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“As Responsible Citizens, Ask Questions, Even For Those Who Can’t “

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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 COVID-19 pandemic has brought the whole world to a halt. For some, this time would be memorable and the emotion that one would associate to this forced aloofness would vary. While for others, this period is proving to be an existential crisis. A crisis that has left them helpless and in vain. A crisis, indecipherable to the privileged has left a magnanimous effect on the underprivileged that not everyone knows intricately.

Migrant workers and their families board a truck to return to their villages after India ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Since the first lockdown was announced, the Government of India has been facing a lot of flak on the mismanagement of assistance of the daily wage labourers and the destitute. With no concrete plan etched neither on their safe return to respective abodes nor their daily food needs taken care of; only limited to paperwork, it irked netizens on a large scale. No emphasis given to them in any of the PM’s speeches, raised serious questions. Questions about priority and emphasis; questions on right to live and equality. Questions on weighing lives with the same weight of morality. The mirror of social privilege never was so crystal clear as much as it has been now.

In the hindsight, a lot of people praised the Prime Minister and showed full support to his acts of ghanti bajana and diya lagana. Though the purpose of this apparently was an ode to the medical help workers but did it really boost their morales?

When there have been multiple reports of doctors being silenced when addressing their grievances about the unavailability of PPE’s and exposing loopholes in existing healthcare facilities, we need to ponder upon what is being projected and how. Boosting morales to disguise sinister reality or really being moral?

Noblesse oblige, a term that reminds us of our accountability and responsibility; it is a French expression used in English which means that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person who holds such a status to fulfil social responsibilities. And its renaissance is essential in the present scenario.

As responsible citizens we need to question; a question for not just ourselves but for those who can’t. Entangled in the existential crisis, the impoverished can do nothing but only take knee-jerk reactions perhaps because their sustenance is threatened and don’t enjoy our privileges-privilege of availability of grain and water, the privilege of paying bills, the privilege of WFH, the privilege of being privileged. To question the government on its provision of weapons to the warriors on the land of war-medical health workers. Where every tick of the clock corresponds to their battle against the coronavirus and jumping into the well of death to bring out those afflicted with it. We have to question it all.

Health Worker
When there have been multiple reports of doctors being silenced when addressing their grievances about the unavailability of PPE’s and exposing loopholes in existing healthcare facilities, we need to ponder upon what is being projected and how.

Assisting the destitute on a personal level is noble and essential but this is just one side of the coin. On the other side, we also have to see what those in the authority have been actually doing to help them who continue to face the consequences nakedly. Pertinent questions should be raised about how the taxes have been used by the government and the priority of its allotment.

If the missiles and buildings and the exhaustive list of illegal migrants find immediate sanctions in terms of finance and consensus, then why is it that the PM of the country desperately asks for donations when it comes to the health of the people of the country? Was public health never a priority? Something to ponder upon.

Appreciation of good policies is a must but it should not hinder criticism and cross-questioning of those in power.

Our responsibility doesn’t end with inked fingers but is beyond that.

As responsible citizens, it is essential to observe policies and situations with an unbiased lens-a lens that does not harm or endanger anyone and promotes harmony amongst all-irrespective of caste, faith, gender, economic and financial status. To be blinded with love for leaders and religion will do only harm in the long run. And this is very much to say in the recent Islamophobia that followed after the Tablighi Jamaat case which has caused sheer disharmony in society resulting in harassment of Muslims countrywide all because of irresponsible circulation of fake news by various notable media houses. The inaction of the government by keeping mum on such issues is eerie.

Question because you can afford to. Read, because you are literate. Do not deny and accept blindly; you owe the society by virtue of your privileges.

View with an unbiased lens, the lens of equality, growth, and care for everyone as a whole. Seek for the truth. Noblesse oblige is upon you. To defy it shall mean killing the ethics of humanity.

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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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