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India 2.0: My Idea Of A Safer, More Educated And Taboo-Free India

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26th January, 2020: As India celebrates its 71st Republic Day, the feeling of pride, togetherness and patriotism makes my heart skip a beat with thrill and excitement. But, the day also rouses an emotional part hidden inside me, which makes me thank the great freedom fighters for their immense contribution towards making all Indians feel what they feel on this particular day. The opportunity to publicly showcase our love for our country is possible only on this day. 

Deep within, however, as we keep our right hand upon our heart, we all know that it is every day that we would love to thank our freedom fighters and all the soldiers, and showcase our love, brotherhood and gratitude towards our country, our Mother India.

India has changed a lot since Independence it has become a Republic, observed changes in its law and culture with a touch of modernity, while also remaining grounded to its values and ethics. There is definitely more positivity among people, but this is just an iota of the population. We have come a long way and we still have more to cover, in order to shine the best among all countries. We all dream about what we’d like our country to be, and I too have a dream and vision about my Mother India. 

Before I start penning down my vision, I would like to take a moment to congratulate and appreciate the current work of the Central government. A lot of changes and improvements that the country’s citizens were expecting have been made. Additionally, the support that many foreign countries have shown India makes me a proud citizen. It definitely gives rise to more expectations and see India shine even brighter. 

To pen down my points, I would start with the  aspirations and anxieties that I have for my country:

Our Education System

Firstly, I would like to stress upon the fact that the education system needs more upliftment, and a drastic wave of change needs to be brought about. Classrooms have turned into smart classes, but the access is only available to a few students. In rural areas, governments have been persistently bringing in the per day meal system to encourage children to come to schools, but I feel that is not bringing any hopeful changes. 

Over 13,500 villages across India have no schools. (Image credit: Christian Croft/Flickr)

 

More than providing such facilities and schemes, I think what is important is changing the mindset of people about the importance of education. People need to understand the value of education in an individual’s life, and the change that that educated individual can bring further. Basic education is every individual’s right. It will help them differentiate between right and wrong, and instill in them an understanding of things. According to a news report last year, 13,500 villages across India have no schools, 41 of them just in Meghalaya. The rest of the states have no-school villages in single digit. The respective governments need to take such findings more seriously and  work towards the educational development of the country. 

Women’s Safety- Will We Ever Feel Safe?

Secondly, I would like to point to the issue of women’s safety. All that is happening across the nation every day makes me very stressed. We are not safe even in our own country. The issue of women’s safety needs to be taken more seriously by the government and needs to come to an end. Otherwise, the future generation of India will curse the present generation for bringing them up in a country where such harsh and fearful incidents take place every day. Though laws have changed and acts of awareness on the issue have increased over the last few years, the reality is still far away from a safe society. We need to bridge this gap so concretely, that no fear resides in the minds of the people, especially women. 

The occurrence of rape cases not only showcases the mental sickness of the rapists, but also their lack of understanding of right and wrong, respecting and disrespecting women. Thus, stricter laws towards women’s safety will make India a preferred country to visit and reside in, and set an example for other countries. 

Thirdly, I would like to see more awareness around menstrual health. Menstruation is a natural process that everyone needs to be taught about, and nothing to be ashamed of. We all know about Chinese whispers. If this Chinese whisper is put to a good cause, to spread important information about the impact of menstruation on the minds and bodies of women, then we can save thousands of people who suffer and die from menstrual health diseases. This awareness should also include the need for clean toilets for menstruating women and proper disposal methods for menstrual waste. 

The VISION That I Have For My Country

I want my country to rank in the top in the categories of education, economic growth and eradication of poverty. I want to see India’s status change from a developing country to a developed one.

I want to see India become the most preferred investment hub for all the other countries. 

I want India to be the safest country in the world, with zero terrorist attacks. ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’, the movie based on the 2016 militant attack in Uri, and the high-spiritedness of the soldiers to always emerge as winners, was an eye-opener for me. 

However, I feel that there should be less fights within the country and there should be love among all. We should all hold respect for people from all cultures, religions and castes. 

As an end-note, I would like to dedicate this paragraph to the Indian Army and its contribution towards protecting our lives at the cost of theirs. To each and every soldier in the Army, I would like to take a moment every day and salute you all for protecting the rest of us. Love from my heart for you all to the fullest. The fact that we’re standing and smiling right now, without any fear in our heart, is the result of all you people. Your bravery and agility during every combat is worth applauding and celebrating. I do not have the guts to stand in front of death like you do every day. You depict a picture of true heroism, modernity and strength. All you army men, along with our freedom fighters who fought for our independence, are worth remembering and celebrating by all Indians for your contribution. You all are the true HEROES.

 

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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.

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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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