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Climate Change Has Been Cruel To Livelihoods Dependent On ‘Culture’

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Climate change is affecting our lives in every possible way. We are experiencing extreme weather events, degraded air, and water quality, changes in disease patterns, agrarian distress, livelihood effects, impact on food security, and more. You just name any area of life and climate change has touched it adversely.

But apart from such ‘visible‘ effects or areas of life, climate change is also hampering something relatively ‘invisible‘, that is our culture—our way of life.

According to cultural anthropology, as water is to fish, so is culture to humans. It’s that essential. It is ‘culture’ that determines what we believe, what language we speak, what festivals we celebrate, what habits, art, and traditions we follow, what heritage we feel proud of, and how we define our lives symbolically. It’s our culture that distinguishes us from other animals.

I want to pose five questions that must alarm us, not only to the presence of climate change at our doorstep but how it is changing even the ‘cultural elements’ of our lives.

1. Is The Symbolic Meaning Of Makar Sankranti In India Becoming Irrelevant?

Apart from the fun and celebratory element of festivals, they offer a great connection with our ecology and environment. The Makar Sankranti festival in Maharashtra arrives in the month of January. It is known by different names in different states like Uttarayan, Pongal or Lohari.

Til-gul (sesame and jaggery) ladoos exchanged and eaten on Makar Sankranti in Maharashtra.

Makar Sankranti marks the day of seasonal change from winter to summer. To adjust to this change, rituals in the festival uses multiple symbolic traditions. For example, eating a til (sesame) and gud (jaggery) combination which is supposed to keep the body warm and boost immunity or wearing black clothes which trap heat and protect one’s body as winter comes to an end.

However, a general opinion nowadays that one hears is that nobody knows when summer starts! The 15-day time cycle after Sankranti has gone and we don’t know when or if we will face extreme heat or cold conditions.

This leads one to wonder: Are we losing the symbolic meanings behind our festivals because of climate change?

2. Our Daily Habits And Behavioural Patterns Are Changing

The following would probably constitute what I think are dialogues between parents and their children in a common Indian household over different years:

  • Summer in the 1980s: “I want to play outside!“, “Ok, Raju!
  • Summer in the 2000s: “I want to play outside“, “Ok Raju! but do wear a cap
  • Summer in the 2020s: “I want to play outside“, “No Raju, it’s too hot outside. Better you play video games inside the house.
For representation only.

Our behavioural patterns form a large chunk of societal culture. They set the norms of what to do and what not to do. These norms are followed by generations after generations. But is the climate crisis changing these norms? In the above example, can one say the culture of outdoor play is affected because of rising heat?

The culture of outdoor play is proportional to health outcomes. For example, not playing outside, due to weather conditions or lack of playgrounds, has been linked to health conditions incliding childhood obesity. Playing in polluted air can cause respiratory illnesses. Not playing outside also means a reduced scope of social contact, and this can affect the social skills and mental well-being of children. Numerous such examples can be located in our daily life where our behaviour patterns are slowly being tweaked.

Is climate changing how we want to behave as a society?

3. Gujarat’s ‘Food Tradition’ Is Becoming Costly. Reason? Climate Change!

One of the traditional foods in the southern parts of Gujarat is Ponk (Green Sorghum). There are cultural protocols about why ponk is eaten and how one can eat it. The onset of winter makes it a healthy dish. Not just that, this ritual of consuming ponk offers a space for annual family gatherings, traditions of eating together, and spending what the modern world calls, ‘quality time’ together.

However, in the last few years, farming practices have been changing because of irregular rainfall and ponk production is getting affected. Its availability in the market is getting delayed, and so, its cost is rising.

Eating food is not just a physical life process but our food is also ‘culture’. There are norms, traditions, and behavioural patterns surrounding the whys, the hows, and whats of eating food.

Is climate change changing our food production and affecting our ‘food culture’?

4. Traditional Ajrakh And Bagru Prints are Losing Their Shine

Ajrakh printing. Image source: Flickr

Culture often manifests and is presented through symbols and objects. Ajrakh originating from Gujarat and Bagru from Rajasthan are textiles that boast of the heritage of iconic handicraft prints. The patterns on the cloth are printed by hand and natural dyes are used, giving luster to the cloth. However, the rainfall pattern has been changing in this desert region. Rather than consistent rainfall, there is are short-bursts of heavy rainfall.

As water isn’t retained on desert land, craftsmen are experiencing the keen sting of water shortage. It takes around 13 liters of water to print one meter of block printed cloth. These challenges are forcing the traditional craftsmen to move towards other avenues of income. Similar examples can be drawn from different parts of the world.

Bagru printing. Source: TextilesOfIndia

But, the question looming over us is: Are we losing our rich cultural heritage because of climate change?

5. Only Half Of The World’s 7000 Languages Are Expected To Survive By The End Of This Century

Language is a medium through which we communicate our thoughts and ideas. Language plays an important role in the transmission of culture across spaces as well as across generations. But how would it be if language itself becomes extinct?

Language, a vehicle that carries a culture, can actually go extinct. Several reasons contribute to this loss of language. But, languages are specifically under threat because of climate change. Many small communities living around coastal areas are in danger of losing their habitats because of storms, hurricanes, and rising sea levels. Even migration pushed by climate change causes intermingling of multiple languages and the uniqueness of certain language is on the verge of extinction.

Is our way of expressing our cultural ideas in danger?

The questions are ominous, but they are a harsh reality. It’s important to understand that our fight against the climate crisis is not just for preventing the immediate and visible alterations to human society, but also to avoid long-term impacts that work in deeper ways to affect our cultures.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

Featured Image For Representation.
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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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