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COVID-19:”The System Always Fails Our Poor And Marginalised Shamelessly”

More from Anthony Chettri AISS, Amity University, Noida

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 we Indians struggle with the new phenomenon of a complete ‘lockdown’ to contain COVID-19, the number of confirmed infected cases as I write this piece have risen to around 19,000, and around 600 people have died, as per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). This data will increase by the time this blog is online. The situation is grim, scary, and dismay. But there is another set of data which is less shown, less talked about, and barely discussed by policymakers and that is the deaths due to lockdown.

As a social worker, I strongly think that the fight against COVID-19 should also take into account the death and suffering caused to poor and marginalized people due to the lockdown. Besides death, does any news channel or media brief by the government cover other issues like the number of people sleeping hungry every day, the number of sex workers who cannot afford the urgent medication for HIV, transpersons not able to make both ends meet, Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) farmers (men and women), who are basically tribals sleeping without any meal for so many days, how many migrant labourers (men, women, and children) are still walking the Indian streets, how Dalit daily wage labourers are not being able to access food from Public Distribution System (PDS) due to non-availability of suitable documents to show.

Migrants workers during COVID-19
Migrant labourers on the road due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Who will talk about this data? Why are our news agencies not showing this data? Why is our Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment not talking about it? Why do we need to always show our best? Why can’t we show where we are failing?

The system in India has always failed our poor and marginalized sections miserably and shamelessly. Rural men, women, and children are forced to live in their hometowns because the rural system failed to provide them with a decent livelihood. When they reach an urban setting, they are again failed by every system that was established to safeguard the interest of poor urban, like urban local bodies.

In this difficult time, they are crying out for support to allow them to walk home. But here again, the system is using its brutal force to resist their going back. But all these systems have money and political will to bring people back to India from overseas by special flight and students of affluent families back home from Kota with special buses. Forgive me if call this selective and discriminatory nationalism.

A 12-year-old migrant girl walking from the chili field of Telengana to her home in Chhatisgarh died just an hour away from her village. Like this many migrants have died on their way back home after lockdown. Does it matter to anyone of us? The government of India has come forth with its Rs 1.75-Lakh-Crore Package to “address the concerns of poor, migrant workers and those who need help“, as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated on the Coronavirus Lockdown with a tag line of “No One Will Go Hungry”.

Thousands of migrant labourers were forced to walk miles to return to their home cities after the lockdown was imposed with little time to prepare for it.

A very good package indeed for the present context, but on the ground, people are struggling to access this package. A lady from the remote tribal hamlet of India showing her Kendu Leaf (KL) Plucking card shared that last year she got Rs. 7200/ from April 29, 2019, to May 19, 2019, by selling KL; but this year she got nothing due to the no-plucking order by Kendu Leaf Department because of the lockdown. As per my estimate, in Odisha, 8 lakhs registered KL pluckers will lose Rs. 540 crores.

Who will ever compensate for this loss of income from poor tribal families? But there will be a huge economic package for the corporate that may come very soon. Rural people received cash in their bank accounts but due to lockdown, they were unable to travel to the bank or ATM to withdraw their cash. The farmers in our country are unable to sell their produce.

Poultry producers in Jharkhand are highly impacted by the decreasing demand for broiler chickens, with rates falling as low as INR 20 per kg, from the regular rate of INR 90 per kg. As per the Economic Times (Feb 2020), “The misinformation passed on through social media about the spread of the virus through poultry and egg has reduced prices drastically in the last four months,” stated the director (Krar Prashant, ET Bureau), of a leading poultry company in Haryana.

Rural halts in Odisha, West Bengal, and Chhattisgarh, and mandis (fruits and vegetable markets) in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are being closed down, making it difficult for smallholder farmers in these areas to sell their produce. Vos, Martin, and Laborde state in their blog published in March this year on the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) website, that the spread of the disease associated with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) may bring damage to the global economy, and with it to food security and efforts to reduce poverty.

The blog further states that its impact will be very different from previous ones, including SARS, avian influenza, and MERS, that caused direct damage to livestock sectors, leading to food shortages and food price hikes in affected areas.

Increase In Domestic Violence

Women and children irrespective of their identities in India are suffering a lot. As per the complaints received by the National Commission for Women (NCW), gender-based violence has recorded more than a twofold rise during the nationwide Coronavirus lockdown period. The total complaints from women rose from 116 in the first week of March (March 2-8), to 257 in the final week (March 23-April 1). “The cases of domestic violence are “high in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, and Punjab,” says NCW chief Rekha Sharma.

I think that one of the main reasons for the rise of domestic violence is that the men at home are taking out their frustrations on women and most of them are refusing to participate in domestic work. Women are also confined within the four walls of the house and cannot share their grief with anybody. Many NGOs have started a helpline to support women.

Lockdown has turned out to be a difficult situation not only for women but also for children across India. This is indicative of the number of SOS calls that the Childline India helpline received since the lockdown began. More than 92,000 SOS calls asking for protection from abuse and violence in just 11 days of lockdown were recorded.

When will our policymakers and different social, political, legal, and economic systems and institutions stop taking decisions from a casteist and patriarchal mindset? Why do we think only for the rich and privileged? Why don’t we make decisions with inclusive and positive discrimination for the poor and marginalized sections? When will we include the poor and marginalized in our definition of nationalism?

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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.”

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, 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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