Ways To Bring Change
Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most profound figures in India’s freedom struggle, also worked to free the country from other forms of bondage like open defecation and the practice of untouchability. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” He believed, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”
He set the example by building a toilet inside his cottage and cleaned it himself, which was unheard of in those times when toilets were considered polluting and only done by people from lower castes. His actions paved the way to a great shift in the mindset of the mass and resulted in the abolition of untouchability and sowed the seed of Swacch Bharat or clean India.
When we study the solid waste management scenario in India, we find that several initiatives have been taken by the government and authorities and a lot may has been achieved in terms of policy and adoption of new technologies. Still, real change is yet to be witnessed, and evidently, there remains one area which requires attention: lack of people’s involvement and commitment to waste management in their homes. People’s indifferent attitude towards sanitary and menstrual waste has made management of menstrual waste even tougher for the municipality and civic workers.
On the lines of Gandhian principle of people’s involvement to bring change, the Khud Karo (translation: do it yourself) National Competition on Management of Menstrual Waste was organised by Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation on social media in August and September this year. The campaign’s objective is to create awareness on waste as a subject, nature of the crisis, but more importantly, build social responsibility towards waste management, including sanitary waste disposal.
Menstrual hygiene and household waste management are correlated. A house with poor waste disposal facility compromises collection and disposal of soiled sanitary pads, which in turn adversely impacts menstrual hygiene and health among girls and women in the household, school, college or workplace. They are most likely to wear a sanitary pad for long hours. Do you know due to shame, secrecy and silence around menstruation, they go to great lengths to hide the used and soiled pads?
Additionally, sanitary waste generators lack understanding and fail to assign importance and take ownership towards correct disposal, which has implications on other people like the waste pickers and civic workers, and on the ecology. A basic understanding of waste management and the entire cycle the soiled sanitary pads go through until they reach their final destination in landfills can go a long way in changing the menstrual waste crisis in India.
Nongmaithem Jerina from Imphal, Khumlo Gomti from Chandel in Manipur, Godwin Bosco from Kochi in Kerala and Dipak Sinha from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh were adjudged as winners in a prize-giving ceremony conducted online on Gandhi Jayanti on 2nd October 2020.
Nongmaithem Jerina, a Master in Social Work (MSW) student in discussing the local state of waste management in Imphal puts the spotlight on how localities do not have garbage bins where residents can dispose household waste. It leaves no choice for them but to either store waste in the premises of their homes until the private organisations who collect waste get it picked up for a monthly service charge. Those who cannot avail such service throw waste in the drains or pile them around their houses.
Citizens may be sensitized and even willing to participate, but the absence of a city-based waste collection, transportation, segregation, processing and recycling, and landfill mechanism anchored by the local authority and supported by civil society organisations, can cause confusion and passiveness in waste generators. When a comprehensive waste management system does not exist on the ground, the issue of sanitary waste goes unaddressed.
Khumlo Gomti Khining, an Anganwadi Worker, discusses how all waste management initiatives are concentrated around the district headquarters, leaving residents to fend for themselves. The collection and transportation to dumping site mechanism, run by the Autonomous District Council in Chandel, are concentrated only around the bazaar area residents. Rural Manipur does not depend on external facilities for managing household waste as house-to-house collection is non-existent. They manage household waste themselves in their backyards—either through burning or storing it.
Godwin Bosco, who works at Cognizant Technology Solutions in Kochi, points out that household waste disposal is running smoothly in Kerala since there is an effective waste collection system run by the municipality. Still, their challenge is the final dump yard, which has become a site for pollution caused by burning waste. Their need is to develop an effective method for waste processing.
Dipak Sinha, a central government officer, posted in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, attributes his passion for the conservation of resources and recycling at home to his growing-up years spent in Shillong among Khasis, who, according to him, are exemplary in maintaining cleanliness and conserving the environment.
Through the Khud Karo National Competition, a consolidation of ground realities in waste management existing in different parts of India was possible through the insight shared by the participants, along with a conclusion that no investment in waste management by the authorities, NGOs and partners can result in clean neighbourhoods and safe environment until each unit viz., the household, does its part with their garbage.