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On COVID Misgovernance: “Memories Will Send Shivers Down The Spine For Generations”

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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: Covid Death*

The devastation that we see ourselves surrounded by in India is not impersonal anymore. It is at a scale unimaginable and unseen in recent memory. And we are helpless. Helpless in front of the calamity and vulnerable in front of this vast autocratic state.

We are yet again clueless. As a nation-state, we have again found ourselves unguarded, underprepared, if not wholly unprepared. The sight of the horror does not appear to be seizing. And by the time it does, the catastrophe that it will lay bare will be enigmatic.

The divides have fallen at the feet of tragedy. It renders one speechless. I wish I were not right in the last post. In hindsight, I would want to erase those words. Or let it be, as a testimony, a testimony to our collective mourning.

Corona Virus Outbreak In India
View of a crematorium ground where mass cremation of victims who died due to the COVID-19 is seen, New Delhi on 22 April, 2021. (Photo by Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The slope to fate is an easy recourse. It is convenient to say that this crisis is the wrath of gods. Our lives are getting sacrificed at the fire altar. We are atoning for our sins. Even if it were true, it does not devolve responsibility. To argue about human fate is to undermine the power that humans exercise on the planet. In the same breath, it is a leap into an unsubstantiated conclusion that this pandemic is nature’s wrath without concluding evidence.

There are two “apparent” theories about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. It may have been natural, in the sense that it is a pathogen that jumped from bats to humans via an intermediary species. But this natural leap, even if not a conjecture, is not beyond human interference. Another theory may have been an accident out of a lab allegedly funded by the U.S. situated in Wuhan, China, which pretty much makes it human-made.

However, there are attentions needed much more on urgent matters at hand. It is not the time to set the responsibilities of the developed world. The capacities of India are globally exposed. The value of human life is being revealed.

In 2004, a reasonably confident India had adopted the policy to not take foreign aid in the aftermath of Tsunami relief work. On the same grounds, the Centre refused foreign aid from UAE in 2018 for flood-ravaged Kerala, which counted over 480 deaths. The sight of foreign assistance is also a reminder of how essential, how basic are the supplies of assistance. We were in 2015 celebrating the symbolic appeal for reparations in Oxford Union.

This is not to suggest nothing is happening. There is a highly insensitive colonial legacy at work. And we have our medical, scientific and technological infrastructure capacities that we have built over the decades. It, too, is insufficient. More surprisingly, it took us a Pandemic to realise how grave these gaps are and how heinous, how cruel! We witnessed the value of human life.

Nothing absolutely shocked us. No lynchings, no riots, no blatant and ugly use of state force, no attacks on students, no attacks on eminent universities, no arrests of intellectuals and activists, no discrediting of protests, no hollowing of parliamentary procedures, no misuse of central agencies, no compromise of constitutional bodies, no arbitrary policy announcements, no atrocities, no plight, no hate, no slander.

Not even the detention of a doctor, Kafeel Khan, in UP under NSA, as a punitive action, for whistleblowing the death of 60 children due to lack of oxygen. Nothing affected us. There was a celebration of a projected self-image of a grand Hindu-state. The same state proclaimed its victory in unsympathetic gloating at the World Economic Forum’s Davos dialogue in 2021.

Whatever we pontificate, it is undeniable that we have done too little too late. India is dying, and it is no hyperbole anymore. But, wait, India Today (pun intended) does not know where to put the blame, at least on its cover.

modi
Representative Image.

It is reassuring to see that they know the answer. We all do. But at the same time, we act as if we do not. Why? I wonder. No reasoning seems justified. Maybe what we mean by the unsaid is that it is not criminal but a matter of mere oversight, negligence, accidental, if one may. It is to suggest stupidity of sorts, hard to admit.

We had become Vishwa Guru. Stupidity seems too banal for one. Probably, the gravest stupidity is to consider people stupid. How the world saw our national stupidity is well recorded in the global press. One of the most iconic political theorists, Hannah Arendt, saw evil as banal. It is everyday thoughtlessness that she witnessed in the modern Nazi state of Germany at that point in history as evil. Evil, which reminds us of a cultural memory of crime against humanity that had to be defined in International Law for the first time.

It is alarming that the mathematically predicted death toll of 1 million by August, which is not what deaths are mere, brings back the ghost of the past. How banal if we do not know who to and why to put politically accountable. It may be because “political” is reduced to an entertaining game of win and lose.

If the recently held Bengal elections were anything, then it was a gladiatorial contest, as grand as it could be. The colosseum was missing. But it kept us ignorantly unaware, for a while, as the Romans would have felt amidst the chaos of plague, wars and political instability.

We lack political consciousness for historical reasons, or it was systemically undermined with the help of an ancillary media ecosystem what many would call mass propaganda. It is based on the assumption that people are fools and can be misled like mindless animals. Saving one’s self-image so seems urgent than saving lives.

As if power can create alternate realities. As if the horror of every day can be forgotten. As if the loss of a loved one and the lingering pain of never having to see the deceased’s face one last time can be erased. The sheer arrogance of power, vainglory and schadenfreude. Moreover, it is not so difficult to imagine. This stupidity is banal. And, for a mindless power, it is not unthinkable.

This travesty of our time may never have a finality. Memories will send shivers down the spine for generations.

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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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