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Social Distance Kept Us At A Distance, But Also Brought Us Together

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Pandemics are complicated emergencies. The Covid-19 pandemic attests to it. It has spiralled into an epoch-making humanitarian catastrophe and not just a public health emergency. Our political, economic and psychological structures have collapsed. It is the writing on the wall that we live in the Anthropocene, a period in which the geological, hydrological, bio-geochemical and atmospheric cycles of the earth have been deeply adversely altered by human activities.

We simply choose to turn a blind eye to all signs of alarm. Social distance is one prevention measure, which implies keeping a physical distance with people in and around us to avoid the spread of an infectious disease, and all the affected nations are pursuing social distance in the pandemic to prevent further spreading. This has resulted in productivity to some degree, but with lockdowns all around, people face problems such as anxiety and loneliness.


But the question is, is social distance really drawing us apart? Let’s go back to the pre-corona days, when things were more ‘normal’. Perhaps, we were physically linked, but how mentally connected were we? Not like the way we are now, maybe. If we sociologically examine the act of ‘social-distancing’, isn’t it a new type of untouchability?

Of course, yes. Earlier in Indian society, after the Vedic period, the upper castes used to maintain social distance with untouchables so as to not impure themselves. In the same trend, as individuals are asked to retain social distance, all constitutional norms that discourage untouchability and encourage integration seem to have failed in contemporary society because of Covid-19.

The influence of the coronavirus has been a lot and not just limited to society at large. Both rural and urban economies have been adversely affected by an economic perspective. Upper caste people have realised the importance of basic necessities in their lives, while lower caste people, on the other hand, are hungry for food.

As the upper caste people recognised the value of it, they began sharing their surplus money and food with the poor. Many individuals have come forward to help the poor to survive this pandemic. But the future for both the castes is clearly highly unpredictable. In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continuing lockdown has impacted the lives of some of the most marginalised populations in the world, including migrant workers, waste pickers, single mothers, artisans and sex workers.

Non-profit organisations are sending appeals for funds to buffer the effect of the recession on these industries and ensure their access to necessities. There are many NGOs, charities and private institutions who are working for this cause to help you support these initiatives and link you with efforts on the ground.

‘1MillionMeals’ is one of the campaigns launched to aid people in the pathetic circumstances during the janta curfew. Ruchira Gupta, founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, introduced the campaign in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that deprived families obtain food and dry rations. A distress call was received by Gupta from a 12-year-old living in a red-light area in Delhi: “Didi, kuch kijiye, hum log bhooke hai, humein khana nahin mil raha hai (Sister, please do something, we’re starving and we don’t have any food).”

Gupta was galvanised into action by this distress call. She immediately asked a friend to arrange for the delivery of 500 fast meals. This movement subsequently spread to different cities including Delhi and Kolkata. People in red light areas of these cities were served food packets.

Apne Aap has distributed 140,000 relief parcels in Delhi, Bihar and Kolkata with private donations, according to Gupta. In Kolkata alone, New Light, Basu says, has reached more than 1,500 families. Rice, flour, pulses, spices, tea, milk powder, onions and potatoes are included in the packets, just enough to feed a family of four for two weeks, along with hygiene products.

1MillionMeals campaign. Image has been provided by the author.

Much of the assistance came from unlikely quarters: small-scale companies and merchants who didn’t want anything in return, not even a social media reference. She says these people will sell a thousand pairs of shoes to migrants returning home or anything else that they would need, with just one call. They will, therefore, along with the food, pack tarpaulin and other supplies to help people solve the crisis. Within 100 days, over five million meals were served through the programme. And as cases of coronavirus surge, the journey continues and complexity remains.

Gupta’s initiative spread more on social media by word of mouth and with celebrities such as celebrity chef Vikas Khanna and actor Abhay Deol talking about it. Through all this, we may claim that in order to survive this crisis, the upper caste people supported the lower caste people. Throughout the pandemic, they served selflessly. Even merchants and other citizens of the middle-caste did their bit for the poor, as mentioned above. Thus, for every upper caste person, this pandemic has opened their eyes so that they feel thankful for the things they have in their lives.

Both upper and lower caste individuals were able to survive this pandemic with each other’s encouragement. We may now argue that this social distancing brought together all the castes and resulted in our country’s better future and prosperity.

Please visit this link to know more about the 1MillionMeals campaign. 

By: Ahmedabad University Students

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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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