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Forest Fires Are Now Razing Uttarakhand, Did We Learn Anything From Similipal?

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Uttarakhand is battling one of the worst forest fires the state has witnessed since its formation in 2000. According to forest officials, there are 40 active fire spots in the forests of the Garhwal and Kumaon regions, with Nainital, Almora, Tehri and Pauri districts being the worst-hit.

Uttarakhand Forest Fire Continues, 2270 Hectares Affected
Uttarakhand forest fires in 2016. (Photo by Arvind Moudgil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Similar fires gripped Similipal National Park in Odisha last month and burned for over a fortnight. The massive fires in Odisha may have been doused by rain and hail, but the questions of environmental concern continue to burn.

Mainstream television news channels, busy covering the campaigning for the assembly elections in West Bengal and Assam, ignored the fire. Some concerns were raised on social media about the fate of the indigenous tribes in the state, whose livelihood depends on produce from the forest.

Down To Earth magazine reported that forest officials were intimidating the locals, accusing them of purposely setting the forest on fire. Several environmentalists and forest guards accused them of burning leaves that sparked the blaze, an allegation refuted by the tribal population.

The Odisha government claimed there was no loss of life due to the fire, without clarifying whether it referred to the loss of human or animal life. But apart from the suspicion that many animals might have perished in the inferno, there were concerns that those that fled the forest to escape the flames could fall prey to hunters and poachers outside their protected habitat.

India has already witnessed four major forest fires in 2021, but no one seems to be concerned. In January, forest fires in Himachal Pradesh’s scenic Kullu and Shimla districts burnt for days before being brought under control. In the east, forests along the Nagaland-Manipur border also raged for two weeks before NDRF and Army teams were sent to douse them.

The fact that very few of us knew or cared about these massive fires underlines the fact that Indians are not really worried about climate change.

similipal forest fire
Representative Image.

Wildfires are an essential part of ecological systems in certain forest habitations that catch fire in the dry season. But this natural phenomenon has multiplied manifold in recent years due to the unusually hot dry spells sparked by Climate Change.

Apart from this, fires are often deliberately lit to clear land for humans or drive animals out of a particular place and often go out of control, endangering entire species of animals. Massive wildfires have become an annual ritual across the globe.

But while the Beirut Blast and Covid-19 pandemic come out as clear instances of threats to human life, the world seems unaware of the impending devastation that climate change will bring. Environmentalists who try to flag this clear and present danger have been asked to work on their “anger management problem” by world leaders.

In India, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Bill tabled in Parliament left environmentalists howling in protests. The bill aims at easing rules for industries that breach environmental laws, thereby putting economic development ahead of long-term environmental damage. This sheer ignorance of those who make laws on one of the most important 21st-century issues is perhaps due to lack of awareness, as shown by the general apathy both among the government and the public towards the fire in Similipal.

Indians wake up to the news of an orange sky due to wildfires in California, fret over bushfires in Australia and express outrage over the Amazon forest fires on social media. But when fires burning for nearly a fortnight wipe out one-third of India’s revered national reserve, nobody seems to care.

Many of the environmental challenges that threaten our world, including global warming, can be slowed down if not reversed if we humans, said to be the most intelligent animal species, paid more attention to how our daily activities affect our natural surroundings.

We can initiate conversations in order to raise awareness and work on minimising our carbon footprint as early measures to reduce the harm already done. We can use social media to support the work of activists who highlight the worsening condition of our environment, thus raising awareness. And finally, we can use collective pressure and outrage to call out those who are exploiting our planet for short term gains without any concern for the long term damage.

And we need to do it now before it is too late.

This article was originally published on Outlook India

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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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