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Monsoon Was My Favourite Season Until I Witnessed The 2020 Hyderabad Floods

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This post is part of theYKA Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.

The force of the water was like an angry god. The torrents pressing against my little Alto were alive, pulsing, and for once, I let go entirely of the idea that I was in control of the car. Something was wrong, I could tell that I was not just navigating another flooded patch of famously uneven Hyderabad road. I concentrated on steering and realised that I couldn’t spot the naala that should have been on my left, intersecting the road. Only a continuous sea of water.

My car is one of the things that allows me my freedom. Safe inside a portable metal bubble, I am able to go (almost) anywhere I want, at any time, a luxury most women in the city don’t enjoy. I remember thinking it would be a prime irony to die trapped inside it.

———————

Between October 12 and19 last year Hyderabad received record levels of rainfall from a Northeastern pressure system that had gone rogue. It colluded with the retreating Southwest monsoon, Telangana’s yearly rain-source, flash-flooding our dry plateau-state. On October 13, many city residents woke up to knee-high water inside their bedrooms, their furniture and belongings floating around them.

The deluge was relentless and rapid, especially in the innumerable low-lying pockets nestling in the undulating topography of Telangana. Rescue teams on boats and cranes raced against the continuous downpour, battling uprooted trees and crumbling construction before entire colonies became inaccessible.

The ongoing pandemic had already laid shockingly bare the inequalities of a broken system. Overcrowded, hastily organized refugee camps sparked fears of uncontrollable contagion. Upwards of sixty lives were lost, around 40,000 families were directly impacted and official estimates put the damage at INR 9000 crores.

————–

Day 3 with no power. The last news update I saw, before my phone died, was the Uppal MLA doing inspection rounds on a boat, manoeuvring through a colony two stories underwater. Distraught women screamed abuses at him from balconies and terraces on either side. 

My mother obsessively checks the clock, even though there is nowhere to go. My father, cool and stoic at the worst of times, cannot contain his impatience. Was it ‘screen withdrawal’ that we were experiencing, having been cut off from the outside world? Or was it the abrupt disruption of our otherwise comfortable lives? It rained, and rained, and rained. 

The monsoon is usually my favourite time in Hyderabad. A persistent petrichor keeps me suspended in an existential trance in which everything seems sentient, extramundane. To friends in Delhi, I endlessly romanticize the sudden violence of Hyderabad rain, which forces life out of a barren landscape. “Delhi does not have a monsoon”, I say.

“Cloudburst” is one of those deceptively pretty words. I used to envision a rain of angels, when it really is the sky weeping, in rage, or anguish. Or both. An ‘extreme weather event’, the experts called the 2020 Hyderabad floods. Everything has to do with global warming these days.

………………..

Given its unique location on an impenetrable ledge of volcanic rock, Telangana’s inland network of lakes, and the crisscrosses of water channels connecting them are crucial in draining this landlocked area. Most of these are now under landfill or construction. In 2020, a mere 185 of the 3,000-7,000 lakes, tanks, reservoirs and other inland water bodies that historically dotted Hyderabad remain.

The story of Hyderabad is a familiar one. In 1990, its urban area covered 21, 668 hectares. By 2014, the city had metastasized almost 4 times that size. Development is largely unplanned, and virtually limitless (on the quantitative count, not improving whatever exists). An administrative quirk has left the city’s infrastructure under multiple authorities, adding multiple layers of corruption and a lack of coordination to the ‘masterplans’ that the city is subjected to.

…………………..

“It is a good time to buy land here,” my mother has been telling me. In their retirement, my parents have now saved up enough to invest in property. An anachronistic optimism drives development in Hyderabad, far removed and at odds with the doomsday predictions of the climate scientists. Hyderabad is only now entering the league of bigger metropolises. It has begun featuring in ‘Best City’ lists. India’s own Big Pharma hub is also the biotechnology capital. It is an IT centre too and attracts other diverse industries, mostly through foreign investments. 

The state government is desperate to maintain this interest. I suspect The Centre’s paltry budget for Telangana is the backdrop against which the former has resorted to reclaiming and selling whatever land it can get its hands on, to keep the revenue coming.

Every time I come back to Hyderabad, it is a little more unrecognizable. The buzz of bulldozers razing its rare, millennia-old rock formations is constant. This optimism has no doubt fuelled the thousands of encroachments that rapidly choked up the city’s inland water bodies.

…………………………………

Inland flooding is a lesser-known effect of climate change. The now-ubiquitous visuals of polar bears stranded on melting glaciers logically lead only into visions of coastlines disappearing under the swelling sea. I search the internet, but the explanation is laborious, riddled with technicalities that, briefly put, amount to—everything is connected. What I do take away, though, is that these technicalities, the lesser-known effects of the changing climate, punch large holes in the assuring thesis that there will be pockets of inhabitable land left, that there will be some time left for desperate measures when the world begins to end.

In the novel Weather, Jenny Offill’s apocalyptic meditation on climate change, everyone is obsessed with the end of the world. “What will be the safest place?”, the richest of them ask Sylvia, an academic on a climate change lecture tour. “We’re not asking for ourselves, but we have children, you understand.” If I were a rich mother, I imagine that I, too, would do my best to take my child to the safety of Mars.

……………….

October 18, 2020: The power comes back on the sixth day. I post an Instagram update. I eulogise the days of uninterrupted, calm and reflective reading that I gave myself over to, to keep my sanity while the city drowned around me, and feel immediately guilty.

It is difficult to describe the extent of the loss and grief that choked the city; to account for the things that cannot be measured. Perhaps it is futile to try when the world turns a blind eye even to the alarming changes we can measure.

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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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