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Maybe We Should Rethink Our Priorities As A Country

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I love my country. I don’t say this often, but I do. I like the welcoming familiarity of being among Indians. I like that when someone asks me what Indian culture is, and I have a hundred different answers, and they’re all equally true. I like the resilience in our people. Let’s face it, we have plenty of concerns in society, but we remain compassionate and continue to hope for a better future. I also like that we remember our past—where we all came from, and hold on to it. But if we have to continue looking at the past, after over 70 years, to feel pride in our nation, maybe we should rethink our priorities in the present.

According to some people, we have a lot to feel proud about. As of last year, we are the proud hosts of the world’s tallest statue. It took five years and almost 3000 crores to be built, but the important thing is that it is tall and shiny. We are told that we should be proud of it. India is also on a mission to build smart cities to improve social infrastructure and digital connectivity. Sanitation, civic facilities, housing and transport, are the focus of urban planning. Yes, it is as good as it sounds—we are choosing which parts of the Indian population can live better lives than the rest. But at least we are caring for our environment.

The Swachh Bharat mission flows through every Indian’s bloodstream. The intentions are good, which is why we cannot be blamed for the effects of climate change. Global warming is simply running ahead of us in the race. Despite all these achievements, I have never been prouder of my country than I have been since last month. Because we are now providing 3-star housing in Assam for Indians whose names have slipped out of the citizens’ register, we should be proud of how considerate we are, shouldn’t we?

No. We need to change our priorities.

One of the major global concerns at present is climate change. Harvest festivals like Makar Sankranti continue to be celebrated as part of our country’s rich culture, but what exactly are we celebrating? The seasons are changing, and noticeably so. We don’t need numbers or charts to prove this. Approximately 58% of the Indian population is dependent on agriculture for livelihood. Harvest no longer comes after the monsoon, and this indicates a widespread economic crisis which cannot be fixed even with government employment generation schemes. Let me paint you a picture. It is common knowledge that economic instability is a cause for the high suicide rates in rural India. The same concern is also causing migration on a large scale. The migrant population, who present themselves as cheap labor, is what capitalists feed on.

These are just a few of the indirect consequences of climate change in the society. There are more direct effects. Imagine a more direct threat like forest fires or floods. How much of the annual budget is allocated to emergencies like these? Climate change has also led to a global Birth Strike Movement: people unwilling to raise a child in the present environmental conditions.

Then there are social concerns. Somewhere along the way, communal violence, domestic violence and social discrimination have integrated themselves as a part of Indian culture. Declaring Section 377 as unconstitutional was a major judgement in India’s recent past. It gave us hope that our home will be more accepting of differences. Yet, a year later, detention camps are being built for ‘illegal’ immigrants who have lived in this country for decades. What does this say about us?

Economic development is essential for a nation to grow. And I am not saying that we have not made any progress in social welfare or environmental initiatives. I am simply pointing out that if these concerns are given higher priority, we would see some real positive changes. Instead, what our government has released as its vision for the next decade is to become a $3 trillion economy, improve infrastructure and increase digital connectivity.

Yes, I love my country. Would I call this love patriotism? I would. But my pride in my country is for different reasons than what is expected. I do not love India for the wars it fought decades ago. I love it for the social changes it is trying to make in the present. I do not love India for its GDP growth rate. I love it for its diverse communities, which support each other and grow together. I do not love India for the number of foreign investments it gains. I love it for the amount of care and consideration that it gives to the people living in its borders. That’s what I hope for the future of India.

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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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