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Mapping Mumbai’s Shelter Homes Would Help Improve Relief Efforts

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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.
Stranded migrants awaiting their travel arrangements

Many of us are still grappling with the new reality as life returns to normalcy after 128 days of a rigorous lockdown. The ongoing pandemic has disturbed the notions of normalcy — from a simple lifestyle choice like taking a morning walk to the functioning of the global economy. The pandemic has so far exposed the realities of a fractured system, and it serves as a clarion call to rethinking our priorities.

Mumbai became a COVID-19 hotspot in India essentially risking its 20 million residents. The density of population, rising slum clusters and an unorganized topography worsened the situation. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, the authority in charge of managing the crisis was struggling to meet this unprecedented challenge. However, many private initiatives, either crowdfunded or supported by philanthropy, played a key role in containing the crisis.

One such afternoon in May, I read that Khaana Chahiye — a Mumbai based initiative catering to the vulnerable in the city, has decided to expand its operations to Thane. This was right when Mumbai faced a migrant crisis as thousands of migrants who came to the city in search of opportunities were ready to leave as the local economy collapsed. It was not just in Mumbai, but migrant populations across India started leaving the economic hubs for their hometowns mostly in the Northern states in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. An estimated 10 lakh migrants left Mumbai between March and May.

This is not to debate the relevance of the lockdown or discuss the migrant crisis further. It is about what lies forward for us as a society. My attempt here is to address some concerns which many of us reflected upon while working on the field and observing these situations unfolding right in front of us.

Khaana Chahiye was among the largest private relief efforts in Mumbai. This became very evident for me while coordinating their operations. While on the one hand, teams were serving food on five key arterial roads of the city, there were others who were at three railway stations — Bandra, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) assisting the system in serving the Shramik Expresses. It was a herculean task to manage 150 ground volunteers covering not just Mumbai but expanding towards Thane and Navi Mumbai.

Khaana Chahiye was serving 70,000 meals daily during the lockdown. During the last week of May, when the situation intensified — they peaked at almost 1 lakh meals for a couple of days. This was made possible by a specific mechanism which proved successful. Their system utilized the unused kitchens in the city to cook and distribute meals twice a day. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai was distributing cooked meals through its own system too. Kavita Iyer has covered this situation in her article published in The Indian Express. “Three weeks into the national lockdown, organizations and individuals providing free meals in Mumbai are unanimous: hunger in the financial capital has grown sharply and continues to grow”, she observes.

India has not fared well on the Global Hunger Index, performing worse than its neighbours. It ranked 102nd out of 117 countries in 2019, slipping from its 95th spot in 2018. One can imagine the situation during a national lockdown in early 2020 and its ramifications on public health. We have an ailing public health system, and it always acts as a disadvantage towards the poor. Despite being one of the fastest-growing economies, India ranks abysmally low on healthcare spending — 1% of its GDP, ranking 184th out of 191 countries as per WHO. It is not surprising then to contextualize our struggles to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Hunger in a metropolitan hub like Mumbai became a serious problem, especially when the local economy was on a standstill. It affected the lower class, lower caste, and minority communities disproportionately. This was also the case with the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 as Gurbir Singh notes. A group of researchers, some from TISS, Mumbai set up an exercise to study the relief efforts and mapped them to get a clear picture about accessibility. Their observations reveal a worrying picture of a modern Indian city like Mumbai, where the poor have been invisible when it comes to establishing a relief operation. It was recently published by Scroll, and the resources have been made public. Their key observation: “There was a disjunction between where informal settlements and industries with a preponderance of daily wage and migrant workers are located, and where services are established.”

However, it offers a limited picture, as the study does not cover private initiatives. Many civil society organizations, like Khaana Chahiye, have conducted operations in some form or the other to provide relief to the marginalized groups in the city. This problem can resonate well with many groups and organizations since there was no ready list available in the public domain where the system compiled a list of shelter homes, relief centres, etc. What is the solution then?

One way to tackle this problem is to conduct a comprehensive mapping exercise in the city, which can help in documentation and compilation of services provided by civil society groups and non-government organizations. Such an exercise has already been started through Khaana Chahiye to map the demand for food in critical pockets of the city. The idea is to establish a permanent system where the most critical communities can receive the necessary nutrition throughout. This extensive exercise would not just be learning from the COVID-19 pandemic but can be developed as a disaster management tool for Mumbai and its neighbouring areas.

A crisis in Mumbai is not a new phenomenon. Every year, there is generally a week during monsoon when the city’s infrastructure is paralyzed. It hampers the availability of essential services too. This pandemic has further exposed the gaps in the struggling system. It is the utmost need of the hour that the system partners with the civil society to ensure Mumbai manages a crisis in a better way. It can start with supporting initiatives like the creation of a comprehensive Hunger Map, which can credit the role of non-government organizations.

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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.

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.

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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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