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The Quest For Bread And Butter Is Leading To A New ‘Quit India’ Movement

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It was sometime in 2013, on the border of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, that an American company had hired technicians to set up a small establishment on the Afghanistan side. CMB (identity withheld) had joined an American company as a boiler technician for a monthly emolument of US$1,000 (Rs. 50-52 thousand at the exchange rates prevailing then). Upon arrival, CMB found that the American company had run foul of the authorities and locals and decided to abandon its operations, leaving its employees to fend for themselves.

CMB, being an Indian national, was down to his last US$100 and was in need of help, but help did not come from the Indian legation based there. It came from an unlikely source.

The Americans had a aerial lifeline to bring in supplies, and men and women from USA travelled on the  trans-Atlantic military flights, which stopped at middle eastern bases for rest and refuelling before proceeding further south to remote bases in Afghanistan. This life line required no paper work to ferry men and women in and out of Afghanistan.

CMB had an added problem – his Visa had expired and he was told to travel to Kabul to get his visa renewed. Travelling in Afghanistan by road, especially for a foreigner, is a risk factor that is upped by several orders of magnitude, and most foreigners avoid local overland travel for fear of kidnap and assassination, which is an ever present reality. CMB was in real trouble and did not know what to do.

In the midst of all this turmoil, it was as if the helping hand of God had descended. The only functioning liquor bar at that outpost was in need of a barman and CMB conveniently filled the post with food and stay assured for a month. Now, the prospect of getting him out of Afghanistan to safety was of prime concern, and events took an unexpected turn when the American ferry flights agreed to take him on board on the condition that CMB would get off at Dubai, which CMB did and took a connecting flight to India.

Indian labour work in poor conditions in other countries.

Now, the question is, why do Indians venture into dangerous destinations to work for 40 to 50 thousand Rupees a month? CMB was not the only case encountered. There were a host of other Indians who filled in jobs like that of AC mechanics, cooks, washer-men, etc. at the US and Allied bases. The kind of jobs that the Americans and Allies were not interested in doing. Moreover, getting South Asian labour is cheap, and they can also be bullied, intimidated, forced to work overtime for pittance, shouted at, asked to do dangerous jobs all for US$1000.

If they die on the job, there will be no court cases or compensation. There is no mechanism in place for compensating those who die doing dangerous jobs. Inquiries about a dead worker are usually met with the reply, “There was nobody by that name here,” and there is no way to get to know how an Indian worker died in those remote places, unless the base commander decides to talk, which never happens as the running and upkeep of a military base is not his domain, but is outsourced to US-based contractors.

These contractors bring in the labour, who are restricted to their sleeping quarters and work area. They do not have the freedom to move freely about the base. There have been instances of Indians working as truck drivers in the Middle-East ferrying supplies to foreign military bases braving air strikes and ambushes.

Contrary to public opinion, well paying jobs are hard to come by in India. What is the definition of a well paying job? It is a job that provides food on the table, sends children to good schools, provides for medical emergencies, pays a housing mortgage and has some left over for a rainy day. But usually, that is not the case.

For a majority of the population on the lower end of the spectrum who cannot do more than drive or exercise guard duties, it is barely rent and food that they can manage. If the number of children in the household goes up, then food becomes a round-robin algorithm.

India 2020
Former president of India late APJ Abdul Kalam.

Former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam said that his mother used to go hungry to make sure he is fed. The harsh reality is that India neither provides education nor jobs to its ever-increasing population. Merely opening schools for children will not cut the ice as children will need motivation to study, they must be taught to think and there should be rewards associated for ground-breaking lateral thinking. Einstein, Isaac Newton, Gauss, Niels Bohr and Euler are not the prerogative of the West but were carefully nurtured by the West. They had an audience for their ideas and those who heard them welcomed them into their institutions. India is too far from such a paradigm.

If an Einstein or Newton were to take birth in India, our system would clip their wings and beat the ideas out of their heads. Hey, but what about Ramanujan? Oh yes, but he came to fame because the British took interest in what he had to say, and hence the world knew Ramanujan. Yes, there were CV Ramans, Bose and Chandrashekars and others, but for a billion plus population the number of people that stand out are small, and we should have had more ground-breaking ideas born in India than in the West.

The insane percentile race to get into premier institutions is staggering. What would happen if more and more people start getting 100% marks? On what basis would enter premier educational institutes? This clearly shows that our education system is geared towards rote learning and high marks rather than creativity.

We are creating the perfect labour for western civilizations. The West will create Facebook and Google and we will create CEOs for them. For those at the lower end of the spectrum, who cannot get their head beyond the basics, life is going to be one big struggle unless they are brave enough for the rough and tumble of politics; but most are not.

So, what is the moral of the story? If you need recognition, head West. If you want to feed your family, head West. If you want a well paying job, head West. If you got a great idea and want it implemented, head West. NRI is the name of the game. Did I hear someone say Quit India Movement?

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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.

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.

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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, 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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