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Battling 20-Hour Storms And More: 6 Kickass Women On A First-Of-Its-Kind Navy Mission

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“Six girls, six people, six egos in one boat. Yes, it was difficult. Even at home you aren’t with your own family 24 x 7, but here we didn’t even have a choice, it wasn’t like we could jump out of the boat. But by the end of it we became more positive to each other and more adaptable, we became a family.”

INVS Tarini . (Source: Indian Navy, used under Government Open Data License)

Indian Navy officers Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi and Lt Cdr B Aishwarya, part of Team Tarini, India’s first all women team to circumnavigate the globe on a sailboat, shared their experiences of their ground-breaking 40,000 kilometer voyage, Navika Sagar Parikrama, at a Vivekananda International Foundation think-tank, on September 27 in New Delhi.

There was no shortage of difficulties and tragedies for the six-member team. There were times when they had to battle a storm which lasted for 20 hours with winds speeds of 90 km/hr and six meter high waves. At other times, the lack of wind became a problem, when the sailboat wouldn’t move and they just had to wait it out under the scorching heat. Their on-board reverse osmosis plant for drinking water developed a fault so they had to harvest rainwater in buckets to replenish supplies until their next stop. They had to face a steering breakage, which resulted in a portion of the journey taking four times the normal duration. The monotony of the sea had to be reckoned with and the risks of such a voyage were numerous—fire, illness, a flooding boat, no cooked food, scorching heat, no hard land to rest, and no one to rescue them if something suddenly went wrong.

 

Despite such dauntless odds, they have become an inspiration for not only India as a nation and Indian women, but women from other parts of the world who also live in tough circumstances. They are also the first military all women team in the world to have completed such a voyage. It was an Indian Navy Mission so quitting was not an option, the skipper says.

But skipper Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi and Lt Cdr B Aishwarya add, they had a music system too and partied; they even celebrated the first birthday of the INSV Tarini. They celebrated Diwali on the boat and during stops they made friends everywhere they went.

Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi, Lt Cdr B Aishwarya and Director of VIF Dr Arvind Gupta.

What makes this an even more amazing feat is that although all six of Team Tarini are Navy Officers, 2 members of Team Tarini are education officers and 2 of them air traffic controllers, hailing from places like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Manipur, some never having been on a boat when they volunteered for the expedition in 2014. They were given rigorous training, so even before starting the journey they had completed 2600 hours of training and 21000 nautical miles at sea.

Navika Sagar Parikrama, the official name for their journey, is a part of a larger series of Indian navy expeditions which started in 2009 with Captain Dilip Donde being the first Indian to solo circumnavigate under sail which was followed by Commander Abhilash Tomy KC in 2012 being the first Indian to solo circumnavigate nonstop. The mission was also part of the Make in India scheme since INVS Tarini was completely built in India.

The ocean was our playground and the boat and sails our rackets and equipment; but here we are playing with our lives,” Lt Cdr B Aishwarya says. When asked what message they would like to leave for the younger ones they say, “Tell your own tales, don’t stay in your comfort zones and never stop exploring.”

On a humorous note at the end of the journey this happened: Sailboats don’t have an exact expected time of arrival. So before ending their journey in Goa they were told to hang around for a day near Goa because the Minister would arrive only the next day for the completion of the voyage.

Note: Compiled and paraphrased from hand written notes taken during the interaction.

Featured Image Caption and Source:  Naval Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba with the all women crew of INSV Tarini (Source: Indian Navy, used under Government Open Data License)
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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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