion if it breaches. Finances are structured to check that the capital invested gives the appropriate returns. Short-term profit is calculated, while a long-term profit is predicted and expected. Loss? Yes, you prepare well for that too by keeping in mind several mitigation techniques, appointing disaster analysts. So that is how a business deal is finally checked and if all looks good – consensus is drawn and partners are made.

The flow may, however, differ from the type of market in the picture.

A monopoly? This would be a state where there exists just a single supplier of particular commodity/commodities. This is – hands down – a case of imperfect competition since the supplier is the sole seller of goods with no close substitute. The term first appeared in Aristotle’s Politics (384-322 B.C.E. which describes the happy life intended for man by nature as he lived in accordance with virtue). Now that would be some real long forgotten past which we are delving into.

It is quite safe to say that all the sciences ultimately converge into one. Back in school when we read a term in a particular subject – we kept its meaning, significance and usage to that subject only. However, as we grew up – we started challenging the lateral thinking in our brains and started connecting the dots. We started examining the facts more closely whilst we made an attempt to knit them all together to find the answers.

Similarly, the monopoly in economics is the same in environmental science as well. Isn’t Nature and environment at large the sole supplier of the quintessential requirements which makes Earth different from all its siblings? Would you be willing to relocate to say a Jupiter, a Mars or a Venus? No. Why? Because it will not offer the same environment which you would need for your existence – they will not offer Life.

We are the consumers. We have always been the consumer. Mother Nature has been providing us with all that we need, most of the times, fulfilling even more than what is required.

You do your monthly rationing. You choose wisely and by the end of the month – you make wiser decisions. You cut out on your luxuries because you know that basic necessities should be met first else you will perish. So you will agree that rationing is important – spending less is better than having more than required. This way you strike the balance.

Do we allow the Nature to do the same, to rejuvenate and get back to us with all its vitality and vigour and serve our needs? No. And when Earth does the rationing for itself we see horrific events taking place – unexpected rainfall, snow in the month of May, floods that take away huge tolls of life, droughts and famine, animals experience a shift in their normal hibernating period, lightening – thunder and cloud bursts – Nature’s fury!

The barter arrangement which we have made with Mother Earth has adopted a unidirectional course. We keep taking from it, profit from all that it provides us. Despite the legal tenders and policies which exist, we still mock at them and behave recklessly in using our natural resources. We know that our escape route is clear – we make policies and we mar them – in this case, the opposite party will not speak up or collect evidence against us and drag us to the court of law.

One might wonder – I lead a normal life. I have a white-collar job. Eat healthy. Sing the “Save the Earth” saga 24/7. Turn off the lights when not in the room. Say ‘No to Plastic’. ’Celebrate all the Earth Days, read about biodiversity forums. Know my nature facts well. I am well versed with all the policies that we have adopted as a nation or are a part of. Take part in drawing room discussions and lament about the heat rise and dust storm in the NCR region. Make donations for the environmental fundraising and show solace when a farmer commits a suicide – I am a committed son to Mother Earth – or are you?

Scenario unravelled – You definitely lead a normal life and as an average normal individual you are contributing some good 20 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, so you are pretty high on the carbon footprints record. You have white collar job but the exceptional amount of carbon benefaction coming from you is enough to turn all your collars pitch-black. The moment you plug in you contribute to the CO2 emission since electricity = carbon dioxide.

Saying ‘No to Plastic’? Well done. If you have started this campaign, I request you to refrain from being a hypocrite. You are shopping at a mall and the cashier asks you to pay ₹5 or ₹7 extra for the cloth or paper bag since they are also for ‘Green Earth, Clean Earth’ and you willfully pay them and give a smile as a token of appreciation. Good, job well done! In the evening you go out to buy fruits and vegetable, the poor vegetable/fruit vendor asks you to pay the same amount or even lesser for the recyclable bags, you raise your eyebrows at him and turn into a fireball, you bargain even harder to compensate for the added price of the biodegradable bag. Epic fail, you could have done better than this!

On the contrary, now that you have taken up this campaign to end plastic use, please be well informed that plastic would not only mean the plastic bags which you receive from those poor vegetable and fruit vendors. This would include all the wrapping material which is used for those tasty quick bites and chips. And plastic is just a category to mention everything that is non-biodegradable – which will include the worn out laptops and desktops, the medical equipments that are no longer operational, the defective cosmetics (contains the highest amount of chemicals) and their packaging, the list would be never-ending.

Moving forward, I am certain your normal life includes a recreational trip for you and your family? As much as I love travelling – I feel sad to see people totally misunderstanding the term ‘wanderlust’. Wanderlust is only becoming popular because people see travelling as a therapy to evade for a moment from their dull monotonous life – they wander because they are lost.

Your yearly vacations add a lot of tourism revenue – generating good figures for our economy but in turn, it damages Mother Earth. The more a place expects tourism – the more development is carried out to cater to the needs of the visitors. Hoteliers cash in on this – they bring up major buildings and resorts in hills, food joints, adventure sports – forests are cut paving way for danger. Climate gets disrupted – the natural vegetation is at a huge risk due to the daunting human activities.

The sandstorms that the NCR region is experiencing was all because of the rampant deforestation in the Aravalli hills for business motives in Rajasthan and Haryana; The 2013 North India floods that still takes everyone in horror – are a couple of examples which reiterate the fact that Mother Earth is hurt and its fury will be catastrophic, that we shall have no respite if we don’t stop now.

So have you, have we, or has anyone of us been a good committed child to Mother Earth? No.

Besides the technological advances, Google, mobile phones and processed food, have we really left anything else for our successors? I do not mean to discourage the little that you are doing or are trying to do as a good responsible citizen but we really need to delve into our activities a little more and give it some retrospection – maybe contribute a little more.

A Psalm of Life, it always talked about leaving your footprints on the sand of time – while we continue increasing our carbon footprints, I am not too sure if that will be enough for us to be remembered. Even the water kept on a stove would finally evaporate if the gas is not turned off well in time – it is time we check our burners before we perish with a little chance to undo the action.

Earth needs our hug, are we willing to give it?

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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 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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