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How The City Of Philadelphia Is Celebrating Mahatma Gandhi This Month

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Event at Philadelphia City Hall honors the legacy of MK Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

The year of 2019 marks the 150th birth anniversary of world renowned political and spiritual mass leader, Mahatma Gandhi. This year, the city of Philadelphia celebrated his life and ideas with a city council resolution that recognizes ‘October 2, 2019 as the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi,’ and calls upon “all Philadelphians to honor the legacy of Gandhi in the month of October and unite in mutual love to achieve peace and justice.”

It may come as a surprise to many that an American city is celebrating the legacy of a leader of the Indian anti-colonial struggle. However, the celebration follows the example of the United States Gandhi Centennial Committee, which organised a commemoration of Gandhi’s life in 1969 and had as its members Coretta Scott King, Marian Anderson, A. Philip Randolph, among others.

Philadelphia is a city defined by the struggles and aspirations of its African American community, and a deeper look into the historic relationship between Indians and Afro-Americans shows that this celebration is a continuation of a rich legacy of exchange and brotherhood.

One figure who exemplifies this legacy is Howard Thurman, who visited India in 1936 and met Gandhi. Gandhi is said to have told him that, “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.” Thurman would later mentor a young King. Further, it was in Philadelphia that King first heard a lecture by the then president of Howard University, Mordecai Johnson, on Gandhian thought.

Bharatnatyam performace at the event which celebrated Gandhi’s life.

King was so moved by this lecture, that he then bought many books on Gandhian philosophy. Many other leaders in the black community, including William Stuart Nelson, Benjamin E Mays and Bayard Rustin would also visit India to study the anti-colonial movement, and look for answers to the problems their people faced in the United States. Dr. King himself visited India in 1959, and meet with Jawaharlal Nehru and many others, stating that, “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim.”

An event at City Hall on October 3, 2019 , titled ‘Mahatma Gandhi and Our Single Garment of Destiny, Our Inescapable Struggle for Peace and Freedom’ commemorated this shared history of fighting for peace and justice. Speaking at the event was lifelong freedom fighter Reverend James Lawson. Reverend Lawson lived in India for three years studying non-violent resistance.

He met with Martin Luther King Jr. upon returning to the US, who urged him to move south and work in building the emerging black freedom movement. Making Nashville, Tennessee his new home, he started to organise free and open workshops on non-violent resistance with a group of members of the newly founded Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They went on to desegregate downtown Nashville. Reverend Lawson also played a crucial role in planning and executing the freedom rides.

Reverend James Lawson addresses the gathering.

In Philadelphia, Reverend Lawson was honored by the city with a citation, along with civil rights leaders Diane Nash and Bernard Lafayette, anti-apartheid activist ES Reddy, peace activist Romesh Chandra, people’s politician Lucien Blackwell and labour leader Henry Nicholas as exemplary practitioners of non-violent resistance. The event ended with a cultural celebration featuring dance and music from India and Afro-America.

Figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. belong not just to Indians or African Americans, but to the world. Indeed, in this time of pessimism and perpetual war, their ideas serve to show humanity a way forward. In a time when the threat of nuclear war always looms over the world, Dr. King’s words ring true, “If we fail, on an international scale, to follow the Gandhian principle of non-violence, we may end up by destroying ourselves through the misuse of our own instruments. The choice is no longer between violence and non-violence. It is now either non-violence or non-existence.”

The Universal African Dance Ensemble performs the event.

The past few years show us that a new era is being born as Asia rises, and the West faces a collapse of its society. The hegemon of the world, the US is going through an unprecedented political crisis. This time of transition and change has opened up for humanity an opportunity to remake the world, and redefine international relationships based on a new morality and principles.

These principles will have to be different from what Martin Luther King Jr. called the three evils of society that define the West, militarism, materialism and racism. It is imperative that we commemorate the ideas of Gandhi and King in this time, and recommit ourselves to the search for the truth that they spent their lives in dedication to.

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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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