‘Humanity’ That Got Lost In Translation: Addressing The Elephant In The Room

Images of the elephant who died a most tragic death in the Palakkad district of Kerala have been doing the rounds lately in what looks like a rousing call of condemnation aimed not towards others but unto ourselves. Messages of such nature concerning what seems to be a gesture of self-reflection have much more to do than just that.

I am not tempted in the least to address the average politician’s favourite sport – ‘politicisation’ which has done considerable damage in the form of rumours, blatant misinformation being passed off as verified reportage, the mainstream media’s show of sensationalism in the guise of a newfound ecological consciousness. What I’m more interested in is how this particular issue has played itself out on that hallowed ground – ‘social media.’

an elephant standing in water to relieve burns
Image source: Facebook

This is not the first time that a nationwide outrage of such propensity especially against the horrific death of an animal(s) has gained traction. In fact, this event has led a lot of people to endorse the phrase – All Lives Matter which is a facile reversal of the Black Lives Matter movement currently taking root in America. To wrench a particular movement out of its identified socio-historical context and subverting what has actually become symbolic against oppression on the basis of colour, in a claim to devalue the former of its power whilst making a hollow claim for ‘humanity’, has consequences.

The unprecedented manner in which people active on social media have herded themselves together in a fight against animal cruelty is problematic precisely because it comes from a position that is easy to identify with since what is offered on the platter is a politically-neutral space.

Condolences flowing in from every discernible direction point at a much deeper problem: one that regulates both our voices and silences.

One that makes it easy for somebody to take heed and indulge in a typical rhetorical banter, the sum of which conventionally comes down to stringent punitive measures for the accused. The presumption that a human being is one, and the same armed with enough reason not to perpetrate instances of such nature, does not sit well with the constantly changing on-ground realities that people find themselves in- People who are involved; people who are subsequently put on trial in the court of the virtual world with the force of a judgement which is already pre-determined.

To say that conversations which soon take the form of filtered judgement in the virtual spaces need not necessarily have long-term (and often devastating) consequences for the ones who are not even a part of these exclusive circles would be to ignore the elephant in the room.

Lost Between The ‘Right’ And ‘Wrong’, Urgent Issues Get Sidelined

A textbook definition of ‘Humanity’ acting as a rallying cause for the visible outrage ignores one important aspect – that humans remain divided on several grounds, class, caste, race, region, religion to name a few. Should one make the effort to locate precisely these differences, then a more efficient way of addressing the problem at hand becomes possible.

But what happens instead is we are offered a bunch of positions that we eventually come to occupy- positions that are already set in place. What should be a discussion on urgent issues that require long term solutions gets redirected towards a needless duel of what is right and what is not. And there are enough people playing those parts already. Seen in this particular context, one would have to be virtually blind to ignore the growing conflict between farmers who want to protect their crop produce against the rising population of wild boars.

The explosives that resulted in the death of the elephant in question were meant as a protective (although illegal) measure against the frequent attacks from the herd of boars.

What is clearly a question of livelihood gets lost in translation as fruitless debates on morality, ethics, and individual conscience concocted in the interiors of a private space travels outward resulting in a set number of positions up for the taking.

What also works here is the perceived distance that one shares with the events at hand. The more one is removed from the circumstances of a said event, the better the chances are for identifying oneself with the same.

One need not look far from what happened recently as several people from India took to social media protesting against the brutal murder of George Floyd whilst continuing to ignore issues in their immediate social context like the still continuing migrant crisis which has resulted in hundreds of deaths in the face of harsh lockdown measures.

In order to effect a visible change, and to avoid such cruel deaths of animals, one should rather turn their attention to bringing about relevant discussions on reforms that would tackle the issues of co-habitation. An immediate call for punishment of erring officials or people is clearly driven by a question of day-to-day existence only harms the conversation at hand.

What requires intervention from both the central and state government cannot be attributed to an individual(s) being judged by a conscience that is a direct product of particular sections living in affluence and utter comfort, removed from the woes of survival and opinionated enough to lay the blame should the occasion present itself.

An appeal to humanity here ironically leaves out the very humans it is supposed to address. Maybe it is time for us to stop assuming responsibility and start asking the right questions aimed at ourselves.

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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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