How Good Is The Indian Muse?

Well, what does it take to be a writer and what’s the utility of writing itself? Naturally, this should be the starting point of such a debate. If writing skills alone are sufficient to make a writer out of a man, wouldn’t there be many in a given language to master those skills? But writing is all about giving expression to one’s original ideas and a happy blend of the writing ability and the ability to think, never mind which is predominant, is what makes a writer. After all, if Flaubert embellished his thoughts with fluid French, the polish of the language did not back Voltair’s profound intellect, but yet they both enriched the French literature. And surely some of the bhasha literature couldn’t have been brought to the international attention because the flavour of the originals cannot be captured in English translations. But if not the beauty of the language, certainly the intellectual underpinnings of the writing shouldn’t be beyond the capacity of a translator to transcend into English.

The ultimate test of any writing would be its ability to influence social thinking to any degree. Wasn’t Rousseau’s Social Contract the harbinger of the French Revolution? What about Das Kapital that ushered in communism? Were those not Tolstoy’s writings that brought the serfdom to an end in Russia? If not for Dostoyevsky’s ingenuous arguments against capital punishment, would have much of the world got rid of it?

That none of them wrote in English and the translation of their works into it followed their regional fame should remove the misconception that writing in the regional languages is a handicap. Conceding that the lesser geniuses too are entitled to have a place under the universal English sun, what are the grounds then of the bhasha writers’ claim to fame?

That the human condition of the Indian society in their domain is still governed by age-old thinking, insulated from the nuances of human psychology, would expose their collective failure to modernise the mind-set of their readership and contribute to social change. It can be said with a measure of assurance that modernity of thought in our society, wherever it is prevalent, is owing to the exposure to the writings in English, not necessarily the Indian writing in English. That being the case, what benefit will the English translation of the bhasha writings have is any body’s guess. It’s nobody’s case that the Indians writing in English have made any profound difference, themselves being victims of a split personality what with their heart in here and the mind on the western market, and the soul missing altogether.

The whole thing boils down to the moolah and the media. What is galling to the bhasha writers is the sizeable advance that an upstart of an Indian writer in English occasionally garners from the publisher. While they remained poor, writing about ‘the poor and the powerless’ for long, it seems unjust to them that someone making a debut, without having even a nodding acquaintance with the wretched of the land, should be so rewarded by the unfair system! What also pains them is when the novice of an India writer in English becomes a nationally recognizable face overnight by the media coverage, while they go unnoticed even in their own ‘galli’ for all their long and arduous toil. Maybe, the ‘reality of life’ could be frustrating for any, but intellectuals should be made of different stuff, that too the writing kind. Isn’t it?

After all, there are things that we owe in life to positional advantage, and writing in English could be one such, that is if one gets published by the right kind of publisher. On the flip side, there are no literary magazines that give a break to those writing fiction in English as is the case with the bhasha literary outpour. Thus, while many who write in English would get stuck with their manuscripts for pillows, for the rest of their lives, every ‘me too’ writer in the regional languages gets published, often enough, to become a doyen in due course.

Can’t the intellectualism of the regionalists come to grips with this irony of the Indian literary phenomenon? Why should someone choose to be a writer after all? If it is for self-expression, why crave for public recognition? When a book infects at least one reviewer to write an informed review, wouldn’t it be worth more than all the hype in the world? Couldn’t a private conversation the writer has with someone when something is quoted from his book, be far more rewarding than the publicised interviews where the book figures only in the passing?

The problem is writing has come to be regarded as a means to acquire name and fame, if not money, and it does not matter as long as the writer is in the news, never mind whether someone really comes to read to enjoy or tends to be provoked by the book. Unfortunately for literature, the greater rewards of writing lost their relevance and the lesser benefits came to mean everything.  Till this is understood, unkind cuts would continue to be inflicted in the arena of Indian writing. That’s for sure.

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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, 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.

Bidisha was selected in’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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