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As A Girl From The Andaman Islands, My Experience Of Rural India Was An Eye Opener

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This is a story of an unexpected experience that showed me a life that is different from my homeland – the Islands of Andaman & Nicobar.

Since my childhood, I have loved travelling to new places and experiencing different ways of living. But unfortunately, I never got the chance to visit rural India and experience it. When I did get the opportunity to live in the village of Som, in Rajasthan, which is also known as Chotta Kashmir for its inherent beauty, I was thrilled and excited to see the roots of our nation.

My day started at 6 in the morning, as I had to run to the bus stop by 7 because the only bus that went to the village that I worked in, started at 7.30 AM. I was always lucky to get the window seat, and every morning I lived the beauty of rural India. The 40-kilometer journey was filled with green fields and mud houses. There were kids walking towards their schools and women carrying wood for fodder and fuel.

During the few initial days, I went around doing my own thing, but when the community heard that I was from an island, they asked me “Ek jal pari registan mei kya kar rahi hai? (What is a mermaid doing in a desert?)’. I would laugh and explain that I was there to work with them and to find solutions to their problems.

On all my visits, I realized that the people in villages did not care about what was going on beyond their village borders; rather they did not have the time or interest for that. All they needed were the bare necessities required for a living. But, it was disheartening when I was told that it was the women who did the majority of the work and the men did not contribute much to the household.

Women usually woke up by 4 in the morning to go to the forest and collect firewood. Once they were back, they walked another 5-6 kilometer to fetch water. They also cooked for their families, looked after their children and worked on their fields. And despite being the sole caretakers of the family, women were abused and disrespected by their husbands and in-laws.

I never imagined that the beautiful rural landscapes would also have a pretty ugly side to them. It came as a shock, but then I also realized that such incidents existed due to the lack of awareness and literacy in the rural regions of our country.

Unfortunately, the region also saw a lot of underage marriages. Once I asked a 15-year-old girl who was already married, “Why did you get married so early?” Suddenly, her father-in-law, who was also present there, retorted, “A girl should get married at an early age and take care of kids and in-laws. What will she get out of studying?” I learnt that girls in this part of the country did not have a right to study or to marry when they wanted to; they had been given the responsibility to look after the cattle and take care of their siblings.

In the village of Som, most of the houses are made of mud and don’t have electricity connections. The density of the population is very high, and even though there is a Primary Health Centre (PHC) close to the village, the doctor is unavailable most of the times.

When I asked an old man from the village, what he did in his free time, he replied, “We play with our grandsons and granddaughters”. You might wonder why I’m trying to establish a connection between free time and grand-children. The reason is that every household has 6-7 children and the concept of family planning or over-population has not yet reached the villagers. The old man also mentioned “We don’t have electricity and no source of entertainment. So kids play around, laugh or cry, and we spend our free time watching them”.

It turns out that due to the lack of entertainment and awareness, giving birth to children was neither tough nor a big deal for the community members. Women anyway did not have a say and the men never thought clearly on how they would provide the kids with a better life while earning a meager income of 4000 to 5000 rupees per month.

Because of the many atrocities faced by women in rural India, there have been cases where women either elope with other men or divorce their husbands, which results in problems for the children. Often, young girls drop out of school to take care of their siblings, and boys start consuming alcohol or start smoking from an early age. The wheel goes on as these children grow up to follow their elders’ paths.

Featured image for representation only. Source: Pixabay

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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.

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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.

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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 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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