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An Open Letter To My New PM

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Dear Modi Ji,

Hope this letter finds you well. First of all, my heartiest congratulations for receiving the mandate of representing the world’s largest democracy for the second time. A democracy that comprises of citizens who represent diverse religions, caste, class, gender etc. So, the moment you take oath in the presence of  the honourable President of India, you will be not only Pandey Ji’s Prime Minister but also Khan Sahab’s Prime Minister. You will be representing Mukherjee, the priest who worships in the Maa Kali temple, and also Basfor, the safai karmachari who gets into the sewer to clean the waste coming out of the Lutyens.

Perhaps this year, we had the murkiest election season where politicians became too personal about their rivals, and the election commission (at times) had selective amnesia while terrorists and corrupts became victorious. In this election, the Mahatma was assassinated. In this election, a martyr was assassinated. In this election, even the heroic and selfless act of that brave Jawan was politicised – so that a politicians could get one more vote. We had TV cameras running after politicians, recording their punchlines, and in this circus (which even some of the distinguished journalists called ‘festival of democracy’), somewhere I find issues like berozgaari (unemployment), bhookmari (hunger), mahila suraksha (women safety), shiksha (education), swasthya (healthcare), etc. being invisible from the rallies and the bigmouths. Yes, we did have Nyunatam Aay Yojana (Minimum Income Guarantee), but it too could not retain much eyeballs. I blame it on the poor PR team of Congress or those Congress politicians who were either too lazy or too ignorant about it. Or blame it on the mainstream media or common masses who were too interested in listening to stories on Balakot strikes, and stories of nationalism – that they did not care about the scheme.

Our democracy, over the time, became a little weak. My elderly comrades may remember instances when our country, from being the world’s largest democracy turned into an autocratic regime overnight. When the most powerful politician of the state went on to pass an ordinance that not only deprived every citizen of this great nation of their basic human rights, but also killed the very essence of freedom which was envisaged by the founding fathers of this great nation. Reason why I am digging this history from the file that bears the words ‘Darkest Moments of Indian Democracy’ is that, I believe that our young nation already witnessed the appetite of hunger of the political class.

Today, some of the finest people of my heartland viz. Atishi or Kanhaiya or maybe your old friend and colleague Raju Anna Shetti have lost to people like Pragya Thakur or A. Raja. So, after this long election, all I can offer is a piece of advice from a young 23-year-old Indian. The last five years was your time to acquaint yourself with the setup of your honourable office. The last five years was also your political battle to establish yourself as a credible leader in front of the world. But today, your job is much bigger than a mere politician who is hungry for votes. Today, your role is that of a statesman who needs to represent India in front of the world with his statesmanship. And remember, you may rule India for the next 10, 20 or any x number of years, but make sure that you be the torch-bearer of world’s largest democracy and for no action of yours, you find your name in that file called ‘Darkest Moments of Indian Democracy’.

Let history remember you as a Chaiwala who was an Indian PM, who knitted Hindu, Muslim, Brahmin, Mushahaar, Saadhus, atheists in the garland of brotherhood/sisterhood. Let the next five years be years where no child will go hungry, where no child will be denied their right to education, where no citizen will die due to health negligence, where no government official will exploit a poor, and where no innocent will be lynched by an angry mob in the name of religion or caste. Let that India be achieved.

Also, I know that with the change in government, numerous government set-ups and political setups will be changed too. But as the leader of the nation, I hope you and your representatives will uphold the dignity of this democracy. Let the next five years not be infested with trolls. Let there be dialogues on socio-economic issues. Let our institutions strive with excellence. Let the ignorant policymakers attain knowledge. And let every section of the society (from an Ambani in Mumbai to a Tanti in Lanjigarh) prosper and live with harmony.

 

Sincerely yours,

Sumantra

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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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