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For Migrants, Being an ‘Indian’ Is Not Enough To Be Treated Like Your Own

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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.

The pandemic, which has brought the entire world to a standstill, is flying like a wild bird and has already claimed 879,369 lives worldwide as of September 5, 2020. The existence of two Indias has turned into a reality and the structural imbalances in various sectors have been brought into the limelight. The lockdown deserted the most vulnerable section of the society and went on to prove that similar to a market, the cities are also places for those who can buy and sell.

Cities were always perceived as the epitome of modernity, and places where people could drop their last name to avoid discrimination, but this pandemic revealed some ground realities which were visible but weren’t talked about.

Being an “Indian” in India is not enough a qualification to be treated like your own. While in the United States of America people are fighting for better working conditions for the migrant workers, whereas India fails to provide the basic social security to the pillars of our nation.

Representational image.

As society continues to fight this battle against the invisible enemy, the social fabric might experience a tectonic shift. With no room for preparation and only a four-hour notice before the nationwide lockdown, social solidarity is now hanging by a single thread. Scarcity of food and depletion of the cash reserves are not the only things which the migrants are running out of; hope and patience are also on the list.

Stigma is now being calculated in terms of occupation and poverty instead of caste or gender and extraordinary times are held responsible for the loss of lives.

When Emi Khamarov remarked that, “Poverty is like a punishment for a crime you didn’t commit”, he was correct. Reports claim that the workers have died almost every day since the onset of the lockdown, not because of the virus but because of being poor.

While the elite and upper class continue to sit in air-conditioned rooms and crib about not having access to the gym, the labourers die because of starvation and heat stroke.

It is estimated that nearly a hundred million homes are one-roomed and the average family size is five, which goes on to explain that social distancing is an oxymoron in India.

As we continue to think about the impending economic crisis and ways in which the economy can revive again, attention must also be thrown upon the digital inequality which exists in India.

While the workers have embarked on a trek to their native places which seems endless, they have lost their jobs and an epoch of misery awaits for them as they head back. But, life cannot stop, as a result of which, the burden of taking loans will dawn upon them very soon.

There is no doubt about the fact that the government has introduced many schemes to provide relief to the downtrodden sections of the society, but what remains unnoticed is the lack of identity proof or even a permanent shelter.

Does society remember that not everyone has a balcony to go to and beat their plates? India is home to 65 million inter-state migrants as claimed by the National Sample Survey Office.

Communities continue to look at the high-rise building and apartments and neglect the hands which put the cement on them. The impossibility of social distancing in slums was overlooked, and in addition, providing even a simple route that trains could take to transport the migrants, was not categorized as a necessity.

The plight of the workers cannot be weighed and rated on a scale of one to ten. There are numerous toddlers who have tried to wake their dead mothers’ platforms; many who carried their fathers back home on their shoulders, many who committed suicide and many who barely received food in a forty-hour long journey. March 21, 2020, triggered a mass exodus of migrant workers, who now face uncertainty and the loss of income. This is proving to be catastrophic in many areas.

As prosperity continues to trickle down and crisis comes in torrents, the workers are more hurt than angry.

The brutality faced by these migrants cannot be denied; not considering their existence was a grave mistake. The most social animals will fight against this virus and will end the battle, but what needs to be realized is washing hands is a privilege in a country where almost 50% of the population gets clean water only once a day. Along with the macro-level consequences of this crisis the psychological capability of the workers are at a stake.

While the middle and upper class continues to fight against COVID-19, the vulnerable section of the society is fighting for survival, and basic necessities, which include a meal and not fancy ingredients for baking a cake.

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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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