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Part 2: Bengal In The Aftermath Of Cyclone Amphan

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In 1737, a huge and strong cyclone made its landfall near the delta where the Hooghly River meets the Bay of Bengal. Such a strong cyclone was the first in recorded history to have hit the southern parts of Bengal. Some sources estimate the number of causalities to be around 300,000. The cyclone also hit interior parts, such as Calcutta (now Kolkata), and huge damages to life and property were recorded.

More than 250 years later, Cyclone Amphan hit Bengal and adjoining parts of Odisha and Bangladesh. Earlier numerous cyclones had emerged in the Bay of Bengal; only this time, it was something quite different. Cyclone Amphan got compared to the cyclonic storm of 1737. It was the first super cyclone to have been formed in the Bay of Bengal since 1999.

What Damage Did Amphan Cause?

Vehicle crushed by a fallen tree
Vehicles got crushed under fallen trees.

The districts of East Midnapore, Howrah, North and South 24 Parganas and Kolkata were the worst hits. Thousands of trees were uprooted and electricity, telephone and broadband lines were snapped by the falling trees in the city of Kolkata. The traffic lights were also crushed, and shattered glass lay on the streets, making it dangerous for everyone to walk on those roads.

Uprooted trees lay at every intersection, blocking people away from accessing major roads. Even emergency vehicles like ambulance, police and emergency fire services couldn’t move until the trees were removed, and the roads were cleared.

The morning saw scores of people photographing the unforeseen destruction with their cell phone cameras. Social distancing measures, it seemed were totally forgotten, but people wore masks as a last line of defence. Everyone became busy checking on their relatives and friends amidst the crisis, but alas, mobile networks and internet connection had totally been non-existent for many hours.

As the day progressed, people waited for relief efforts. The police officers were one of the first to reach the affected places, and they tried to assess the situation. Local residents used their household tools and bare hands to clear the roads so that they could go out and buy their essential groceries.

Large parts of the city were flooded. The college street book market got flooded, and some of the cell phones which were still working carried pictures of books floating on the flooded water. Presidency University was also flooded. Water entered even the very old Arts library of the university, which is situated on the ground floor of the 200-year-old building.

River jetties were torn apart, and vehicles got crushed under fallen trees. Parts of roof of the above-ground metro stations were blown off. Parts of Kolkata airport was submerged after the storm. A hanger was destroyed with a private aeroplane inside it. More than 84 people were killed in the storm in Bengal. Most of the fatalities have been from falling trees, walls, and electrocution.

It became evidently clear that most of the people in Kolkata have to spend their night in the dark with only a candle.

West Bengal state authorities faced a crisis of threefold.

Firstly, thousands of people were evacuated from southern and coastal parts of the state where the storm affected the most. Secondly, the social distancing measures because of COVID-19 made the evacuation operations even more difficult. People were provided with hand sanitizers and masks, and shelter homes were not used to their full capacity since it would bring more people under a small space and increase the chances of infection.

Third, the migrant workers are returning from other states. Ensuring proper quarantine measures became a challenge as the state administration also had to mobilise its resources for the Amphan situation.

Many islands of the Sundarbans Delta, which consist of hundreds of villages in the southern parts of the state, were completely cut off, and the state administration had no information regarding the extent of devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan in those places.

The Sundarbans Took A Great Hit

Pronab Biswas, as reported by THEWEEK, was planning to start a fishing business after his only son, a migrant labourer, returned from Maharashtra. His plans were blown away on May 20 when the cyclone swept away his home, cattle and lifelong savings. He now plans to join his son in Maharashtra once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

There are thousands of people like Mr Biswas living in the delta of the Sundarbans area. They mostly reside in mud houses with thatched roofs. Their livelihood includes mostly fishing, farming, and raising cattle. On the evening of May 20, thousands of such livelihoods were destroyed.

Sunderbans in the aftermath of the Cyclone Amphan.|| Credits: TheWeek

The Sundarbans area is already under threat of an ecological crisis because of rising sea levels, even higher than the global average. Over the years, migrations from the region have seen a surge as farming is simply not an option as saltwater keeps coming inland. With the destruction caused by Amphan, it is expected that such migration will increase in the upcoming years.

The area got completely destroyed, and it needs to be rebuilt from scratch, according to the West Bengal Sundarbans Affairs Minister Manturam Pakhira.

Embankments at the Sundarbans Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had been breached due to the surge in seawater, caused by the cyclone.

Sufferings of the people in the Delta will be more devastating in the upcoming days. Many of the areas affected in the region have recently started getting relief measures.

More information is awaited from the region as connectivity is slowly getting restored. Hopefully, then, I can bring out more detailed reports from the worst affected areas of the Cyclone Amphan.

Part 1 of this article can be found here.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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