Environmental Empathy: Innovating With The ‘Khudai Khidmatgars’

What Is At Stake?

Hello, world!! Climate change is an undeniable truth with far-reaching ends. NASA, the National Academy of Sciences and every major scientific organization recognizes this. Indeed, 97% of climate scientists worldwide agree that climate change is real and driven by human activity. In the scientific world, that is the consensus.

Where In The World?

In September 2019, Secretary-General António Guterres will convene a Climate Summit to bring world leaders of governments, the private sector and civil society together to support the multilateral process and to increase and accelerate climate action and ambition. He has named Luis Alfonso de Alba, a former Mexican diplomat, as his Special Envoy to lead its preparations. The Summit will focus on key sectors where action can make the most difference—heavy industry, nature-based solutions, cities, energy, resilience, and climate finance. World leaders will report on what they are doing, and what more they intend to do when they convene in 2020 for the UN climate conference, where commitments will be renewed and may be increased.

Who Are The Khudai Khidmatgars?

The past few weeks have certainly seen some interesting developments in the Khudai Khidmatgar organisation. What started with close to 50 members, eight years ago on January 20, 2011, on Frontier Gandhi’s death anniversary—this registered trust now has almost 25,000 members, strong and growing with every passing day. On January 20, 2011, on the occasion of Frontier Gandhi’s 23rd death anniversary, 50 volunteers under the leadership of Faisal Khan, took the initiative of reviving Khudai Khidmatgar, by taking the oath to serve the humanity without seeking any worldly desire.

Faisal Khan, a Gandhian, is a grassroots activist attached with National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM). He has revived the “Khudai Khidmatgar” (Servants of God’s Creation), an idea which has at present caught the imagination of the entire country. Khudai Khidmatgar (KK) was a movement started by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, well known as Frontier Gandhi, in the 1930s to fight British rule through Satyagraha (Non-Violent struggles).

In the past years, KK has played a crucial role in stimulating communal harmony. The organisation has also worked for peacekeeping and rehabilitation practices in various fields and cases. More recently, Khudai Khidmatgar made an important contribution towards women empowerment in the region of Mewat, Haryana by starting a vocational centre on March 15, 2017. But with each passing day, issues have multiplied manifolds.

What’s Good In The News?

The organisation has started one of its kind of “Climate Therapy”. To everyone’s question, “What a single life is worth”, the members of KK unanimously declare, “it is capable of uplifting another”. The two most novel movements started by KK have been the “Sadbhaavna Plantation Drive” which goes with the theme TreeForHarmony. The backdrop of the whole idea goes by saying that each sapling/tree denotes a hope, life and something beyond. A tree planted by an individual is hope for harmony and brotherhood. As it is well said by Rabindranath Tagore, “The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.”

The Drive kickstarted from the Southern parts of India and has reached the Northern states now. People’s participation not only shows their zeal for the environment but also how empathy works. The second novel step in this direction was the #BooksForAll campaign. KK has received textbooks, novels and competitive exam preparation materials from people with diverse backgrounds. If anyone wants to contribute to this campaign, then one must note that KK is initiating two targeted plans:

  1. To conserve the environment through the mode of recycle, reuse and reduce.
  2. To help the children from disadvantaged communities.

Following the 3Rs: Recycle, Reduce and Reuse, KK is trying to contribute to the circular economy by continual use of resources. It is, therefore, a pressing need today that regardless of the ideologies, vision and mission, Self Help Groups, NGOs and Community service centres should share a common concern for the environment. As Gandhiji has very aptly said, “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed”. Let’s rise above hate and gear up in our own ways to serve each other and spread ripples of empathy.

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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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