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The Forgotten Children of The Varanasi Ghats

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Whenever I attend a seminar or a conference, all I get to hear about is the “young and shining India”. The words are not hollow; they carry a unique contribution to the development of the nation and individual in it. But there has been a striking conflict within the neurotransmitters of my brain, which disturb the chemical balance whenever I hear these lines. Is the fortunate or entire young crowd of the country within the frames of these lines? I wonder. This article deals with the inequality observed upon a visit to the banks of the Ganges river in Banaras.

It was a bright sunny morning, but it was different for us as part of an educational trip visiting the place. But for a young group of 5–7 children that were born there, it was not new. This group is of children selling baskets of flowers and they have been doing so from their birth. Many of them, who could not afford to purchase flowers and baskets, were either begging or silently observing the huge crowd of people present there. There was no hatred in their hearts, but there were dreams within their eyes. These are the dreams envisioned by many of them but are ignored maybe because they’re not part of the “young India” which is often described by elitists.

I wondered why they were not part of this “young India”? Or why they are not considered relevant when talking about development? To get the answers to my poking instincts, I stopped introspecting and started interrogating the young visionaries present there.

To lay down a conclusion for their dreams is impossible, as there are some dreams which may be demands for people like us and are often fulfilled by our parents. Parents? Are parents the only source to lay the future of their children, or is it the shared responsibility of our society to prove our egalitarianism in the distribution of resources?

While writing this article, the hurdle I faced was to define this group of children, and to overcome this hurdle, I decided to name them “young visionaries”. Upon questioning their lifestyle and family setup, I got to know the brute realities of society, or, I won’t be wrong in saying, the brute luck of these young visionaries.

The five children I talked with had never gone to school. Instead, they were nurtured in such a way that their brains are now not in favour of attending school. They were instead focused on earning a few bucks to manage a meal for themselves. This part was not astonishing but was assumed. Still, the emphasis upon the education of these children lay within the policies of the government, but the will and desire to counsel them to enshrine this importance into their minds and their parents is/was never seen, rather, never felt important.

Raising the question of family statuses and lifestyle was astonishing to some extent. The siblings shared part of the resources and were often more than 10 in number. The entire family setup is designed so that each child is considered as an extra source of income for the family. The factor of family growth in terms of numbers can also be analysed in terms of the lack of sexual knowledge and family planning.

The daily resource distribution takes place in order, by providing a larger meal to the father or to the member who earns the most. The women of the house are only limited to the chores of their personal area. But few women also work and manage the family. When the matriarch is out working, child care takes a backseat as a meal is the priority.

Children varanasi ghats
Representational Image.

Further answers made me awestruck. Many young girls complained of being beaten by their drunk fathers. I asked them if they knew that drinking alcohol was a bad habit. But the reply was just silence, and the eyes of the visionaries wandered towards the Sun as if they were searching for enlightenment. I don’t want to be judgmental or sympathetic at all, as a learner, it is my duty to understand the situation/s and work on my professional ethics. Moreover, I would rather be empathetic than be human.

I cannot change the definition of what “young India” is for people, or how young visionaries can be a part of it. I’m just amused by the efforts of the government, and even our society, on which we form the basis for growth and development, but ignore the basic crux. The government should frame policies upon considering every part of society.

The dreams of these young visionaries, besides the government and their parents, are our responsibility as well. The basic reason for this lies in the resource sharing principle; what already exists with us should be passed to the needy, and so should be in continuation till equality is achieved.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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