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The Deplorable State Of India’s Nurses Should Be A Cause Of Worry

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The death of Lini Puthussery because of the Nipah virus should have thrown the spotlight on the precarious lives and living conditions of the nursing community in India, but beyond mere sympathies and as a news item and TRP booster for TV channels, nothing else has come out of her heroic sacrifice. The Government of India and Kerala seems to have already moved past her death. No cure has been found for the virus yet, even though outbreaks of the virus have happened in the past. In spite of this, Lini and other nurses were forced to attend to the people who had contracted the virus at the risk of their own lives.

What nurses do is social and community service and I have observed that such people are treated with far less respect than they deserve to get. Arvind Kejriwal is probably the only head of any state India has ever had with a distinguished background and credibility of social service (for which he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award), yet people do not seem to have much respect and regard for him. Same goes for the nursing community as well. Hospitals are the only places where people forget all divides and unite irrespective of age, gender, skin colour, caste and religion and nurses are the guardians of these hospitals and the angels who sacrifice their lives taking care of the patients.

But I grew up seeing guys eager for hospital visits if anyone they know are sick, to eat food from the hospital canteen at the expense of the relatives of the sick person and to ogle at nurses. Nurses are treated as so downtrodden that most of them become extremely strong mentally and emotionally otherwise they wouldn’t be able to survive without any self-esteem. Nursing is a profession that is always in demand and the need for qualified and experienced nurses is perpetual. This has propelled millions of families in Kerala to educate daughters in their households in nursing courses with the hope of sending them abroad for jobs. The onus of taking these families out of their dire situations and bringing prosperity are burdened on the shoulders of these young girls. Their trouble doesn’t end here though. Many men look to marry these nurses working abroad as their visa to a life abroad without having to work and earn, a fact that has been highlighted satirically in many Malayalam movies.

Nurses and soldiers belong to the same category of citizens of any country, the ‘Expendables Community’. They are the ones who are supposed to lay down their lives in the line of duty to protect the people of the country. It is said that the people of the country sleep in peace because of the soldiers who protect the country’s borders. I have often wondered, from what or whom? Apparently, India does not have a friendly relationship with China, yet I got the visa to travel to Shanghai to do a one year MBA course with an international business school. I have made many friends and contacts there and the hostility between countries never extended to the human to human level. This hostility is limited only to government and political levels and soldiers have always had to give up their lives at the behest of the rulers of the land.

But the nurses partake in wars at a very different level. The war of survival of humanity. These are wars every living being is part of in nature, to survive and be a dominant species. We still do not know the purpose of more than 90% of our DNA which clearly shows how little we know about the bacteria and viruses that inhabit our world and their evolution. The more medicines we are finding for diseases the more viruses are becoming resistant to medicines along with evolving themselves into new unknown strains. The war we are waging with nature is for the survival of our species rather than for victory and nurses are the pawns who are sent out to the front to protect us and die for us.

It is the nurses who deserve the highest respect and honour any country can bestow upon its citizens. Instead, they are struggling because their profession is one of the lowest paid in India and not every nurse gets to make a living abroad. Many of them are not even getting enough salaries to repay the educational loans they have taken to study the nursing courses. The country should not forget the poignant letter Lini wrote to her husband before her death and her sacrifice should not go in vain. The Government of India should honour her with the highest possible civilian award and the Government of Kerala should extend it’s support to her family and children in every possible way. This I believe will be the stepping stone towards a brighter and dignified future for the nursing community of the country.

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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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