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Social Media Has Become A COVID Helpline. Has The Govt Forgotten Its People?

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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.

Trigger Warning: Mention of death and Covid trauma.

With the single-day spike in COVID-19 cases setting records last week, India’s second wave is feared to be longer and more severe than the first one.  However, to believe that this battle would be as smooth(apparently) to handle as the first wave is nothing but indulging in a false sense of security.

Acute shortage of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, pharmaceuticals, plasma, alongside mismanagement of vaccine supply, highlight not just the short-sighted nature of our Government’s strategy to deal with the pandemic- but also glaring inequalities in our social infrastructure.

“India is currently reporting the sharpest growth rate of 7.6% in new Covid cases, which is 1.3 times higher than the case growth rate of 5.5% reported in June 2020,” said Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.

A record single-day rise of 2,61,500 coronavirus infections has taken India’s total tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,47,88,109, while active cases have surpassed the 18-lakh mark, according to Union Health Ministry data updated on Sunday. The death toll increased to 1,77,150 with a record 1,501 new fatalities.

As the second wave of the virus and its various new strains grip the country, netizens have yet again united to fill the gap in infrastructure left by our vague policies and programmes and unhelpful and privileged politicians.

“Aise lag raha hai jaise sarkaar ke paas har hi cheez ke liye wakt hai apne logon ke alawa. Kuch hogaya toh nahi maalum ki kahan jaae, kya karein, kitna kharach ho jaaega. Kaun bataega? Maano sarkaar bol diye ki sab apna apna dekh lo,”( It feels as if the government has the time for everything except its own people. If something happens, we do not now where to go, what to do, and what will the expense be. Who will tell us? It’s as though the government has given up and said everybody fend for yourselves. ) says Harishchandra Pandey, 54.

From forming groups to compiling Covid helpline resources, to creating content that extensively covers where, when and how can one access medical aid, drugs, beds, oxygen- netizens are building a tremendous and reliable space that one can turn to in case of any Covid related emergencies.

While this is truly commendable that people are coming forward to help not just people in their circles but strangers alike- it is equally angering for this reason- has the state forgotten about its people?

 

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Instagram and Twitter are places to connect and share picture and developments with family and friends- but somehow the state believes that these social media apps are enough for people to deal with a deadly virus!

 

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“My father tested Covid positive two weeks back- he had just returned home after travelling for work. Fairly fit for his age, we were extremely terrified when his condition worsened beyond a mild fever. Our family physician asked us to get him admitted immediately. Hospitals full, we struggled to find a bed- a single bed,” says Devika Rajan, 22.

She further added, “No state helpline, no way to find which hospitals have seats available. Desperate for help, I turned to my Instagram connections for help. Within 10 minutes of posting a single story, 4 people reached out to me with Covid resource directories, as well as saw it through that we get there. I don’t know what would have happened otherwise…”

Devika was just one amongst the thousands of others whose families and loved ones have received timely care with the help of strangers on the Internet.

Safdar, 21 says that if not for netizens, they would have never received the plasma they needed for their 27-year-old brother’s severe battle with Covid. “State helplines had given me a bitter experience. They have no mechanism in place- but they won’t tell you that. So, when I reached out on social media, I never expected to find a donor, I only hoped.”

This begs the questions- What are our politicians doing? How are they encouraging and incentivizing people to stay home and wear a mask- if stepping out? What about social security for those impacted most heavily by stringent lockdowns? What is their plan to deal with huge shortages in the supply of PPE kits, beds, oxygen and palliative care?

You may be struggling to keep you and your loved ones alive, but always remember our country’s top politicians care… about your vote! So, here is what our politicians are doing-

Stay Home And Stay Safe… Unless You Have To Vote For Us!

 

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While politicians maintain social distancing, wear masks and stand on elevated stage away from the masses, the same cannot be said about the participants they call upon to join their rally. With turnouts in thousands- unmasked and denying the existence of Covid- the state contradicts itself by setting a dangerous precedent to common people. It says, “Stay home and stay safe…unless you have to vote for us.”

 

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After being called out repeatedly for putting the lives of thousands of people at risk, Rahul Gandhi has called off his rallies in Bengal, and incumbent CM Mamata Banerjee has reduced the duration of her rallies.

The threat of stringent lockdowns setting off another potential migrant labour crisis, severe unemployment gripping the working classes, and a frenzy of people flooding hospitals, overburdened frontline workers with crippling mental health and poor pay. Just as musicians in a bubble on a sinking Titanic, the politicians that the majority of us voted into power look the other way and say, “Propaganda as usual. After all, the show must go on!”

It is in times like these when you face reality- some people and parties will sacrifice you- if that’s what it takes to gain power. Look for red signals. Toxic, manipulative and abusive behaviour is not limited to people. Remember the struggles of commoners and stop finding excuses for people who cannot even see you from their ivory towers.

And as for our dear politicians, we’re terrified to step out to buy bread. You have done absolutely nothing to ease the pain of patients, their families and workers. And you’re holding super spreader rallies. Have you no shame?

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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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