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After Nuclear Explosions, Is Biological Threat The Next Thing That The World Needs To Be Wary Of?

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Humanity has come a long way. The path to survival and existence is treacherous and never-ending. We have always feared death or had a desire to escape it. Mythical stories of every culture talk about some kind of soma, amrit or ambrosia — the elixir of life that can make a human immortal. With series of wars and historical conquests in different epochs of history, development in new kinds of weaponry — from stone and metal to biological weapons — were seen in large numbers.

However, when humans started meddling with nature, it brought its wrath on us. This wrath is sometimes in the form of big disasters such as earthquakes, floods or forest fires. On the other hand, it can come to us in the smallest of forms such as a flea or a microorganism. During black death, people thought it was the work of some evil force and could not believe it to be a flea which engulfed an entire armada.

Pandemics, or even epidemics, have had a great influence in shaping the history, politics and economy of the world. In the Justinian plague recorded in the sixth century, the entire Byzantine empire was brought to its knees. By the time the plague disappeared, the empire had lost its territories.

One of the biggest turning points was after black death, which weakened the clergy and paved the way for scientific revolution. The Spanish flu of 1918 killed upto 50 million people. It also thrashed the German force in World War I. In his memoir, General Erich Ludendorff wrote, “The flu was one of the reasons for Germany’s defeat.”

Over the last few years, the world has been alarmed by some potential plague. SARS in 2003 was anticipated to be the new black death, though it was successfully contained. Viruses such as Ebola had sent a shockwave to Africa’s social and economic development. However, a few months ago, humanity’s race to achieve immortality and supremacy was abruptly postponed by a novel virus. Interestingly, a virus is neither a living nor a non-living being. A confused entity like this has threatened the existence of the very identity of our entire civilisation.

Painting on black plaque

How much advancement is enough? Covid-19 has proved that technology cannot make us invincible. It is evident from our history textbooks that whenever we have faced any kind of setback, we have fought through it with a new invention — be it creation of antibiotics, smartphones or nuclear weapons. All the pandemics before have been dealt with a perfect medication. This time, the case is too complex. In order to fight, it is imperative to know its beginning, i.e. the cause. However, the important clue for this, the source of the virus, is still unavailable.

As fast as we are climbing the ladder of development, the downfall caused by diseases is also getting massive. Today, a pandemic has become the only cause of a potential economic recession. Even during a war or national emergency, our forefathers and parents have never been in a situation of house arrest for such a long time. A microscopic virus has on its own brought an energy crisis, with oil prices coming down. The roar of the bull in the share market has also vanished.

The changes because of the pandemic are not just in terms of the economy. Every aspect of our daily lives has been changed, ranging from social customs to fashion. Masks with new patterns and materials are now flooding on Instagram posts as the outfit of the day. Eventually, we will also make truce with a more virtual connection to the world. Confinement will become ‘the new normal’. 

We have surpassed the age of information technology, but the sources to find a piece of information are now aplenty. Too much content, with false news, has opened up a loophole in the process of development. Confusion and chaos over a pandemic will become difficult for political systems to bring in any measures. Hate speeches and spread of prejudice about a particular section of society have widened the gap and made the target group more susceptible to death.

covid vaccine

In the book The Great Leveller, historian Walter Schidel credited Black Death for improving the lives of the serfs. He considers the medieval pandemic to be one of the pillars that flattened inequality in that age. But sadly, the coronavirus has widened this gap, discriminately affecting the lives of the poor, women and migrant labourers.

In the pre-pandemic world, globalisation was considered the ‘new world order’. However, the idea of nation-state and its territorial integrity has now resurfaced after the pandemic. This time, there will be reshuffling of global superpowers because of a virus. Asian countries including China and South Korea have a better chance now at becoming a hegemon.

During the 1962 Cold War, the world stifled when it heard about a confrontation near Cuba. However, we were saved by a Third World War. Treaties and agreements were laid down to let go of nuclear weapons. However, we were forced to break the rules and recreate ourselves. In the age of biotechnology, there are huge chances of chemical and biological weapons starting a war rather than nuclear explosions.

After the ‘Manhattan Project’, physicist Robert Oppenheimer said, ‘Now I became Death, the destroyer of the world.’ Later, the father of atomic bombs was blacklisted for opposing the hydrogen bombs. He was right in anticipating the exodus of humanity with the launching of nuclear weapons. Speculation about the novel virus being a weapon is still in the air. However, for the first time, an outbreak has brought in enmity and suspicion among countries. 

Black Death, after which the global system took almost a century to recover, is remembered to this day in the ubiquitous children rhyme “Ringa Ringa Roses”. Roses refers to buboes and all fall down refers to the millions of victims of it. However, people recovered from its trauma and built the world again. Only time will tell how the new virus will be remembered — whether it will be recalled as a child’s play or the greatest blunder of humans of the 21st century.

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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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