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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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