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Part 1: “I Spent The Night Half-Awake” My Experience During Cyclone Amphan

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yellow taxis submerged on a road in Kolkata during Cyclone Amphan
Taxis submerged in an alleyway in Kolkata during Cyclone Amphan. Source: Twitter

It started from the time of the Industrial Revolution. Modernity lifted its head from some unknown place and we were awed by its presence, its sheer brilliance and power. Nature became an external object left for us to conquer and tame according to our own needs. This idea was then spread across the world by the force of colonisation.

Come to 2020, we have been left with an ongoing crisis period, which is linked in some way or the other to climate change, which is a by-product of modernity as we understand it today.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Cyclone Amphan are all negative externalities of the great story of modernity.

The Cyclone Amphan made landfall in eastern India on May 20. In its path fell the states of Odisha, West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh. The most affected were the southern districts of West Bengal namely South 24 Parganas, Kolkata, North 24 Parganas and Midnapur. As I am writing this article many parts of the affected districts still lie in complete darkness, with thousands without homes, electricity, clean drinking water, clothes, and food.

The Early Warnings

Technological advancements made it possible for meteorological departments to successfully track the cyclone and its probable path which helped the authorities to evacuate 3 million people possibly saving thousands of lives. Amphan intensified rapidly in the Bay of Bengal to form a Super Cyclonic Storm. It weakened ahead of the landfall on Wednesday, May 20, to a very severe cyclonic storm, but was strong enough to wreak havoc across a wide area, including the densely populated areas of Kolkata where I live.

News channels covered this development very accurately, and a large portion of the population knew of the coming cyclone. Cyclones have become very frequent with the global rise in temperature, and the Bay of Bengal has been infamous for other cyclones that have originated in the past.

View of Amphan from Satellite, and view of cyclone hitting the shore.
Representational image. Cyclones have become very frequent with the global rise in temperature, and the Bay of Bengal has been infamous for other cyclones that have originated in the past.

The previous year another strong cyclone affected the Indian state of Odisha and destroyed many densely populated areas such as Bhubaneshwar. I remember that it grew very weak when it finally reached Kolkata and no considerable damage was done. The coastal areas of the state of Odisha were affected severely and some parts of the state of West Bengal.

D-Day

It started raining since the early evening of May 19. Strong winds were becoming frequent since midnight. It grew considerably cooler during the night and I slept quite peacefully totally unaware of the destruction that was about to begin the next day because of the spinning storm over the north-eastern part of the Bay of Bengal.

The next day when I woke up the sky was already overcast with heavy spells of rain and strong winds. By mid-day, the rain increased and I saw through my window strong winds violently crashed with the coconut trees swinging them backwards. There is a mango tree in front of my apartment and mangoes kept falling as people came out of their homes to collect them.

My mind was completely kept busy with the constant LIVE reporting of the Bengali news channels. Reporters of these channels travelled to areas which would be the first to get hit by the cyclone when it would make landfall. Those places experienced high-velocity winds even when the cyclone was 100 kilometres from the coast.

Even in Kolkata trees started getting uprooted. Traffic lights lay on the road as brave workers of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation kept on fighting the fallen trees to keep the roads clear, still unaware of what lay ahead.

RSMC New Delhi accurately predicted that Amphan would make landfall with maximum sustained wind speeds of 155-165 km/hour, gusting to 185 km/hour and torrential rainfall between Digha (West Bengal, India) and Hatiya Islands (Bangladesh), close to Sunderbans national park area.

A flooded street in Kolkata during Cyclone Amphan
Image source: Being Travelers/Facebook

The news channels reported that Amphan has made landfall at 2:30 PM IST. Suddenly the power went-off and many parts of the neighbourhood were left in darkness. The emergency power supply got triggered at my home and I could still follow the news.

Gradually, the telecast also got distorted and I turned my attention towards my surrounding. The trees were swinging violently and it seemed that they could break away at any moment. At 4:00 PM, the storm was just 30 kilometres from Kolkata. I closed my windows and doors. At 5:30 the windows and doors started violently shaking. The mobile network got weaker and it went dead. I charged my mobile and turned it off. The windows groaned and screeched.

I feared that they could break at any moment since they are made up of glass. At 7:30 PM, the storm suddenly stopped though it was raining. I turned on the TV and saw that we lay in the eye of the storm. The second part of the storm started after 30 minutes and the same groaning and screeching of the windows started. It continued till 10 PM. My phone was without any network coverage and later the emergency power also went off after about 12 hours of supply. I spent the night half-awake.

The Aftermath

The next morning, I went out to buy candles since we anticipated that power will not return soon. The first thing I noticed that there were many trees which have been uprooted. They have blocked all the roads and major roads, like the NSC Bose Road which is near my home was completely not accessible to any traffic.

The trees had fallen on power lines, internet and cable wires completely tearing them apart. Traffic lights were uprooted, bent and lay on roads with lots of pieces of glass which were spread across the wet asphalt. Police kiosks were smashed by trees. Small shops like tea stalls were completely blown away.

There was a huge surge of people buying candles and everyone was struck by the experiences of the previous night. I saw many windows of other apartments lay shattered and got to hear that water has entered through these broken windows and have flooded their rooms.

The day was spent without electricity and I spent my day carrying water from a hand-drawn tube-well to my apartment. Gradually the night came and the candles were lit. I was left with no internet connection and electricity. Water was boiled before drinking as our water purifier lay dead.

Embed from Getty Images

My house is near a fire-emergency service brigade which is a priority zone. The electricity was restored the next day during noon. I turned on the TV and was horrified by the amount of destruction. I realised my sufferings are minuscule when compared with the people whose house were flooded, who were electrocuted in stagnant water, and whose houses and families were destroyed by the storm.

As I write this article, neighbourhoods in my own city have been without water and electricity for four days since the cyclone, and there are places where it has been still very difficult for authorities to reach and help them with basic food, clothing, and clean drinking water. The Indian Army was deployed recently to help with the restoration work and getting basic amenities to people who lay inaccessible still now.

I will write about this and what we can learn from these natural calamities in the following articles.

Featured Image Source: Soumyajit Dey/Pacific Press/Rex/Shutterstock
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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.

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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.”

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.

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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 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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