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The Centre’s View Of Calling Deserts As ‘Wastelands’ Is Naive

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One can easily forgive a common man who perceives ravines, deserts, and wetlands as ‘barren’ land of no ecological importance. However, this naïve view is not expected out of a specialized government panel. The Central government recently declared more than 3 lakh hectares of rugged land in Gwalior-Chambal belt as ‘Wasteland’ and has decided to turn the ravines of Madhya Pradesh into arable land.

The centre is seeking World-Bank’s support for the project. There is also a proposal for ‘Chambal Expressway,’ that will pass through the region. The project is at the land acquisition stage, and government plans industrial units and food clusters on both sides of the highway to boost micro, small and medium enterprises.

Understandably, the government aims to increase the economic value of the region. However, it must be realized that every landscape cannot be reduced to its value in simple economic terms. Even ‘barren-looking’ landscapes have productive ecosystems with thriving niches.

Bihads (ravines) are part of an integrated ecosystem. The course of the Chambal, which is roughly 1,000 kilometres long, is through these ravines, away from human settlement. Hence, wildlife flourished in the river and on its banks. The National Chambal Sanctuary is blessed with unique flora and fauna. Here more than 5,000 gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) were born in the last hatching season and rare species of dolphins – Platanista gangetica declared endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are found.

For converting ravines into arable land, a large-scale land levelling is being planned. This can have disastrous impacts. Flattening not only destroys the ecology but also loosens the topsoil, making it prone to erosion and susceptible to further gullying. Another major impact of large-scale levelling is the disappearance of common lands like grazing lands. On these grazing lands, landless people graze their livestock to support their families.

This will lead to a decline in the livestock population, and the natural links between rainfed agriculture and livestock rearing will collapse. Clearing of land will erase the indigenous trees and ultimately become prone to flooding. Instead of thinking ‘one size fits all’ government should use a more holistic approach for inclusive and sustainable development, which avoids large disturbances in social and ecological harmony in ravines.

On the same note, among the lands chosen to generate the solar component for India’s ambitious target to generate 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, the Thar Desert, a huge ecosystem in the state of Rajasthan is also included. The Thar is dotted by Orans, derived from Aranya( Forest) in Sanskrit, small patches of forested landscape (sacred groves). Local deities are believed to be residents in these Orans, and during the dry months between April – June, and October – December, Orans are used as grazing lands for camels, goats, and sheep.

Representational image.

Solar energy will constitute a major chunk of India’s renewable energy capacity. The planned high-tension power transmission lines will connect to a 700-megawatt grid service station (GSS) located just a few meters outside the Oran in the Sanwtha village cuts through several other Orans.

The Sanwtha Oran is a habitat to a variety of wildlife like critically endangered great Indian bustards, of which there are only about 250 mature adults left in the world, Chinkara (Indian gazelle), desert fox, and Nilgai, among dozens of species endemic to the Thar. Numerous migratory birds, including Siberian cranes, are winter guests here.

Many Orans are being allotted to energy companies, which are felling age-old trees and destroying local ecology. In 2018, the Supreme Court passed an order that Rajasthan’s sacred groves are to be treated as ‘deemed forests’.

Deemed Forests, which account for about 1% of land in India, are tracts of land (which may include deserts and grasslands) that have not been officially recognized as municipally protected forests. Some orans have been rescued like this, but all are not safe, and villagers want their Orans back. For authorities, development means having power transmission lines (not electricity supply), highways and flyovers, not education, health facilities, and a sense of inclusiveness.

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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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