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The Class Question: While The Pandemic Is Universal, Immunity From It Is Hierarchic

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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.

Playing video games was my favourite childhood hobby and in most of them, the protagonist had to pass through different challenges with the given amount of lifeline. This lifeline could be replenished with the help of certain resources that were freely available in the game at different stages.

To draw an analogy, today we are almost in a similar situation. Our financial resources represent the lifeline and the essentials like fruits and vegetables represent the resources that can help us make way through these times. However, unlike the protagonist in the video game, we are situated in different social locations.

Some of ‘us’, who have savings and investment in policies are privileged enough to stockpile those resources for months together, but some of ‘them’ are in a state of doldrums, waiting for the government to lift the lockdown so that they could go back to work as soon as possible and regain their depleting lifelines.

migrant labourers
Migrants returning to their homes

Max Weber, a German Sociologist, defined classes in terms of their market positions and the consequent life chances(opportunities) at their disposal. Life chances determine not only one’s access to health and education but also one’s ability to hoard the resources (stockpiling the essentials or the ability to stockpile the essential goods) to sustain through this crisis.

How else do we explain something as unprecedented as shops running out of stock? This is not only a case of limited supplies but also a clear reflection of ‘resource hoarding’. This hoarding strategy helps the upper and middle strata to not only lessen their chances to contract corona but also to follow the norm of social distancing easily by minimizing out-of-home visits.

To raise a few questions, how many of us can hoard the resources to get ourselves tested? And, if found positive, to pay for the ventilators? Few. This minority can afford not to work or work at home, sit back, hoard the resources, and spend the lockdown romanticizing nature, reading novels, writing blogs, watching Netflix, Ramayana, uploading stories of the new skills they have acquired like making Dalgona coffee, and discovering their inner self through spirituality program. But this is not to say that this class is immune from the impact of corona and have it easy.

Is This Pandemic Democratic?

A famous German Sociologist, Ulrich Beck, once argued that unlike the old world problems of gender inequality, class inequality, and racism which were hierarchic (impact felt by the marginalized sections like women, working-class, and blacks), the new world problems like financial crises, global warming, and, of course, pandemic are democratic(impact felt by everyone). Quiet true it is.

It has affected even Prince Charles. However, this should not let us persuade into believing that access to the cure or even immunity from the virus will be as democratic as the virus.

Like all other illnesses, as I said before, it is our class, race, religion, gender, and caste position which will determine who lives and who dies. Stigma and discrimination around coronavirus appeared in the form of xenophobia and racialization of coronavirus, especially when its outbreak in India was blamed on Muslims.

More than 70 % of the migrant workers, safai karamcharis, manual scavengers, garbage pickers, sanitation workers, and aides who are cleaning the hospitals and wards, are Dalits and Adivasis. They have no PPEs or protective gear. Other than a mask, they have not been given extra gloves, or plastic wraps to keep themselves safe.

Nevertheless, this lockdown has brought forward a brighter side of the world as well, with people, from all over the world, not only uploading pictures of the clean river, clear sky, and the free-roaming wild animals- calling it nature’s reclamation of the lost space- but also celebrating the nature as the unexpected beneficiary of the lockdown, which is, though undeniably wonderful, an urban middle-class privilege altogether.

On the other hand, according to the Periodic Labour force survey (2017-18), we have a grim picture of 25 % of rural households and 12 % of urban households who rely on casual labour (daily wages) for their livelihood. Over 70% of salaried employees in the nonagricultural sectors have no written contracts, and more than 50 % of those are not entitled to paid leave or any social security benefits like health care. ILO has recommended extending the social security net to these people to protect them against vulnerabilities they may encounter.

Social Distancing Is A Privilege, What Are We Doing For The Vulnerable?

Also, in the initial days, the Indian state didn’t bother enough to look into the wherewithal of the migrant workers and instead chose to shift its focus to the upper-middle-class Indians stranded abroad, by going as far as making exceptions to allow flights despite the announcement of closure. It was the Union Health Secretary, K.Sujatha Rao, who described this middle class to have been the source of this virus. The mobility of migrant workers, on the other hand, was restricted by closing down all forms of private and public transport.

Uttar Pradesh government has recently announced a plan to bring back these workers in a phased manner. It is yet to be seen how this initiative unfolds. The Indian government has also decided to suspend insolvency provisions from IBC for up to 1 year, but it is yet to announce a loan waiver scheme for the farmers.  The success of the state depends on how efficiently does it manages to use the time, bought through lockdown, ramp up the health infrastructure, and allay the concerns of the vulnerable sections.

Also, the class divide between knowledge workers and manual workers has never been so stark. While it was easy for the knowledge workers to not only stay at home but work at home too, the informal sector workers, mainly manual workers, struggled to even go back to their homes, let alone work. Social distancing is a privilege availed by the tech-savvy and smartphone equipped middle, upper-middle, and the rich classes who could manage their essential needs (groceries) just by operating on their phone apps. Thanks to the platform economy.

Meanwhile, relief package worth ₹1.70 Lakh Crore($24 billion) under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana which included measures like Rs 500 each to 20 cr women Jan Dhan account holders, Rs 1000 for senior citizens, and LPG connections to 8 crore poor families, all till the next three months, couldn’t bear fruit, as is reported by the government agency, according to which, only 15 % of the households have yet received 1 kg of pulses promised.

What an injustice it would be to the community if we utilize the services of the marginalized to keep the rest of us safe without concern for their safety and sustenance?

You must be to comment.
  1. Bharti Sharma

    Nice one! Sir

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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.

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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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