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Rituals And Festivals: An Insurmountable Roadblock In Our Battle Against COVID

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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.

Are customs and festivals so important that one can even put one’s own and others’ lives at risk to maintain or celebrate these? Are we so obsessed with our tradition and beliefs that we are ready to put our loved one’s lives at stake? Well, looking at the current scenario in the country, it seems like it. Though the recent festival season, accompanied by the government’s orders to re-open temples, came as a big relief for a religious society like ours, it definitively didn’t work in favor of the country’s health.

The recent incident of flooding of a showroom in Chennai gives rise to similar concerns. According to the recently broadcasted news on one of the country’s national news channels, the showroom was jam-packed by a massive mob gathered to do festive shopping, negating all the government SOPs for COVID.

Well, residing in Chennai, this was not at all surprising for me as this has become a routine affair here. Not only in Chennai, but a similar situation resonates in other parts of the country as well. Every day, I hear similar stories of people’s apathy towards the situation from my friends and relatives residing in different cities and even abroad. It is ironic and disappointing to see that the human race hasn’t learnt anything even after losing such a huge percentage of its population to the recent and ongoing pandemic.

India’s condition is even more precarious, where people take pride in their traditions and beliefs even at the stake of others’ lives. And they have all arguments to justify such acts until something happens in their own family. According to a recent report by NDTV, a government-appointed committee has predicted a fresh spike in the number of Covid cases due to the onset of winter and upcoming festivals, despite India crossing its coronavirus peak. It is expected to see an addition of 26 lakh cases within a month.

Another report by Financial Express titled Coronavirus in India: Festivals are super spreaders’ stated how Ganesh Chaturthi proved to be a disaster period. There was a significant spike seen in the Covid cases in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, during this time. Also, a day before the commencement of pooja festivities, West Bengal recorded its highest daily addition of 3,677 cases.

But all these warnings proved to be of no use for a country like India, where the burden of relations is very heavy. Even if it is against your own wish, you might end up trying to maintain these relations. My mother was the recent victim of this relative-pleasing culture. She had to attend a housewarming function organized by one of her extended family members, which she could not afford to miss, especially because her in-laws hosted it. Though a gathering of a limited number, it ultimately infected her, followed by numerous days of suffering, pain, fear, and uncertainty for her and all of us.

Violation of all social distancing norms and Government SOPs has become the new normal. This picture of a wedding ceremony organized at the terrace of a home in Perungudi, Chennai, exposes people’s careless attitude and their apathy towards the pandemic situation.

Another shocker was a wedding ceremony organized just behind our apartment in Perungudi, Chennai. At least a hundred people must have attended the function conducted on a house’s roof, that too, without any social distancing and masks on their faces. At that moment, I remembered my own wedding, which was attended by merely 50 people as my husband and I chose to keep it restricted even during pre-Covid times to keep our ceremony simple and subtle.

Though I don’t find any lack of love and harmony in our marital bond, there are occasional hiccups when some relatives complain about making them feel left out. Simple weddings can do good for our society in so many ways, like saving money, lessening the financial burden on the bride’s family, and making the entire journey peaceful. Still, it is disheartening that people always choose vanity, ego, and snobbishness over simplicity.

The above picture was taken just a week before. People can be seen clustered in a famous cloth and grocery showroom situated in Chrompet, Chennai.

The above picture was taken just a week before. People can be seen clustered in a famous cloth and grocery showroom situated in Chrompet, Chennai, to do the festival shopping. With no social distancing and face masks hanging below their chins, it is sure that we will be witnessing a spike in Covid cases very soon.

Then there was another incident in the Neelankarai region of Chennai, in which I could see a gang of young boys with no masks on their faces dancing energetically to the tunes of a drummer tied through a thick supporting cloth across one of the boy’s shoulders. It was a procession for a God, who I am sure would not be able to vouch for their safety. As it is rightly said, “Trust God but lock your car.”

My anger while witnessing such irresponsible behavior of people can be attributed to the fact that I have been married off into a family of medical practitioners. These practitioners tirelessly work day and night to save even that one life if they could afford to. And like other Corona warriors, they are most vulnerable to this deadly disease and can’t afford to sit at their homes like the rest of us who can but prefer to go out for all avoidable reasons risking others’ lives. And thus, all the drama surrounding talithali, and the flower shower looks like a sham. The best honor or gift one can give these warriors is their support in fighting this pandemic only by sitting at home until something urgent compels us to step out of our homes.

The irony is that challenging people’s beliefs had always been a sensitive issue. The moment you question their behavior, it will hurt their religious sentiments, and they will not leave any stone unturned to justify their acts even if it concerns their loved ones’ and their own lives. If only people could control their religious fervor a little this year and instead celebrated their festivals in a minimalistic way sitting at home, India could have come much closer to winning the fight against this pandemic.

Featured image only for representation. Photo by Shubhangee Vyas on Unsplash
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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
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