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#BookExcerpt: The Search For Origin Stories Is As Old As Humanity

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Following is an excerpt from the book, Origin Story, authored by David Christian:

As a child, I could not make sense of anything unless I could place it on some sort of map. Like many people, I struggled to link the isolated fields I studied. Literature had nothing to do with physics; I could see no connection between philosophy and biology, or religion and mathematics, or economics and ethics. I kept looking for a framework, a sort of world map of the different continents and islands of human knowledge; I wanted to be able to see how they all fitted together. Traditional religious stories never quite worked for me because, having lived in Nigeria as a child, I’d learned very early that different religions offer different, and often contradictory, frameworks for understanding how the world came to be as it is.

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Today, a new framework for understanding is emerging in our globalised world. It is being built, developed, and propagated collectively by thousands of people from multiple scholarly fields and in numerous countries. Linking these insights can help us see things that we cannot see from within the boundaries of a particular discipline; it lets us view the world from a mountaintop instead of from the ground. We can see the links connecting the various scholarly landscapes, so we can think more deeply about broad themes such as the nature of complexity, the nature of life, even the nature of our own species! After all, at present, we study humans through many different disciplinary lenses (anthropology, biology, physiology, primatology, psychology, linguistics, history, sociology), but specialisation makes it difficult for any individual to stand back far enough to see humanity as a whole.

The search for origin stories that can link different types of knowledge is as old as humanity. I like to imagine a group of people sitting around a fire as the sun was setting forty thousand years ago. I picture them on the southern shore of Lake Mungo, in the Willandra Lakes Region of New South Wales, where the oldest human remains in Australia have been found. Today, it is the home of the Paakantji, Ngyiampaa, and Mutthi Mutthi people, but we know that their ancestors lived in this region for at least forty- five thousand years.

In 1992, the remains of an ancestor (referred to as Mungo 1) discovered by archaeologists in 1968 were finally returned to the local Aboriginal community. This person was a young woman who had been partially cremated. (1) Half a kilometer away, remains were found of another person (Mungo 3), probably a man, who died at about age fifty. He had suffered from arthritis and severe dental erosion, probably caused by drawing fibres through his teeth to make nets or cords. His body had been buried with care and reverence and sprinkled with powdered red ocher brought from two hundred kilometers away. Mungo Man was returned to Lake Mungo in November 2017.

Both people died about forty thousand years ago, when the Willandra lakes, which are now dry, were full of water, fish, and shellfish and attracted multitudes of birds and animals that could be hunted or trapped(2). Life was pretty good around Lake Mungo when they were alive.

In my imagined twilight conversations around the fire, there are girls and boys, older men and women, and parents and grandparents, some wrapped in animal furs and cradling babies. Children are chasing one another at the edge of the lake while adults are finishing a meal of mussels, freshly caught fish and yabbies, and wallaby steak. Slowly, the conversation becomes serious and is taken over by one of the older people. As on many long summer days and cold winter nights, the older people are retelling what they have learned from their ancestors and teachers. They are asking the sort of questions that have always fascinated me: How did the landscape, with its hills and lakes, its valleys and ravines, take shape? Where do the stars come from? When did the first humans live, and where did they come from? Or have we always been here?


1. On the history of these finds and the very different perceptions of them by archaeologists and those who live today near Lake Mungo, see the wonderful short documentary by Andrew Pike and Ann McGrath, Message from Mungo (Ronin Films, 2014). (Linked above)
2. Superb on the archaeology of inland Australia is Mike Smith, The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
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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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