We Need To Stop Looking At Private Solutions For Public Problems: Vimlendu Jha

After listening to the thought-provoking session- “I vote for clean air” by Mr. Vimlendu Jha, an environmentalist and founder of Swechha, I was forced to think about the importance of clean drinking water and clean air that we often neglect. Hearing him at the YKA Summit made me realise that we all are aware of this, but we prefer to ignore it at this moment- because we have alternatives available. What we do not realize and what has been the pressing point for Mr. Jha as well as for almost 80% of our population, is the lack of access to private solutions that temporarily solve these issues. What’s even more interesting is that we do not care enough about doing anything to solve these problems. As Mr. Jha stated, “We look at private solutions for public problems”.

We have become dependent on private sources in order to get good quality air, water and ‘cleaner’ environment. He was saddened by the fact that names like sintex and aircon have become our survival resources, rather than working upon the upkeep of our natural resources.
Just the way children are sent to private schools because government schools are not considered good enough, government hospital visits are replaced by a costly visit to private hospitals, similarly, since we are not getting pure water and air we have got RO’s and air purifiers installed in our homes. But why don’t we think of planting more trees instead? Today, education, health, roads, transport, mobility, everything has a private solution.

Sharing some shocking statistics on the environment, he mentioned that India has 16 river basins, but 60% of us have no idea about which river basin we belong to. The reason behind this is the temporary private solutions that are easily available.

Air Quality Index

Since the last three years, air quality index has gone down drastically in Delhi. For almost three months in a year, the bad air quality shoots up to 800- 999 micrograms per cubic meter. It goes beyond this but cannot be recorded because the meter does not go beyond it, so we do not even know the actual statistics. Out of the total 500- 550 monitors available, only 300 places where air quality is monitored are in rural India, and 320 are in cities. Hence, we do not even know how polluted our air is.

One of India’s most credible reports on public health, Lancet, shares that 25 lac people died due to pollution in 2015, which is the highest in the world. Global Burden of Disease Report shares that air pollution causes more than 42 lakh early deaths, out of which 11 lakh occur in India alone. But people’s death certificates do not say that they died because of pollution despite all the numbers. We do not complain. We are not vocal about this. And if people do complain, what happens is the occurrence of the recent episode in South India where 13 people were killed, because they protested against a factory that was causing them cancer. “Is this the right to breathe air? Is this our democracy?”, questioned Mr. Jha.

Waste Management

He further questioned the political intent of the government, adding that the Swachh Bharat report claims Indore, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra to be the cleanest states. Supreme Court came heavily on these states that have been ranked the cleanest, as they do not even have a law on solid waste management.

Cutting down of trees

He further added that the Delhi government had permitted to cut around 16500 trees, to build houses for govt. officials. Everyone is cutting trees for some or the other reason and are ready to buy air purifiers without thinking about the long-term impact.

Air Pollution Impact

Every third child in Delhi has impaired lungs according to a report. All of us are aware and have acknowledged the fact that almost 30% of the air pollution is caused due to vehicular pollution, but we do nothing about it. This is evident from the fact that no public bus has been added in Delhi in last three years. 30 – 40% of the air pollution is caused due to dust particles, open burning of waste, landfills etc. but no one is doing anything about it except looking for private solutions.

He shared that we are so much involved in ‘bigger’ issues like building temples etc. that we fail to think, “ki saans kahan lenge (where will we breathe?), Iss par sarkaar charcha nahi karti (The Government does not talk about this).” It is not something we will face in the future, it is happening now. He concluded that the solution is not planting millions of trees, but to focus on how many of them survive, knowing the fact that there is a deficit of 9 lac trees that exist.

For constructing flyovers, smart cities, airports etc. much prevalent in smaller cities, more and more obstruction and destruction is taking place, which is terrible. If we continue to live our lives at this pace, and stop realising that the problem of air, trees, transport and waste is interconnected, we will need approximately 1400 sq. Km. space to throw our waste, which is equivalent to the area of Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

“We need to ask the government this question that where will then the waste go and how will you and I survive?”

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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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