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When Will India Media Realise Its Responsibility Towards Citizens?

The year 2020 has been turbulent for countries across the globe. As a nation, we have had a challenging time in the past 2 months: economic downturn, surge in COVID-19 cases, confrontation with China, and floods in Bihar and Assam.

It is during these challenging times that media plays a vital role. It is the source of information for the public. But has the media been responsible during the tough times? It definitely calls for scrutiny.

On June 4, 2020, the news of death of a pregnant elephant due to consuming of a explosive laden fruit caused outrage. The media was quick to give it a communal colour without ascertaining the facts. The investigation revealed the fruit was kept to ward off pests entering farm. A common practice by farmers across the country. A practice which needs to be condemned and an alternative needs to be suggested. But a case of man-animal conflict was turned to target a particular community.

On June 16, a violent clash between the Indian and Chinese troops at Galwan valley left 20 Indian soldiers dead. It was treacherous of China to instigate India amidst a pandemic. India retaliated in the economic sphere. The media should have educated people on the issue and discussion on the future of INDIA-CHINA relations, economic impact of a trade war, and the need to decouple from Chinese economy was expected. But media discussion was on how China was rattled by economic strike and pulled back, how Chinese economy would downturn if India completely boycotts their goods.

In reality, after 40 days of military and diplomatic level talks, disengagement is complete at Galwan, Gogra post and Hot springs, Pangong Tso is still on agenda. The Indian economy’s reliance on China is greater than the latter’s on India. The media was discussing boycott of Chinese goods while their title sponsor remained Chinese companies. We need pragmatic  approach to tide over the challenge; but it was all jingoism.

The exponential rise in COVID-19 cases is a matter of concern. While there’s a rat race for the vaccine, an Indian company claimed complete ‘CURE’ from the virus. Media went gung-ho and gave the product free publicity. Instead of questioning the claims, most news channels became their cheerleaders. After AYUSH ministry stepped in, the company retracted and said it was just immunity booster and not “CURE”. Unprofessional and irresponsible behaviour of the journalists came to the fore.

Another challenge has been the floods in Bihar and Assam. Bihar, a backward state in various indices, has opened to war on multiple fronts. Migrant labour influx, surge in COVID-19 cases, rising unemployment and flood have added to its woes. About 25 lakh people have been displaced as on 28 July.

Assam has also been severely paralysed; about 30+ lakh people have been affected and more than 100 dead as on 28 July. About 85% of Kaziranga National Park has been submerged, thereby endangering the lives of animals, most of which are already endangered.

But the media had other pressing issues to be discussed. “The lobbies in Bollywood”. The death of a famous actor by suicide was a rude shock, and his family has been mourning in silence. The media sensationalised the issue by claiming lobbies in the industry had killed him. The media has denied him “dignity in death.” Bollywood has a book of dark secrets. Heavens will not fall if the above topic is not discussed.

The floods may not be important for media, but it does affect the country in the long run. The decade has been characterised by extreme drought and floods. The man-animal conflict and floods in Bihar and Assam have something in common. It’s a clear indication of climate change.

A nation with majority of people are dependent on agriculture, and agriculture in turn is dependent on rainfall; climatic disruptions would be catastrophic. It would in turn endanger our food security and feeding a billion people would be a daunting task.

The above cases show how media has conducted itself. If not all, then at least the majority. Instead of reporting and discussing issues affecting people, they played to the gallery. Across various discussions on news channels, experts were never seen. But cuss words and inappropriate behaviour were the cornerstone of the discussion.

Dissent, debate and discussion are intrinsic part of Democracy. The media is considered as the 4th PILLAR of Democracy. Questioning and holding people accountable is the basic tenet of journalism. But in the recent past, the role of media has definitely been questionable. When news reporting changes from ground to air-conditioned studios, News definitely becomes nuisance.

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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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