On The Face Of A Pandemic, Our PM Addressed The Nation, But Is It Enough?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

It is always a game of great speculation when a leader of a nation-state takes centre stage, more so, when the move comes amidst widespread crisis and an environment of fear. Hopes and uncertainty both run parallel in an attempt to decipher the leader’s next big move. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this regard has come out as a master tactician, addressing the people in times of imminent, forthcoming crisis, in an attempt to either dispel it or add on to it. In fact, his nation-wide address on 8th November 2016 has added to this (in)famous persona.

Yesterday’s affair was no less speculative, nor the circumstances which forced him to take centre stage, precisely after 180 plus recorded cases of Coronavirus in the country. His nation-wide address, which went live at exactly 20:00 hours, was supposed to be a preparatory gamble for India to fight a global pandemic. An outbreak which has taken over 166 countries, with 252,055 confirmed cases, and over 10,405 deaths till now, according to the latest tableau on nCovid-19 prepared by World Health Organisation. But did he deliver? Well, the reaction is mixed, to be honest.

PM Modi 8 pm adress
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the nationwide live address on Thursday.

Nonetheless, to put things into a neutral perspective, let us first list down some important excerpts from his address. Nostalgia ran high, back to the night of November 2016 in the initial few minutes when he asked for something from his fellow countrymen. However, PM Modi was seen breaking away from the veil of denial of his fellow party men with the likes of Athawale, Piyush Goyal, and Dilip Ghosh, where he was quick to confirm and accept the fact that everything, as it seems, is not well at all.

With a vaccine not in sight, he urged all his countrymen to be aware and cautious of the impending crisis. He recalled that cooperation is the key, along with patience and resolution as the whole world, including India doesn’t have a curative way to fight the deadly virulent. He assured that the Government is studying statistics of explosive contamination in the first few weeks in Europe, America, and Asia-Pacific and is trying its best to prevent its repetition in India.

Furthermore, he underlined the normal citizen’s role in prioritising self-isolation and urged them to follow their respective states’ medical regulations. This will in turn reduce contamination through contact. Social distancing and movement restrictions are the need of the hour, with PM Modi urging organisations, corporate, and businesses except emergency services (medicare, media, law enforcement) to encourage work from home (WFH). Moreover, he stressed on discouraging elderly above the age group of 60 to restrict any outside contact at all, concerning the fact that they are the most vulnerable according to the mortality statistics from nCoVID-19 in India.

PM Modi, however, invoked the importance of war-like preparations and contingencies in abundance, while he requested the citizens to abide by as so called “Janata Curfew” from 7 am to 9 pm this coming Sunday, 22nd March 2020. This pilot idea points to a greater lockdown in future as part of the nation’s procedure of containment to control the pandemic. However, taking cue from Italy, one is expected to come out in the vicinity of their houses at 5 pm on 22nd March and clap, beat empty vessels, or cheer for the personnel from the emergency services who have been fighting nCoVID-19 in their collective capacity.

Surprisingly though, PM Modi has urged to restrict every other medical check-up, and elective surgery as a secondary priority, in order to stop oneself from frequenting the hospital quite often. In the end, as an attempt to providing respite for the economic fallout during the pandemic, the PM has assured the nation of a nCovid-19 Economic Response Task Force, which will focus on swift decisions on an emergency basis to keep the country’s financial condition afloat, or whatever is left of it anyway.

Nonetheless, the most welcoming part of the address was his request to businesses, companies, and corporates to facilitate paid leaves for all segments of employees, so that their life does not come to a halt, and a resolute will to not stop provision of essential supplies in order to prevent panic buying and hoarding of essential goods. This surely will take a step for preventing product deficit, unnecessary inflation, black market racketeering, and opportunistic product domination.

Appreciable or not is an individual choice, and to be frank, depends on lenient ideologies. PM Modi should be appreciated for his acceptance nonetheless, by single handedly dispelling all the myths his fellow comrades, and fringe groups have been spewing as cure and preparatory measures to Coronavirus. Before the PM’s address, a few media outlets were limited to Cow dung (Gobar), cow urine (Gaumutra), and the chants of Go Corona! or Peace be upon Corona!

Nonetheless after PM Modi’s speech of acceptance, it seems like India doesn’t have any medical contingency at all and is strictly relying on public moral conscience, which by the way is difficult to control and drive, considering we are a cramped country of 130 crore odd people.

(AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

According to the World Economic Forum data of 2019, India ranks 109 out of 141 recorded countries for healthy life expectancy, which is just above Africa and below South Asian Average. On top of that, according to a recent Lancet survey, India ranks 145 in healthcare access, with healthcare budget being less than 4% of the GDP, and six times lower than the defence budget.

Unfortunately, India’s healthcare stands much worse than that of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and some poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In line with statistics such as these, the panicked citizens of the country required a robust dispensation of material and financial resources to fight nC0VID-19, rather than moral assurances. With India handling such affairs within closed doors, with myriad (mis)information floating from all corners of the politico-bureaucratic unit, it is difficult to ascertain any positivity for now.

On top of that, the leader of this country asked his fellow citizens to isolate them for a period of some weeks. As reassuring as it might sound, the ambiguity of this statement only underlines the helplessness of the government to contain the virus at the very earliest. A few weeks can extend up to months, with the collective psychology and morale of the people in self-isolation taking a great hit.

Furthermore, it is still unclear as to how hospitals, both public and private, are taking steps to provide adequate facilities in case of an explosive outbreak. The Government in fact, has still not regulated the pricing associated with nCoVID-19 treatment unlike other severely hit countries, which threatens to create an unequal medicare provision, with the poor being hit the hardest.

Furthermore, the PM himself need to understand the emergence of possible investments into medicinal R&D. With the PM urging for an ambiguous period of isolation, increased R&D is necessary, since elimination of this mutating virulent should be a priority, as it can survive on surface and air for a longer time, unlike other virulent.

Governments all around the world are forming coalitions with their competent oppositions to create effective mitigating plans through a symbiotic channel of idea sharing. The PM, however, decided to form a task force under the guidance of our current Finance Minister, whose stories of handling the current economy are recipes for disaster. In fact, in my opinion, the task force will only be reduced to any other categorical department under the Ministry of Finance, without any possible expertise or idea-sharing across the parliament.

On top of that, this economic fallout comes at a time when stock markets are losing approximately 600 points per day, with investors dumping stocks in a state of frenzy. India’s economy has already been in a weak footing before the pandemic, where currently, there is a possibility of almost 3 crore jobs getting directly affected throughout the tourism sector, BnB/homestay sector, tourism sector, airline sector, and railway sector.

Lack of well formulated, and mandated fiscal directives gives private companies an opportunity to exploit their working section with huge pay cuts, which, even if follows the directives of a paid leave, is nonetheless unsustainable on the face of inflation. Therefore, currently, any economic task force without a well regulated economic contingency is no less than a headless chicken.

In the end, it is no strange a fact that our PM likes grand speeches and even grander audience response. His grandiose in the form of his stage presence is seldom replicated in his work. The address made by him on Thursday stands as a living testament of another such ineffectiveness, which might have boosted morale, but has failed to prepare our country for the fight ahead.

He might have spoken a lot, but a lot still remains unspoken, undiscussed, forever trapped under the burden of fear, speculations and hope. Until the air is cleared, it is better to sanitise, isolate, and be aware, something which has been said time and again, much before our leader made his appearance.

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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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