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My Visit To IKEA Reminded Me Of A Pilgrimage To Tirumala

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Long ago, I, along with my family, undertook a pilgrimage to Tirumala, the hill temple of Lord Venkateswara. We were part of a multitude of devotees who thronged the shrine to have a darshan of the Lord. We waited in successive compartments for several hours and thereafter made our way through long barricaded paths to reach the sanctum of the temple to have a glimpse of the presiding deity.

Ever since there has been a lot of change in my thoughts and beliefs and over time I became an atheist.

After many years I relived a similar experience when I visited the newly opened IKEA store in Hyderabad. On the third day after the store was thrown open to the shoppers, my wife and I rode our two-wheeler to reach the store. As we neared the store, a ‘Parking Full’ board greeted us. We managed to find a parking space a little distance away from the store and walked to its entrance. The people who thronged the mall were sent into separate compartments based on their gender and marital status – men, women and families.

After security screening, we were directed into long barricaded paths. The sight of the people waiting in serpentine queues reminded me of my long forgotten pilgrimage to Tirumala. Though we were right in the vicinity of the IKEA ‘temple’, we felt we were far away from the sanctum and the ‘pilgrim’s progress’ was proving to be long and arduous. On the way to the sanctum, we received free water bottles to quench our walking-induced thirst.

Finally, we entered the sanctum, the glittering store which appeared to be the very embodiment of the ‘free market’ shrine, in which the various ‘avatars’ of the presiding deity called consumerism – right from gleaming chairs to feather soft sofas – were on resplendent display. Even the models of heavenly spaces called IKEA living room and bedroom were on display. While all the pious devotees of the free market appear to have been captivated by the aura of the products that seem to last for an eternity, some less pious people, who were preoccupied with narcissistic love for transient bodies, were busy taking selfies. The shoppers, armed with their purchasing power, marched hand in hand with their children, who are already endowed with the status of being the ‘evolving consumers’ armed with their ‘nagging powers’.

I and my wife, with our lower-middle class mentality strongly entrenched in our minds, were reluctant to buy any things as we don’t have any space to put them in our two-room rented apartment. And the fact that we did not bring our highly brand conscious teenage son with unparalleled nagging abilities to the mall made us heave a sigh of relief. While we were moving around the IKEA abode, we expected to get some sanctified food, the famed Swedish meatballs in the 1000-seater restaurant. As the restaurant was already jam-packed, we could not derive the satisfaction of having partaken the prasad. Finally, we both exited the store without buying anything and without even relishing the meatballs making ourselves ineligible for attaining the consumerist Nirvana.

While exiting the store, I felt that religion and the free market society have many commonalities. They both have enormous power to control the masses by distracting them away from real issues. Religion, to exercise control over the people, shepherds them towards a mirage called God and frightens them with a stick called hell even while alluring them with the carrot known as heaven. The free-market capitalism uses the same technique. It controls the people by herding them towards an elusive ‘quality of life’ and offers them the comfort of consumption even while frightening them with the prospect of not being able to earn enough and clear their debts. Both of them piously safeguard the interests of the rich and the elite while solacing the have-nots with the promise of heaven and ‘trickle-down’, which remain ever elusive. Both religion and free market cause unending misery triggering prejudice, bloodshed, bubbles and recessions which ultimately show their impact on the have-nots, and let the rich and elite go scot-free. However, the high priests of religion and free-market – the clergy and the economists – keep telling us that there are no alternatives to these two things and they ultimately lead us towards spiritual and economic salvation.

So we have another mall, a superstore, which will become another shopping-cum-hang around place for rich and middle-class urban dwellers. In the absence of parks, woods or community centers they don’t have anywhere to go to derive recreation. The only places they can hang around are the malls, where they can indulge in retail therapy to de-stress themselves. And while going on a spending spree and bragging about their possessions on the social media, they are oblivious to the fact that they are triggering the feeling of relative deprivation among the minds of their not so well-to-do peers, which has the potential to trigger societal unrest.

Whether it is spiritual nirvana or consumerist nirvana, they only offer elusive heaven and high quality of life by creating things that add only cosmetic value to our lives. The true nirvana could be attained by creating real value to the society, which could be generated by investing in social infrastructure and adopting sustainable living practices. Then only we can leave this mother earth in good condition to the future generations.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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