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“No One Deserves To Breath In Toxic Gas Just To Earn A Days Wage To Survive”

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Nepotism doesn’t just exist in popular fields like Bollywood or politics, it also exists in daily wages jobs as well. Everyone says to not favour family as it can lead to the ruin of the ‘authenticity’ of the job and can carry on for generations in the same family. But, ultimately we don’t realise that we do have a tendency to associate people and jobs based on their caste or religion, or sometimes, even gender.

India lacks the dignity of labour in so many ways, that we don’t even realise when we’re looking down on someone’s job, as it has become ‘socially acceptable’ to do so. Only a certain kind of work qualifies as a ‘respectable’ job, while the others are just for someone who was born to do it, just because they was born into a specific caste, with a certain history associated with them.

One such job is manual scavenging, a job which is looked so down upon in India that we feel disgusted just imagining the smell of a manhole or sewage tank, so how can we touch someone who gets inside to clean it, right? Most of us are ignorant and won’t even bother to think about what actually happens to the waste that we generate every day. This is a job which is associated with people who did not choose to do it out of passion either.

We keep reading news reports on how manual scavenging, which still involves thousands of people doing it, leading to hundreds of deaths every year. It is hard to believe that in an era where robots bring us food in restaurants, there are people getting inside manholes to clean up human waste.

We can’t get rid of manual scavenging without uprooting our casteist beliefs.

There was a time in history when people from the so-called lower castes were made to tie a broomstick behind their backs so that when they walked, they didn’t leave any trail of ‘impurities’ behind. They were made to live in the shadow side of the mountain or hill so that no rays of the sun which touched them reached the so-called upper castes of the society.

We talk so much about justice and equality for all that should prevail in the Indian society. But, how often do we even try to bring about change or consider them as equals, now that we are in the 21st century? We don’t even try to question why society considers a fellow human being, who is made of the same flesh and bones as ourselves, any different? We consider ourselves to be the ‘superior’ species on the planet but yet we barely act like one.

Who gave us the right to treat another individual any differently? Who made us feel believe it was okay to disrespect and bring down the dignity of someone?

Nobody deserves to breathe in the toxic chemical gas just so that they can survive the day and bring food to their family. In 2013, the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act looked to put an end to any form of manual scavenging, and the carrying, disposing or handling of human waste. The government should also bring in more stringent rules and policies for manual scavenging, with strict implementation at the ground level. There are many NGOs also working towards the cause and helping with rehabilitation as well.

The lack of knowledge about, and access to, efficient use of technology is still keeping the practice alive. It is very important to bring in new and easy methods to clean the sewage with the use of technology which ensures both employment and also saves them from deadly diseases. Bringing in awareness about the importance of the work they do to the common people who look down upon them is the need of the hour. I feel this is important so that they are respected, and so the dignity of labour is created in society.

One such amazing example is the Bandicoot team who built the world’s first one of a kind machine to clean the manhole in under 20 minutes. Anyone with minimal knowledge to use technology can operate this machine. Around 7 states in India have already implemented this to eradicate manual scavenging completely in the near future.

A sense of respect for all and dignity of labour needs to be the seed of thought for the generation to come so as to reduce the social inequality, and also reduce the intolerance between religions, caste and finally gender.

We should be empathetic, kind and considerate towards the Karamcharis (sanitation workers) who clean our roads and pick up the garbage every day, who clean the public bathrooms and did their work even during these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, that are people who did not choose to do the job out of passion but out of sheer necessity to earn daily bread. Just smile and say thank you the next time you see them. Without them, our cities wouldn’t be clean.

We should also be equally responsible for keeping our motherland, Bharat, clean by not littering, urinating and spitting in public places. Behavioural changes are a must to put all these things into practice.

‎Everyone is getting through their life, doing their jobs, whether they are passionate about, willingly or not. That does not mean their kids are supposed to do the same job. A child deserves to dream big and achieve them. The dreams of thousands of families like these should not be crushed by the age-old norms set by society.

I just have one question for you now, will you consciously STOP this unlawful and inhumane activity, if you see it happening around you? You, me, and the rest of India know who the “THEY” refers to in the entire article. Let’s restore THEIR faith in humanity and give them a respectable life.

Our struggle does not end so long as there is single human being considered untouchable on account of his birth,” said M.K. Gandhi.

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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.

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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.

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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