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Most People Don’t Know Where Their Trash Goes. I Followed Mine And This Is What I Found

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As an infant, I am told I was quite exasperating, even before I could speak or walk. When taken on daily walks, I would screech until whoever was carrying me picked up the litter and put it in the dustbin. At four years of age, my new neighbours complimented me for never forgetting to switch off the elevator fan when we deboarded.

A school friend and I aged 5 or 6 at an Independence Day Parade where our class was in charge of making posters on water harvesting

In middle school, I was really inspired by my environment club teacher – who while explaining to us the severity of the water crisis in Gurugram one day- told us how she only used two mugs of water to bathe every day (even when she washed her hair!).

On another day, she showed us frightening pictures of the impact arsenic poisoning through groundwater consumption was having on a community in West Bengal. Through her, I got to know how much water it takes to make one bottle of Coca Cola (one 500 millilitre bottle of coke requires 175 litres of water for production) – 350 times the amount of Coca Cola produced.

In university, I learnt that the water used to produce Coca Cola belonged to members of the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in Plachimada, Kerala.

Not only had this groundwater extraction caused an excessive shortage of water I learnt it had also resulted in the contamination of soil and water in community wells. Sludge produced during the production process was sold by Coca Cola to farmers of Plachimada as ‘high-value organic manure’.

However, this sludge was found to have excessive levels of lead and cadmium- which lead to the further ruin of their soil, making the land unsuitable for cultivation.

I understood that patterns of environmental injustice often impacted groups that have been historically disenfranchised and continue to hold lesser political, social and economic power than those instrumental in causing the impacts.

But it was only while doing a survey to understand waste management attitudes and practices in my residential complex in my last semester of university, that I learnt about groundwater contamination and its impact where I live.

Every day, nearly 2,000 tonnes of waste of approximately 2 million people from Gurugram- my residential city as well as Faridabad get dumped next to a village near the outskirts of Gurugram. Bandhwari village is home to 4,104 people, with around half of the population belonging to Scheduled Castes as per the 2011 census. In fact, when you google ‘Bandhwari village’ – instead of a map of the village, a picture of a burning landfill is what opens up. The landfill has been built on 14.86 acres of Aravali forest which also serves as an important wildlife corridor between Delhi and Sariska.

My connection to Bandhwari however goes beyond facts related to waste disposal. As I learnt, the groundwater under my residence in Sector 56, Gurugram flows through the same aquifer that happens to be under Bandhwari landfill and village. The same groundwater aquifer that has been contaminated by the waste from the landfill and declared unfit for any use: domestic, drinking or agricultural. It has been declared ‘unfit for drinking purposes according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s report published in 2017.

Meeting with the villagers of Bandhwari- picture taken by Bahaar Abbas

The groundwater contamination, now, is spreading beyond Bandhwari village, confirmed by a 2019 report released by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). More than 30,000 people from the villages of Bandhwari, Gwal Pahari, Mandi, Baliwas and Mangar- all within a 5km radius of Bandhwari landfill are facing the impacts of their main source of water being contaminated. According to the villagers, more than 100 deaths related to cancer have occurred in these parts since 2013, with the incidence of the disease steadily increasing due to the pollution caused by the landfill.

On interacting with the villagers of Bandhwari, I found that the geographical, political, social and economic currency that each family holds affected the extent of the impacts they are experiencing.

I also observed that a small group of the socially and economically powerful in the village are also benefiting from the arrangement. A few members of dominant communities holding decision-making powers were awarded contracts to run 20 trucks carrying waste to and from the landfill, and that some of them had also started a private tanker supply of drinking water for their needs, villagers told me. However, talking to members across the social groups, I learnt that they too are experiencing health impacts and the pain of losing loved ones to diseases like cancer.

A poster I made to share our waste segregation plan with residents

It’s both depressing and infuriating to learn that despite protests by Bandhwari’s residents for years, petitions by environmental activists, and intervention by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) – the waste we are producing in Gurgugram is still being dumped in Bandhwari.

The solution being proposed by the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) is that a new dumping site is used instead of Bandhwari. However, I feel that this just amounts to shifting the problem elsewhere. The residents of Farrukh Nagar and Pali, where the new landfill sites are being proposed, have protested against it- understandably so.

One of the questions I asked the residents of my complex as part of our survey in university was, “Do you know the ultimate destination of the waste generated from your house?” (a question I had only recently learned the answer to myself).

92% were unaware that the final destination of our waste was Bandhwari landfill. According to solid waste experts, one of the main causes of the problem is the lack of implementation of India’s SWM Rules, 2016 which require everyone (residential complexes, malls, factories etc) generating more than 50kgs of waste to compost their wet waste, give their dry waste for recycling and send their toxic waste to the landfill.

If everyone in Gurugram was to begin segregating their waste, more than 80% of waste (wet and dry) could be directed away from Bandhwari landfill to instead be composted and recycled.

The knowledge of this and of the very real, visible and unjust impacts of our unsegregated waste on the lives of communities and wildlife strengthened my resolve to ensure waste segregation is implemented in my complex.

It was through collaboration, sharing of knowledge and initiative on part of other residents, as well as guidance from those with experience of implementing segregation that my society has successfully begun segregation and composting.

While this is our effort to ensure that we don’t contribute directly to any further harm caused to Bandhwari, much remains to be done to address the environmental injustices the people have to bear through no fault of their own and to alter systems that have allowed this to occur.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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