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Neglecting Workers, Blaming A Religious Community: Is This How We Fight A Pandemic?

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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.

As the world grapples with the outbreak of novel coronavirus with no signs of slowdown, it is important to look through the crisis and find ways to tackle the situation. With world’s second largest population, India is trying hard to avert the crisis that looms large. However, with all the advocacy, India has largely failed to curb the crisis because of the lack of application to work out.

With millions of workers left stranded in large cities, the situation has created a humanitarian crisis. Due to the uncoordinated response from the government and lack of planning, the poor have suffered the most. Incident after incident show how things have gone wrong.

As soon as the lockdown was announced, reports of people being mercilessly beaten up started doing the rounds. Police unleashed the reign of terror by beating up people mostly from the working class. At least one person succumbed to injuries and died. Soon after, we witnessed thousands of migrants coming out on streets of cities, as the lockdown left them with no option but to leave for their respective homes.

Migrants workers during COVID-19
Image for representation only

With uncertainty, confusion and no security of income the situation of panic created chaos, putting lives of many at risk. This lead to the mass exodus of people—allegedly one of the biggest since the time of Independence. While on the other end, the government was bringing foreign students stuck in different countries in special flights, it left the poor to die on the roads.

With no means of transportation in place. a situation of callousness arose, jeopardizing lives. Bearing heat and cold with little or no money, no roof over their heads, they began their journey of hundreds of kilometers on foot. Many heartbreaking stories emerged. Pregnant women walking long distance to men carrying elderly and kids on their shoulders—all the way in utter desperation just to reach their respective homes.

Young and old wearing makeshift masks some even barefoot with little or no food embarked their journey of struggle. However, the situation turned hostile soon. Soon. this turned into a disaster. Before the virus could reach them, at least 22 people succumbed to death while they were still on their way. Some died of exhaustion, other in an accident with a truck. While the rich and privileged practiced social distancing in their homes with enough supplies.

This brings into discourse how fragmented our society is. The trouble for the homeless was not over yet. As with the media coverage report of stranded people came out the state governments took the initiative and special buses were provided. Yet again, even the buses could not accommodate all the people. One video went viral of how on reaching to one of the districts in UP people were sprayed with disinfectant.

The act was condemned everywhere; it was inhuman. Treatment of humans as if they were termites shocked the people. However, the administration took cognizance of it and promised to look into the matter. Things were yet to settle down when the news of the possibility of around 200 Muslims in a place of congregation of Muslim broke out.

So far the intervention was needed for the poor and homeless. Now with the vilification of this Muslim place of congregation, the whole issue of epidemic turned into a communal warzone—with witch-hunting and trolling calling it a deliberate move by the Muslims as a way of jihad. In times when crisis should be taken as an opportunity to look at the problems of society afresh, we failed somewhere along the line.

With the cases on the surge, doctors and medical staff struggled with shortage of proper personal protective equipment, and the need to prepare more isolation wards. Unfortunately, the whole discourse had been turned into a battleground with people of different religions mudslinging each other.

It is important to understand here that this is the time for larger unity and social solidarity. The divisive politics of hate is uncalled for. It will do no good to anyone as the issue is far more grave and broad. Pitting one community against another for the political and personal interest could be nothing but hazardous for one and all.

In times like these when the poor are already going through distress, helping them and reaching out to the ones in need should be the primary concern of the people. Staying back home and maintaining social distancing can help containing the community transmission and save so many lives.

At the same time, calling for peace and suggesting positive measures should be taken into consideration. The poor don’t have the luxury of managing the lockdown, hence there’s a dire need to strategize things through proper mechanism. There might be a need for physical distancing, but there’s dire need for social solidarity too.

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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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