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Whose Independence Are We Celebrating Anyway?

More from Divya Banerjee

It is that time of the year when we witness thousands of children on the street selling flags, badges and tricolor bands. Every year,  bloggers, writers, and journalists get their momentary fame by writing articles about these children and then disappear. In fact, I did not even have to invest time in wandering around capturing photos on the street. I just googled ‘children selling flags on street’ and found hundreds of pictures of poor children running amidst traffic trying to sell the tricolor flags.

Most of the corporations were busy on Tuesday ‘celebrating independence day’. They have the tricolor dress code, special menu, and celebrations. Everybody was seen dipped into the colors of ‘patriotism’ and clicking selfies at the workplace. I wonder if our nationality has come down to this.  The flags are bought from whole sellers and are distributed amongst all the street sellers. Children, women, elderly as well as people with disability, dressed in worn-out clothes, carry these heavy flags, running from signal to signal, knocking on rolled up car windows in the hope that they can sell it to those privileged enough to feel patriotic for a day.

While Independence Day for us is just another Holiday, when we get to dress up and relax, for the poor and the street vendors, Independence Day is no more than an occasion to have better sales of their merchandise. Sadly, not all of them are lucky enough to sell all of their merchandise. According to research, there are about 51,000 street children on Delhi streets. They work for almost 12 hours every day. Their major occupation is selling some product or the other on the street with the average income of Rs. 20-30 per day. Yes! You just had a samosa worth the amount of their daily income. The reason so many children are out there on the streets is due to poverty, family disintegration, urbanization, an inadequacy of resources and growing population.

There are about 20 lakh homeless children in India who suffer from various issues such as malnutrition, child labor, poverty, and lack of access to education. These children end up doing hazardous jobs in factories, are illegally employed in canteens, restaurants, construction sites, indulge in rag picking and selling newspapers and flowers at traffic signals. Are they independent? Do they have any concept of the freedom that so many people suffered through hell and many lost their lives to achieve generations ago? Or are they enslaved under the heaviest burden our civilization has ever faced: Economy.

If not, then whose independence are we talking about? When it comes to hypocrisy, Indian liberals and secular people are the best. No one in the universe can beat them.

The other day I went to a movie theatre and as per the ‘mandate’ had to stand straight during the national anthem. I would not call myself a patriot but I am definitely someone who does not want to get beaten up. Half-heartedly, I stood there looking at people standing in unison for the love of their country. When the movie ended and people made their way to the exit, I noticed the entire auditorium was a mess. Popcorn, wrappers, plastic bags, tissues, and leftover food were littered everywhere. There were only two staff members running around to clean the entire place as they had only five minutes before the next show started. If we really love our country and its infrastructure, why can’t we respect and keep it clean? On my recent visit to Ladakh, it was heartbreaking to see all these country loving patriots throwing garbage, plastic bottles, polythene bags near the famous Pangong Lake and other tourist spots. One could easily spot garbage near every waterfall and river on the way. We do not have the right to enter into somebody else’s habitat area and throw garbage and come back to the city announcing a great trip. It is not only the responsibility of the government but of each and every individual to promote responsible and sustainable tourism. We do not have any right to call ourselves Desh-Bhakts if we cannot respect our country.

Not just in the name of nationality, we create a mess during every religious festival. One of many such events is the one where people claim to do ‘seva’ on the street by offering free beverages. The people make sure to stand right in the middle of a busy street, stop every car and force them to drink a beverage. Disturbing the traffic and blocking the road is not considered to be a problem anymore in India. As Indians, we are used to it: sometimes due to a wedding, kawad yatra, frequent accidents, wrong driving and parking skills or just random cow/buffaloes on the street. What usually annoys me is the huge amount of plastic glasses thrown on the street! These activities meant for a ‘good cause’ by serving water to people once a year, leave behind a huge amount of plastic waste on the street adding up to the existing issue that our country is facing.

Also, during many festivals where Idols are worshipped, we immerse huge idols into the rivers every year.  So far the focus has been on who spends the most and builds the best idol and sets a record, rather than who will clean the pollution leftover afterward. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is not just for the government to achieve. Every human being has to contribute. Cleanliness will have to come out of the churches or places of worship like temples, gurudwaras and come to streets, parks, roads and our neighbourhood. Roughly half of our country has been turned into garbage dumps. Constantly polluting the same country that we claim to love, is that what freedom is all about? The pollution caused to the environment is something that we can still monitor and resolve, but the extent of pollution in the human mind neither has any bounds nor ways to be curbed. Violence in the name of nationalism and religion is not new. Nobody is aware or willing to counter this abusive environment as well as those abusive individuals. In this invasive stench of hyper-nationalism, many of us are failing to identify the dull fragrance of common sense.

These are the basic and prevalent issues that we come across on a daily basis. Let us not forget the recent research reports :

  • India has been ranked as the most dangerous country out of the world’s 10 worst countries for women, behind Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, according to a poll conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
  • Reports of India dropping to the 100th rank on the Global Hunger Index in 2017 has also surfaced recently. Not only are we behind Nepal and Bangladesh, but also lagging behind war-ravaged Iraq and North Korea, tying with Rwanda this time.

In the year 2017, there were about 31 lakh NGO’s, 7,000 crore CSR budget and numerous government policies in place, yet do we see any substantial development? Something that I ponder over again and again! Huge budget, huge availability of human resources, yet no visible development as per the outcome of recent research!

Let me not even get started on ‘Freedom of Speech’!

We overlook all the persistent issues in the country because we have accepted the harsh reality that we cannot do anything to change the present scenario. We are comfortable with our own lives and monthly salaries. We are too busy surviving each day to bring about a change to the nation that is going towards impending doom.

Is this how it feels like to be a Nationalist citizen of an Independent country? We were under the bondage of the British, and now we are under the bondage of poverty, darkness, and helplessness.

 ‘Happy Independence’ Day!

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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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