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Opinion: This Anti-Poor Lockdown Reflects Our Collective Class Biases

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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.

The world is grappling with COVID-19. As many as 50,000 people across the globe have died so far due to this virus whose cure is yet to be discovered. Fighting a virus is a tough task when it is contagious on the one hand, and the cure to it is yet be found out on the other. Under these circumstances, what we need to do is break the chain of transmission through social distancing and maintaining adequate hygiene.

India Fellow working in Surat with migrant labor
Image for representation only. Credits: Maxpixel

To ensure that the citizens aptly perform social distancing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown on 24th March. However, for the underprivileged, social distancing might not be the same as it is for the privileged. Urging people to perform hygiene protocol in a country like ours is actually an insult to people who don’t even have access to water and simple soap.

This nationwide lockdown, which has come almost abruptly, has taken a toll on the toiling class which has work day and night to feed themselves and their families. The first case of Coronavirus was reported in India on 30th January 2020. The government stepped in only in March. There was a good deal of time for the Indian government to chalk out the early strategies to fight the virus in India. The lockdown could have been used more appropriately.

With this lockdown, the worst-hit sector is the toiling class. Indian society is based on stark class divisions, which are sometimes defined by religion, language, food habit, but among them, the most important benchmark of class division is the economic background of a class. A class is always segregated from another based on economic background. The rest of the divisions are merely a pretext to implement the class division in terms of economics on a broader perspective.

Migrants stranded at the Anand Vihar ISBT, Delhi amid the nation wide lockdown. Image via Getty

The lockdown this time around has again highlighted the class bias we have as a nation towards the sect of people who are the economically weaker section of society. It is worth mentioning that a nation while implementing this class bias based on economics creates a hallucination—where people will struggle to find their own self and will fail to recognize themselves. They will try to recognize themselves on the basis of religious identity and other trivial modes of identities.

The lockdown highly underlines the government’s way of treating the working class in a situation like this. The 21-day nationwide lockdown was declared on 24th March 2020. As mentioned earlier, the government had got ample time to implement the lockdown on the ground way more appropriately to evade the chain of incidents where disturbing visuals of the working class showed their helplessness.

Migrant workers are okay with walking more than 300 km on foot just to get home. According to the reports, around 22 migrant workers have died while walking on foot to reach home. As this lockdown came all of a sudden giving people no opportunity to realize what is going to happen, people were left without work. Factories, construction sites, hotels where millions of people used to work suddenly shut down their doors due to this lockdown. As a result of which, people lost their jobs and were left without food.

Government, on the other hand, did very little to ensure that they don’t go without food. Transportation services suddenly got suspended and migrant workers had no option left but to walk miles after miles on foot. On March 30, 2020, as many as 93 migrant workers were arrested for pelting stones at the police personnel.

According to Business Standard, the situation became tense in Surat after a gang of around 500 migrant workers came out on to the street with a demand for their safe transportation to their respective native lands. Police tried to convince them. But the workers started pelting stones at them damaging several police vehicles prompting the police to fire 30 tear gas shells to disperse the crowd. After declaring a nationwide lockdown, the government was not clear on its policy for the migrant workers. As a result of which, they were left to the whims of the police.

In another shocking incident, migrant workers returning to their homes in Uttar Pradesh were disinfected with chemical at the Bareilly bus stand. The video, which has now surfaced on various social media platforms drawing criticism, showed around 50 migrant workers being disinfected with chemical in a very harsh way.

Mohd Afzal, one in the group, said, “About 50 of us were sitting and waiting for food and the bus at the satellite bus adda when some men in protective suits came and began spraying water on us. They said that they were from the sanitization team and were sanitizing us. The children began crying, and women were also shocked.” This is not the to ‘disinfect’ people. This shows how much biased we are towards those who are considered to be the economically weaker section of the society.

Featured image for representation purposes only. Source: Flickr
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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.

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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.”

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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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