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How Climate Change Is Making It Harder For People To Prove Their Identities

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

How restless do you feel when you don’t find an important document that proves your identity? Just imagine losing your driving license or academic mark sheet or passport! 

Losing documents can be a stressor resulting out of the growing climate crisis too.

The risk of losing documents is high during some particular disasters, like floods, cyclones and storms. India has suffered from floods this monsoon. Unfortunately, this suffering seems to be increasing in the near future, rather than slowing down –  a result of climate change effects and poor urban planning.

A population of 42,921 in eight of the 33 districts in Assam were affected by the floods in 2019.

Here are some representative cases from different states of India, where people have struggled to hold on to identity documents, recently.

Case 1 – Some families in Karnataka could not trace their Ration card and Aadhar card post the flood destruction. On the other hand, the government authorities insisted on the documents to compensate for the losses. 

Case 2 – A picture of a flood victim from Assam, who persisted, despite the flood-water, on carrying his National Registry of Citizenship (NRC) file during the flood rescue operations, went viral on social media

Case 3 – A family in Kerala wanted to claim insurance for their damaged property but had lost the original documents. Around one lakh people in Kerala have lost one or the other document, according to a statement by an official. 

Case 4- Students from Maharashtra struggled for their education certificates.

In all the above cases, maintaining the identity documents was crucial for the individuals. But neither they nor the government mechanism was prepared. Government preparedness is necessary to make procedures smooth for people and support them in post-flood recovery. 

Who Owns Responsibility? 

bihar flood
Bihar floods, 2019.

Some activists from Karnataka have spoken about the government’s responsibility for showing alternate pathways to help affected people. They have spoken about a persisting confusion among investigators about the documents that are needed. But, there is another view, that emphasises how communities can also be prepared to fight disasters.

For example, field interactions with citizens from Morarji Vasahat slum of Surat, Gujarat who have experienced devastating floods in 2006, talk about the idea of “flood preparedness kit”. Ranging from dry food items, candles, matchbox to mobile chargers, citizens didn’t forget to include “identity proof documents” in such kits. 

Lessons learnt from painful experiences are forever. But when climate crisis is on our doorstep, we clearly don’t want to wait for some experience to affect us and to make us learn something. We, as a community, need to prepare ourselves for climate change by carefully saving our identity proof documents.  

But the system’s role here is equally important. It’s evident how climate change affects the rich and poor disproportionately. Similarly, lack of preparedness also affects different sections of society differently. For example, the need for preserving such documents can be life-critical, for a typical urban poor migrant family, as compared to its counterpart, who owns resources to preserve the documents. The availability of facilities like safe lockers is absolutely absent for those who need it the most.

What Are Some Possible  Solutions?

Climate change is no more a distant reality limited to the extinction of polar bears. It’s here and now. Preparedness is crucial and must be integrated as a part of our routine societal functions.

There can be some working solutions for communities as well as systems.

  1. The families and neighbourhoods can safely preserve their important documents. Pre-monsoon planning should be encouraged by government departments. The departments that work with these communities as a routine mandate, like the social security department, urban community development etc., can be effectively involved.
  2. Medical practitioners and health workers can carry pre-monsoon advocacy for preserving medical reports, prescriptions, immunisation cards etc. Education board can digitalise the mark sheets of students. 
  3. At the neighbourhood level, there can be common digital storage of essential documents looked after by the assigned head of the society or locality, like a secretary or a resident welfare association.
  4. The government needs to pre-design effective systems which can be supportive to flood victims. The political case like that of NRC in Assam can be a complex story with multiple angles. But in general, the city authorities can be prepared for better means of identification of victims, as they recently did in Kerala, for insurance management.
  5. There can be directives and guidelines by the government on this topic of identity proof which can help people, activists and organisations who are involved in relief work. A list of important sites and helpline numbers for queries or recovery of documents can also be displayed on common digital platforms.

Climate change is no longer a distant reality limited to the extinction of polar bears. It’s here and now. Preparedness is crucial and must be integrated as a part of our routine societal functions. 

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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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