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Local Media In Gujarat Shows National Media How To Hold Government Accountable

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Journalism from most major national media houses in India is pitiful, to say the least, with the painstaking bias of some outlets for the establishment and its corporate Hindutva path totally visible. The immorality of Godi Media is something that has been talked about, but the work of local media outlets in the state of Gujarat could be one of the signs of an alternative to propagandist media: local and independent media.

The Ground Reality In Gujarat

Media in Gujarat has been on the front foot against the Gujarat government’s attempts to fudge the COVID-19 numbers in the state. On April 13, the government said that the city of Jamnagar had seen 0 (zero) Covid deaths, however, local media reported a minimum of 54 COVID deaths.

They got these accurate numbers by camping outside cremation grounds all night, covering the grounds, and counting the bodies disposed of via the COVID protocol (which differs from your usual cremation). Journalism in India has been reduced to loud islamophobic men shouting about half-baked conspiracies against the government, and seeing such honest journalism is a surprising change.

A similar report in Ahmedabad by Gujarati outlet ‘Sandesh’ refuted the government’s claims that only 20 people had died on April 12th, with its reporters counting at least 63 dead from COVID in just one hospital. 

Sandesh’s Tuesday edition headline reads that “In just 17 hours, 63 dead bodies reached crematoriums from Civil Hospital.”

The Gujarat government’s attempts to hide deaths are not just limited to these two cities, as the city of Surat, where some crematoriums have seen the metal in their furnaces melt from the continuous smoke of burning bodies. Crematoriums are running out of wood for pyres and are forced to use petrol or Kerosene to burn the bodies instead of ghee. The Surat Municipal Board has had to re-open 3 closed crematoriums without furnaces and multiple bodies have been seen to be cremated together, to shorten the waiting period, which can go up to 8-10 hours. 

The Gujarat government claimed that Surat had only seen 22 deaths on April 12th and 13th. 

Just More Negative News?

With our social media feeds filled with pleas for remdesivir, plasma, hospital beds, and ventilators, arguments can be made that this is just more negative news. However, the fact remains that reporting government fudging is necessary, especially when it is playing with the lives and safety of people, and treating the dead as a number that can be misrepresented.

The government trying to impose a false sense of safety will only be detrimental, both in the short and long run, as people will naturally take fewer precautions if they feel that there is nothing to worry about in their area. This would lead to more people getting infected, and more death. This is the reason government numbers in the pandemic need to be accurate. 

However, governments in BJP-ruled states have repeatedly tried to fudge the numbers, with a similar situation brewing in Uttar Pradesh. A crematorium had walls put up around it so that reporters could not count the deaths in Lucknow or make videos. The BJP, in its hastiness, to take pot-shots at governments in Maharashtra, Delhi, and West Bengal is playing with their own constituent’s lives and the fate of the country. 

Perhaps, more couldn’t be expected from a government that is prioritizing the Kumbh Mela and state elections during a pandemic.

The other reason this true reportage remains vital is the reason journalism has been vital in democracy for decades. To bring light to issues and failures of the government and to put pressure on the government to respond and remedy the situation. According to a report by The Scroll, the Shifa Hospital ran out of oxygen for Covid-19 patients, and only got more oxygen after the media reported on it.

Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar demanded accountability from state BJP Unit CR Patil by publishing his number and urging readers to call and ask how he got 5,000 doses of Remdesivir in Surat during a country-wide shortage.

Visuals of walls being erected around the main crematorium in Lucknow to stop reporting on the actual deaths in the city.

What Does All This Show Us?

A government that is not prioritizing its people, be it the centre or the state governments, should be questioned and held accountable. The BJP government has completely mismanaged the second wave of the pandemic, but Godi media has brought no attention to the government’s shortcomings and the severity of the position.

The response of local media in Gujarat, and several other states shows that the consumer of news has an alternative beyond the biased. Local and independent media outlets like Sandesh in Gujarat, and examples like PARI (People’s Archive Of Rural India) for national news, show that maybe, journalism is not yet destroyed in our country.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.

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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.

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