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Trade-Off Between Development And Environment Caused Kerela Floods

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Madhav Gadgil has become a hero of late, among certain sections in Kerala. The report submitted by a panel headed by him had designated the entire hill range (Western Ghats) as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA). I’m not an ecological expert and am no one to comment on the merits and demerits of the report. But, there are certain political implications for the narratives spun around this report. And that requires a close reading.

There’s no question that every state in India has to comply with environmental safeguards. After all, disasters don’t differentiate between opposing camps – be it politics or environmentalism. However, since all of civilisation is built on the premise of taming the environment (from agriculture to industry to housing), we also need to understand that environmentalism as ‘preached’ in India cannot be severed from its politics.

Among all the prominent environmentalists in India, very rarely do you come across a Dalit or an Adivasi. There’s a reason for it.

Most post-colonial environmental critiques point to colonialism as the reason for environmental degradation. It’s not that there’s no truth in it. But the counter-narrative cannot be an essentialist reading of pre-colonial environmental sensitivity. Madhav Gadgil in some of his studies, for instance, even justifies caste as a system of ecological adaptation, obscuring the way in which the same system dehumanised large sections of the population – not just after Europeans colonized this land, but even before.

In any society, nostalgia is popularized by its aristocracy. And several Indian environmentalists hark back to this nostalgia. I cannot imagine what kind of nostalgia the oppressed classes have about their past. But whether it’s their resentment or nostalgia, one thing is certain – a nation will never project that as its glorious past. The golden past of a civilization always implies life as reported by its aristocratic ancestors. From that point of view, even the resistance against Hindutva (an aristocratic conception of how Indian society should be structured) by other upper-class members could be interpreted as the fight of the benevolent aristocrats, who stand up for its underclass, against the malevolent ones. And mind you, not even the most benevolent ones have Dalits and Adivasis in their closest circles – at least, it’s very rare. It typically remains a club of the “sensible” haves, who have probably read their Marx, Foucault and Fanon.

Environmentalism in India is deeply entwined with a certain traditionalism which ultimately plays into the hands of today’s fascist politics. Many politically naïve liberals fail to read this. Here’s Anand Neelakantan writing in the New Indian Express: “Traditionally, Kerala had given a lot of respect to environment… Every house had a serpent grove and a pond bordering it. The belief was that one should not even take a twig from the sacred grove. People feared that anyone who violated this sacrosanct rule would die of thirst. This created a chain of mini forest all throughout the state. It was a unique way of tying up belief with environment protection… This belief has helped in preservation of some sacred groves in Malabar. The wave of rationalism that swept during the communist movements in the 60s and the collapse of the joint family system ensured large-scale destruction of such groves. It was progressive to destroy the groves and liberate people from the superstitions. I have lovely childhood memories associated with the groves where fantastic creatures like Yakshi, Madan and other supernatural forces lived. These were destroyed to give way to houses or shops.”

It reads all nice and romantic, doesn’t it? You see, “Every house had a serpent grove and a pond bordering it.” Every house! And everyone had a house! Through one wistful passage, Neelakantan transforms his childhood into the childhood of every Keralite, with a serpent grove and a pond bordering it. Oh yes, every Pulaya and Paraya in Kerala had houses with serpent groves and ponds. They were all invited to upper caste houses and served food in their dining rooms. There was no untouchability and all of them had such a lovely time with Yakshi and Madan and other supernatural forces. Sigh! And what destroyed this romantic past? According to Neelakantan, and perhaps many others who miss this glorious past, it was “the wave of rationalism that swept during the communist movements of the 60s” – when the downtrodden told their feudal masters that enough was enough, it was payback time. But those who miss the past also miss the irony embedded in the past.

Environmental concerns are real. There is a science, and states need to take note. Prioritize what matters: safety, disaster reduction, jobs and equity. However, the measures that the states take should never be at the cost of the sustenance and progress of those at the bottom. Most importantly, let’s learn to sift scientific facts from romantic narratives. Because most times people fall for the narrative than for the science. And that helps a certain kind of politics.

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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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