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Two Temples In Assam Are Leading The Fight Against Plastic Pollution

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We discuss problems of waste in day-to-day life but our discussions disappear helter-skelter in cities. We blindfold our eyes, spritzing fragrance, covering up our nostrils to flee the lethal smell of decomposed wastes that we are producing. I wonder how recklessly the municipal communities are ignoring the problem of mounting waste in our cities.

Even schools and colleges have failed drastically to induce an applied ecological etiquette among their students and when I explore reason of such serious educational decline I find that there is a collapse in the structure of environmental education in our academic institutions. Administrative reluctance and academic ignorance have seriously affected communities at different levels of awareness and capacity building. We are becoming adapted to living in a situation of such ecological crisis of towering waste which is now a serious health hazard and a community conflict. Neither municipal bodies nor communities are conscious of different Waste (Management and Handling) Rules enshrined in the Environment Protection Act. This is a grave state of affairs where we are working on uplifting and upgrading the urban quality of life as an integral part of Human Development Index/HDI but standing at 177 among 180 Countries in overall Environment Performance Index/EPI.

Of the amount of waste collected globally, plastic waste comprises 50% and this is the major reason why Sustainable Development Goal number 11 addresses sustainable cities and communities. We have been measuring the high level of plastic waste in our ecosystem every year since 2015. Now, countries have 12 years left to fulfil promises they have made under the SDGs.

I have been writing about how our local self-governments violate Plastic Waste (Management & Handling) Rules 2015 and how even communities don’t know about their rights and duties.

But to say that the entire country has apparently been failed is not true. There are some hard working politicians, policy makers, planners, organizations, youths and communities who are contributing to counter plastic waste.

Our religious places are a prominent source of single-use plastic waste in India where millions of devotees come to pay their trust. There are a lot of religious structures alongside rivers, ponds and hills. Most religious trusts lack the ability to manage plastics and the waste generated therewith.

One Guwahati based organization in Assam comprising of youths from diverse fields of environment, engineering, economics, humanity etc, has been working on eradicating single-use plastics and educating youths, students and communities to generate applied awareness and capacity building to stand firm against the use of plastics.

While talking to Moharana Choudhury, an eminent member of Voice of Environment behind this entire work plan, he replies that they have an official agreement with two major temple trusts – Kamakhya Temple and Basistha Temple through a memorandum of understanding to create a ‘Clean, Eco-Friendly Plastic Free Zone’ within the temple premise. While elaborating the plan, Mr. Choudhury explains that they have made a separate communication with priests, vendors and communities around temples. They nominated volunteers for this holy cause.

Kamakhya Temple is one of the holiest ‘Shakti-Peetha’ in India where thousands of devotees arrive from all over India daily to worship. The organization is working through a chain of volunteers who have been appointed to discharge different duties – standing at all entry gates to pledge visitors not to bring plastic bags inside the premise of the temple. They are using loudspeakers, hoardings, personal pledges and other means of communications to stop plastics inside temple’s premise. The organization conducts an extensive programme of generating awareness apart from picking up plastic trashes in collaboration with Chief Priest (Bor Doloi), Temple Trusties, Other Priests, Municipal Body, Vendors, communities and devotees. Recently they organized a  programme on Earth Day in Kamakhya Devi Temple.

Team Voice of Environment organized two of parallel sessions in Temple Basistha, Guwahati and Public Higher School, Karimganj in Assam, on beating plastic pollution on World Environment Day. Basistha temple is located right beside a stream of river Basistha Ganga which flows through Guwahati City as Bharlu. River Bharlu is almost dead and it has become a choked sewage channel now which a huge load of plastic waste of the entire city into River Brahmaputra near Deepar Beel, a Ramasar designated wetlands of international importance.

Dr. Dhrubajayoti Hazarika, ACS and Circle Officer, Dispur, Bor Doloi Grindramohan Sarma, along with Dr. Sulekha Chakraborty, eminent social worker and Temple Police-in-charge, vendors witnessed this occasion which opened the way for the temple authority to impose a strict ban on the use of single-use plastic within the premise of Basistha Temple. Voice of Environment Members Moharana Choudhury along with McDonald Choudhury, Minakshi Dutta and Kanhaiya Poddar successfully presented a collaborative roadmap of a clean, eco-friendly plastic free zone within the temple’s premise.  Dr. Hazarika said, “Plastic is a cosmopolitan problem which chokes out our drainage system. We should avoid the use of plastics by carrying a cloth/recycle/jute bags.” The organization will continue monitoring volunteers on a day-to-day basis with a database to be developed that how much decline would be recorded in a quarter.

We need such focused contribution to fuel our communities and make them aware of their basic rights and duties. The role of communities is decisive in forcing our elected representatives when they are fully aware of laws in the fullest capacity. Hopefully, we will continue our fight against plastic pollution and we won’t stop till we come out with an easy alternative which doesn’t deteriorate our ecosystem.

Picture Credit: Voice of Environment
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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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