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Let’s Admit It! There’s No Space For Environmental Concerns In India’s Political Agenda

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With 2019 Lok Sabha elections are around the corner all the political parties are gearing up to get the pulse of the voters and likewise devise their electoral strategies. However, there isn’t much for the political parties to assess as issues around religion, caste, poverty, and corruption capture the political imagination of the country. This set pattern of agenda has been picked up by the all political parties since independence. Focus on other developmental issues has largely been absent.

Further, the media too plays its role in influencing voters’ minds by discussing topics around a political ideology of the party they support. Hence, we hardly get to listen to sensible debates on topics around welfare and development. Among this chaos and fixation with selected topics, issues like environmental protection get neglected. None of the political parties ever takes up this issue in their debates and election pitches.

Today, thick smog engulfs the national capital, and except condemning the situation, we have no other choice, because people in Delhi have still not understood that until we ask our governments to take stringent actions to combat with the situation, they will not even start thinking about it.

In 2015, the Supreme Court directed the Delhi Government to collect the Environmental Compensatory Cess (ECC) from the vehicles entering in Delhi. The amount collected from this cess was supposed to be used for the mitigation of Air Pollution in Delhi, by introducing technologies etc. However, the RTI query revealed that the Delhi Government had collected somewhere around Rs 700 crores through ECC but they completely failed in utilising this fund for the intended purpose, and none of us cares about it.

Experiences from other cities are also not encouraging. Bangalore’s primary water source Varthur lake is completely polluted, but except few people, there is hardly any public protest on this. Similarly, Hyderabad’s Hussain Sagar Lake and many other cities are facing acute environmental degradations.

Shockingly, the Centre had collected funds of more than Rs 75,000 crore for environmental protection, but it has not been used till date. In January 2017, Rs 56,000 crore meant to fight climate change had been already diverted to states to compensate their losses under Good and Service Tax (GST) regime. All these issues do not bother the voters at all, and therefore, important agenda’s like environmental protection has been completely wiped out from the discussions.

It is unfortunate that India isn’t showing any seriousness towards tackling climate change at a time when several countries across the world have been making significant efforts in addressing environmental issues. In the past few years some political groups have come up to voice their concern for environmental protection, and the most successful example is the emergence of the Dutch Green Left party, GroenLinks. The GroenLinks was formed in 1989 after the merger of the traditional left parties, and since its formation, the party has been putting the environment-related issues forward in the mainstream politics.

However, the first major victory for GreenLeft had been reported in 2017 Dutch national election in which GroenLink got 8.9 % vote share and managed to win 14 seats in the central assembly. The man behind GroenLink success was its prominent leader Jesse Klaver. Klaver campaigned and roamed around the University Campuses of Leiden, Utrecht, Maastricht, Rotterdam, etc. He discussed with students about the environment-related issues like clean energy, cutting down on thermal coal plants, levying taxes on the polluters, ending subsidies for fossil fuel usage and rewarding and promoting research and development of clean fuel, etc.

Now, if we compare India with the Netherlands, it is very difficult to find any politician who talks about environmental protection and climate changes. This is also because people themselves don’t realise the gravity of this issue. The public debating spaces, especially Indian universities, too deliberate majorly on traditional issues. The politically-motivated student groups are pouring the same conventional problems in the university atmosphere. Thus the importance of environmental protection is not visible. Although, it is undeniable that ecological degradation is a matter of greater public concern and its devastating effect is evident in India as in other parts of the world. In spite of that, the debates and discussion on this topic are still restricted only among the civil societies, few policymakers and academic researchers. Uttarakhand floods, Delhi smog, Mumbai rains, among many others are some examples of the impact of climate change. But, unfortunately, no one is talking about it in general debates, and that is why our government is also not serious about it.

In India, if we want to raise the issues of environment and climate change the universities have to take the lead and try to mould the perceptions of the people towards the environmental issues and bring the green agendas into the mainstream politics. GroenLink victory in the Netherlands is a positive sign which is setting the trend across the world to put forward the green issues in the political manifestos. The paradigm is also shifting towards the demand for sustainable development across the globe. This is also evident from the facts that the more and more new political parties are emerging out with a call to protect the planet. Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UPP) is perhaps the only political party from India which has formed along the lines of GroenLink and may look forward to driving an eco-friendly agenda in the forthcoming elections.

About Author: Rohit Kumar is an advocate at Supreme Court of India and a Fellow at All India Professionals’ Congress. Kumar also appeared for the Delhi Government in the MC Mehta (Delhi Pollution case) pending before Supreme Court of India.

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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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