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Don’t Make The Future Voiceless: The Youth Must Be Heard!

The youth (18-25-year olds) make up more than half of the global population, and India has the largest youth population, of around 356 million (UN 2014). Yet, the most ‘youthful’ country is yet to ensure that the youth of this country is part of any local or global decision-making spaces.

As a young person, in their 20s, we already have the misfortune of having to live through and witness environmental disasters emerging as a result of the activities and decisions of our previous generations. The air and water pollution, forest depletion, land degradation, biodiversity loss, inequalities, and displacement of communities make the future generations extremely vulnerable, reduces their ability to lead a dignified life, and threatens their ability to exercise their fundamental rights.

Representational image.

This then further marginalises the youth from vulnerable backgrounds like Adivasi, Dalit communities, women, those from rural areas, people with disabilities, people from LGBTQI+ communities, and others. The destruction of the environment destroys the rest of nature and then leads to the inability to exercise our fundamental rights and the ability to lead a dignified and healthy life. This includes the unborn, which also deserve to enjoy the same environmental conditions that our ancestors had before the earth began to get irreversibly damaged.

At United Nations summit, scheduled to be held in New York in the month of September, the conservationists and biologists will present their confirmed findings to showcase strong links between the increasing numbers of deadly new pandemics with the levels of deforestation and biodiversity loss that continue at their current catastrophic rates[i]. The experts warn that with this continued destruction, five or six epidemics a year might soon affect the Earth’s population.

Meanwhile, the decision-makers in my home country are blatantly ignoring these warning signs. India has lost dense forests that are one-and-a-half times Delhi’s (India’s Capital) expanse in just the last two years[ii]. India has 21 cities out of 30 listed as the most polluted cities in the world in 2019, and these have immense health and environmental repercussions.

Our rivers run polluted, damned, and diverted. We have ruined our lakes and oceans, and are moving towards mass commercialisation of fisheries and related livelihoods at a rapid rate. The resultant environmental destruction has led to immense loss of livelihoods, cultural and physical displacement for tens of millions of people.

Why is the Government then not paying attention to these expert findings and studies? Why is the post-COVID recovery plan centring on opening 40 new coal fields for commercial mining in India’s most ecologically diverse and sensitive forests[iii]? Why was the draft Environmental Impact Notification (EIA) notifications 2020 proposed in the first place?

Climate strike in Bhalswa landfill, New Delhi on 22nd September, 2019

Whose recovery is the government really concerned about? Because these in no way to ensure the recovery of the most marginalised populations, neither does it ensure a healthier India for future generations? The ease of doing business, at the cost of immediate as well as future generations, and this unbridled exploitation of nature and people, is not what the youth wants.

The past few months of active resistance and struggle especially led by the young people around draft EIA 2020 that further dilutes the provisions of environmental clearance has signalled a shift. The concern for environment and climate crises spilt from a narrow section within the civil society to a much larger section. This is great because there are a few times when we respond to the situations of crises in a cross-sectoral way. The possibility to see that the environmental crises are closely connected to socio-cultural-political and economic crises and a result of neo-liberal, capitalist systemic violence, is a ray of hope.

But, more importantly, the youth has emerged as the potent force against this neo-colonisation in the name of development that is deeply anti-democratic. This development was expected to leave a large section of the population destitute, disadvantaged, and devoid of the possibility of defining their own ways of social life.

As the youth of the country and the ones who are facing the psychological, physical impacts of climate and ecological crises, we need to be included in the decision-making processes at all levels. We need to be part of the decisions for our present as well as our future.

We need ‘intergenerational life agreements’ wherein we list down the measures that must be adopted aimed at reducing the massive deforestation, restoring ecological flows, decommissioning dams, stopping extractive industries in biodiversity-rich regions, and displacement of local communities. This has to be corroborated with national, regional, and local implementation strategies that are directed towards climate change adaptation.

This idea has a valid precedent from Colombia, where the Supreme Court of Justice in Colombia[iv] ordered the government to create an ‘intergenerational pact for the life in Colombian Amazon’. Some Native American tribes already had this in their worldview, evaluating every action they take on its possible impacts on the 7th generation[v] from now; articulating a truer vision of direct democracy.

Representational image.

The intergenerational agreement would mean that the decisions of today must have an additional clause to evaluate the impacts of each industrial activity on the environment, health and wellbeing of the future generations especially the most vulnerable, deprived and marginalised including of non-humans.

It would also importantly insert the aspect of multi-dimensional impacts, i.e. analysis of environmental decisions on social justice issues, democracy, economic wellbeing as well as cultural knowledge.

The points of this agreement should go through consultations at varied levels with a bottom-up approach and among the most disadvantaged.

For far too long we’ve seen nature as merely a basket of natural resources for human beings’ use and exploitation but we have a sacred obligation to protect and restore our forests, rivers and lands, and those responsibilities fall upon the shoulders of the prime minister of India, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Water and Agriculture, and the people of India. And we must get our act together.

Recently, a Janta Parliament was held between August 16 to 21 online by a number of concerned social networks, groups, and the organisations in India, at the behest of Parliament not being in session during the COVID-period. In this period, when the people of this country needed government’s support the most, the government instead used this period of lockdown to promote anti-people and anti-environment policies.

The primary objective of Janta Parliament was thus to demonstrate that the parliament can be held and importantly to articulate peoples’ agenda. During the environment session, the youth[vi] stressed on the need of systemic inclusion of young people at all decision making spaces (such as committees to evaluate development projects, processes of environmental impact assessment, local to national bodies of governance, policy-making, and more).

The Atmanirbhar Bharat package must urgently be redesigned to ensure the ecological, social, and political implications for the present and the future generations. The youth asserted that the generation of local livelihoods for the young must focus on the principles of ecological integrity and localised economy.

Image provided by the author.

The time is ripe to recognise the rights of nature as the rest of the species have as much right to live in this plant as humans.

The rights of nature would mean that the ecological causes and conditions making up the natural habitat are to be protected to maintain an ecosystem’s identity and integrity.

This does not put an end to other localised, subsistence-based human needs related to that ecosystem, but rather pushes for a healthy relationship of respecting ecosystems and ending ‘extractivism’.

Importantly, the young of this country seek inspiration from past people-led movements like Chipko Andolan, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Jungle Bacho Manav Bacho Andolan, among many others, that not only resisted the destruction of lands, waters and forests but have also through their resistance articulated their own ways of being.

We are also seeking inspiration from current movements of resistance and creation of alternatives by grassroots communities and movements.

These movements must inform our struggles for just, equitable and ecologically resilient futures.  To see some of these stories, head here.

References

[i] The Guardian, ‘Rampant destruction of forests ‘will unleash more pandemics’

[ii] Indian Express, ‘Explained: Reading the new State of Forest Report 2019’

[iii] The Guardian, ‘India plans to fell ancient forest to create 40 new coalfields’

[iv] Dejusticia, ‘In historic ruling, Colombian Court protects youth suing the national government for failing to curb deforestation

[v] The 7th generation principle is believed to have originated with Iroquois who are a indigenous confederacy in Northeast North America.

[vi] Here the youth is not a homogenous category. The author is not suggesting that these are the demands of all the youth of this country. These demands were put forth by youth representatives from some youth networks and/or environment focussed organisations.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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