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Our Tryst With Trash: The Ethico Story

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By Indranil Sen Gupta and Rabia Tewari

If you’re pet parents, you know too well about the lure of living by the beach. In a city that offers little space to walk for its citizens, let alone pets, the beach seems like the answer to all our stroll struggles.

CeeLo and Gabru could finally run carefree, we’d thought. The reality of our neighbourhood beach, however, was very different. To begin with, there was hardly a beach to speak of — it laid buried under three and a half feet of marine litter. Think of an article — you could be sure to find it on our ‘beach’.

Litter strewn across Mahim beach. Image Source: #MahimBeachCleanUp

Plastic bottles/bags, backpacks, shoes, straws, glasses, toothbrushes, syringes, milk packets, photo frames, books, toys, clothes — the list is endless.

Where do we even start?

Our first instinct after moving in was to do what most responsible citizens might’ve done — call up the local Municipal Corporation helpline. So we did. Once, twice, three times, a dozen times. But, when it garnered no concrete response, we knew we had to give it a go ourselves. That we’re both finicky about cleanliness added a sense of urgency.

The first day was daunting, of course. We were wearing our rubber gloves and gumboots, but we clearly weren’t prepared enough. We stood there stupefied by the piles of rubbish.

So we decided to start small. We chose a small patch of land and channelled all our energies to that piece alone. Two hours in, we hadn’t accomplished much, but the patch allowed a thin stream of water to flow through it. Even though confined to perhaps one square metre of land, the beach looked like it was breathing again.

The more the merrier! Seeing the two of us knee-deep in the litter, a couple of people from our building joined us. Occasionally a few more people volunteered, but on most weekends, it was just the two of us.

Getting volunteers regularly remained a huge challenge. Our social media pages have documented our journey since day one and that helped to get the word out. Thus, it became a routine, a habit and a lifestyle.

Our weekend plans are now locked down for as long as we can think! As the months passed by, schools, colleges and organisations started volunteering in huge numbers along with a few dedicated volunteers.

Dedicated volunteers at work Image Source – #MahimBeachCleanUp

The Koli village living along the beach got involved too. What a beautiful feeling it is to gather with complete strangers, unified by one common goal — cleaner oceans!

What a ride!

Over the months, we have cleared the beach of more than 1,000 tonnes (10,00,000 kilos) of rubbish. Some of the plastic waste has been sent for recycling and we’re constantly exploring newer ways to direct as little as possible to the landfills.

While the sight of a relatively cleaner beach and the support of other citizens is a reward in itself, we were humbled when in June 2018, our efforts were felicitated by the UN Environment Programme.

We marked our first anniversary with the launch of the OPENDOOR Fest. An idea very close to our hearts, OPENDOOR seeks to engage citizens with their public places by making the latter cultural hubs, featuring music, song, dance, art, etc. A place that embraces one and all — for free — and revives open spaces while making citizens feel responsible for their upkeep and care.

We have so far, had two editions of the OPENDOOR Fest at the Mahim Beach and look forward to many more mornings and evenings of music and art.

Manasi Parekh and Anurag Shanker performing at the first edition of the OPENDOOR Fest Image Source – #MahimBeachCleanUp
Chandana Bala Kalyan performing at the second edition of the OPENDOOR Fest Image Source – #MahimBeachCleanUp

A life lesson cleaning the beach has brought us face-to-face with is the magnitude of ocean litter that threatens our marine life and has made us conscious of our own consumption. It has also restored our faith in the power of will and the potential of a dedicated bunch of doers.

A dog resting contently on a clear beach after a clean-up Image Source – #MahimBeachCleanUp

And while inspiring stories are all around if you look, we find deep resonance in the words of environmentalist and Polar explorer Robert Swan: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.

What’s next?

Given the plight of our seas, it’s impossible to put a deadline to the cleaning process. Our seas are unfortunately a dumping ground for the city’s waste brought in by the Mithi river and the other storm-water drains. Only a sustained and dedicated effort can tackle the issue at hand. Most importantly, a shift in the mindset can truly facilitate change.

Our efforts right now, apart from conducting the existing clean-ups, include getting the local authorities to pledge greater support, urging the government to lock down a timeline to fix the Mithi river and install a filtration system at the confluence, trying to pool in modern equipment to clean the beach and spreading awareness about the hazards of plastic waste and marine litter and the importance of recycling.

We also wish to make the lifestyle shift from a convenient to a conscious a seamless one for anyone who wants to start on the path to sustainability. This sowed the seeds for Ethico.

Through Ethico, we wish to educate people about the impact of our actions on the climate, create awareness about the environmental challenges that plague our times, facilitate action against the climate crisis and help people engage in conscious consumption.

It’s a long process and we hope we’ll find many more partners along the way.

Note: This article was originally published on Ethico India.

About The Author: Ethico founder Indranil and his wife Rabia, together the founders of the #MahimBeachCleanUp, share their trials and triumphs of exposing one of Mumbai’s neglected beaches from under piles of trash.

Featured image provided by the author.
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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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