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Privilege And Covid-19: ‘What If These Migrants Were Born In Better And Well-To-Do Families?’

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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.

How can you hear the screams of those who are hungry, when you are “sleeping” with a full belly?

The thought of being born into a privileged family is overwhelming. I grew up reading a few stories of Rabindranath Tagore and was completely thrilled with his narratives in Bengali and English Literature. From his early days itself, Tagore was known as an independent spirit, being confined to the school building was a torture to him. He thought that school is a box where the children are boarded, and all their feelings about the likes and dislikes are suctioned out of their spirits.

Image used for representation purpose/ What if the famous veteran writers and poets were born in an economically marginalized family and were forced to work at the age of 10 or even less?

Therefore, he did not have any other option than to run away from school. Tagore was privileged enough to get his British teachers to come home and teach. The way he was educated informally was enviably curated and it bestowed him with splendid creativity skills. Being a voracious reader of Tagore’s stories, I owe him a lot of literary knowledge he has provided, though a strange feeling of his prerogative circumstances makes me believe that the creativity gets proliferated only when you have enough to meet the basic necessities in your life. What if the famous veteran writers and poets were born in an economically marginalized family and were forced to work at the age of 10 or even less?

Just a couple of years back, I started my professional journey in the Development Sector and by the virtue of the work I do, I think a lot about the society’s imbalance which pours into our existence every now and then, imbalance from which there is hardly any escape even for us. The process of becoming comfortable and open to the criticism of one’s own privilege is not a common phenomenon.

I have worked with many team members who belong to different sections of society and have been vocal about the plight of humans on the other end, professionals who have devoted their work and passion to tackle the development challenges and issues prevailing in the society. Thinking about privileged and underprivileged is an ongoing exercise. But then it’s a difficult concept to grapple with when situations like a global pandemic arise.

I am constantly learning on my job. I write about the development stories and I am often busy with planning high reach social campaigns. But these days, the creative instinct has been challenged for different reasons. The television channels have now turned into the worrisome news loudspeakers and the morning newspapers are shedding the disheartening light on the plight of humans across the world.

A few days back when life was a so-called “normal” and we were free to take metros to our workplaces, I noticed something worth reading at Mandi House Metro Station, Delhi. The upper floor of the station was filled with huge billboards and the stories of migration during 1947 Indo-Pak partition were written with some astonishing black and white photographs. The stories narrated how in 1947, the world witnessed the largest migration of humans and resulted in dreadful incidences.

Women, children being the most vulnerable victims of the same. The speedily running cosmopolitan life on that metro station never thought that they are going to witness yet another huge migration story very soon.

‘What If These Migrants Were Born In Better And Well-To-Do Families?’

Migrant Crisis
There is a universal urge to go home when the crisis strikes and when the whole city has been shut down,

Immediately after the nationwide lockdown to contain the Coronavirus pandemic was announced, the ones to feel the real thunderbolt of it were the migrant labours who come to the metropolitan cities to earn a few more pennies. Amid the rumours, search for food and livelihood security, everyone is seen urging to go back to their hometowns. When we see such desperation, a lot of individuals among us ask a very common question, what is the necessity to go back?

To which Gulzar, the famous lyricist and writer, has written that “they will go to die there, where there is life.” There is a universal urge to go home when the crisis strikes and when the whole city has been shut down, there are only human bodies who work and thus, walking down to these deadly highways are the only option left.

Broken with the daily reports on the plight of migrants, we decided to provide a few basic food items or them. With the help of community women, we started making some food packets for them and distributed on their way back home. When we stepped out from our homes to help, we witnessed that the picture was darker than we had assumed. The food items given to them were consumed instantly and they started moving ahead immediately. Certainly, they don’t want to save any food as it will only make their luggage heavier.

Perhaps, these sights from the ground are the worse situations I have witnessed in a lifetime of a quarter-century. Have we ever thought, what if these migrants were born in better well to do families? Would they have also managed to be the development professionals or the greatest story writers? We, who earn our livelihood from their stories, have we ever thought about the roles being swapped?

Being privileged is overwhelming and maybe we will hide the gravity of the situation under our ignorance forever.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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