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From Rags To Riches: The Rise Of Baba Ramdev And Co.

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As scientists around the world join in a race to find a vaccine that would help curb the coronavirus pandemic, back home, self-styled yoga guru Baba Ramdev has come out with his own desi cure for the infection, which has claimed thousands of lives and devastated economies across the globe.

Named Coronil, the product is the latest of the several bizarre claims made by Patanjali Ayurved, Ramdev’s multi-crore business empire, since its inception back in 2006. As masses went into a frenzy over the magic cure, the government cracked the whip, claiming a violation of medical protocol while ordering the company halt advertisements of product pending a review.

This incident begs the larger and often raised question: how did Ramdev’s brainchild come about and what prompted its rise into one of the leading FMCGs in the country, despite the several controversies along the way?

Initially Ramdev, originally Ram Kisan Yadav, started out from live T.V. broadcasts of yoga asanas early morning on Aastha channel. Claiming to solve anything from back pain to mental health, he quickly became a household name. His daily telecasts boasted high TRPs and yoga became a form of an alternative medicine for countless health ills and a force to reckon with.

From the harmless Surya Namaskars, Ramdev sensed an opportunity to expand and gradually capitalized on the growing footfall. Based in Haridwar, a state in Uttarakhand, Divya Yoga Pharmacy and Patanjali Ayurved have emerged as game changers when it came to the consumer goods market industry.

Credits: Hindustan Times

Situated across most states, the company now, with monthly sales pegged at around ₹5 million, deals in everything from instant noodles and toothpaste to close to any household item one can think of. This, along with a wide range of medicines, potions, to even gau mutra, became the talk of the town.

However, the company has often faced a fair share of criticism for peddling bizarre claims and cures, in a bid to promote its products. Ramdev and Patanjali has, in the past, claimed having solution for even cancer and AIDS. In a fierce backlash, National AIDS Control Organisation dismissed the assertion, warning against ‘misleading’ the masses. Similarly, allegations of substandard quality of products and suspicious use of human and animal parts in its products continued to mire Ramdev’s path to success.

In the case of anti-COVID-19 drug Coronil, questions have been raised regarding the scientific methodology and the clinical trials behind the alleged cure. Besides, the licensing authority of the Uttarakhand government has even alleged that the vaccine was certified as an ‘immunity booster’ instead of what is now being claimed as a scientific breakthrough.

Despite its shady past, the company has emerged stronger each time, beating the likes of Colgate, ITC, among others. Products such as chawanprash and giloy juice have found resonance amongst Indian masses brought up on the notion of going for homemade solutions for every other medical ill.

Credits: Hindu BusinessLine

The Patanjali juggernaut, however, has been aided by other factors in its rise to the international spotlight. Since they won the popular mandate in 2014, Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party have endorsed the mantra of  promoting ‘Swadesi’ products in its markets. The Make in India initiative is one such tool to shun West-manufactured goods. Justifiably, this has coincided with the Yoga teacher-turned businessman’s ambitions.

Ramdev had previously been spotted at several BJP campaign rallies and endorsed then-candidate Modi as the PM on multiple occasions.

While frequent run-ins and fiascos are par for the course any other business venture and more so with brands as huge and influential as Ramdev and Patanjali, one cannot afford to overlook its unfettered rise and the authority it wields over the masses. A favourable environment in the form of public, which runs on patriotic fervour and chest-thumping Hindu nationalist government in power, has given Ayurveda and its proponents just the right push. The question thus arises: are the real motives behind this success story somewhere tucked inside all the fanfare. It is certainly a question worth asking. For now, gau mutra and its innumerable benefits are here to stay.

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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 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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