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Maskless Crowds And Ignorant Leaders: The Indian Pandemic Experience

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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.

Mumbai/31 May 2021/By Swonshutaa Dash


What was once considered a “small-time flu” has now turned into a full-blown pandemic. Coronavirus has drained India’s resources and hollowed its treasuries. After a partly successful recovery from the first wave, Prime Minister Modi’s gloating speech at the World Economic Forum may have manifested the second wave we have brought upon us. India has been obliterated- democratically, economically, technologically, and medically. Lest we realize how humongous the demon chasing us is, there are grim prospects of “ache din (good days)”.

Election rallies at the peak of the pandemic worsened the second wave.

Hypocrisy Is The Game Of The Government

The coronavirus was an unprecedented phenomenon that the government (of India), like a hormonal teenager, made all about itself and its problems. India ranked 142 out of 180 nations on the World Press Freedom Index, which justifies the hypocrisy that is seen in the statements made by them. Chief Minister of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh’s saffron-robed Yogi Adityanath announced that rumormongers who claimed there was an oxygen shortage would be arrested without bail under the National Security Act and their property would be seized. I hope he is happy now that images of fires lapping dead bodies in mass funerals and bodies floating in the holy Ganges are haunting each citizen.

In 2020, when the Tablighi Jamaat (conference of the Islamic organization) was organized, Delhi (the capital of India) became a hotspot for CoVID cases. One-fourth of the case detected in Delhi were suspected to have originated from the conference. The media had (then) run a campaign against those at the conference calling them “corona jihadis” and accusing them of  “crimes against humanity.No such fuss was seen when the Hindu pilgrimage festival, the Kumbh Mela, was organized in April 2021, just as the second wave hit India.

Over 15 days, Haridwar saw four times more cases than reported before. Prime Minister Modi instead of condemning the gathering of 14 Lakh Hindus condoned the spiritual bathing ritual and suggested that this might be an idea for the holy dip to become “symbolic”. Amidst this religious raucous, the Prime Minister was running his political campaign with his main man, Home Minister Amit Shah, in West Bengal.

There, he addressed maskless crowds, applauding them for participation. The elections of the state that could have been conducted in a single day (as has been done in the past), was made a month-long affair. Post-election, West Bengal suffered miserably as the virus spread to rural Bengal which had earlier been spared, and saw its highest single-day spike, as 18+ vaccinations were delayed due to insufficiency.

The government showed incompetence at the peak of the second wave, making it evident that their priorities rested elsewhere, leading to the deaths of friends and family, and leaving hundreds of protesting farmers teargassed on the streets.

Indian Healthcare Is Enroute To Its Grave

As a country and as a state, we declared victory too soon, we were complacent, we were callous, we were ignorant, and we were casual.”- Barkha Dutt

There was a lack of preparation by the government for the COVID vaccination program.

The Indian infrastructure from 2020 to 2021, has seen marginal development, but high inefficacy to handle future pandemics with the current set of resources. Vaccination is the biggest problem at hand for the Indian polity. The government in this crucial hour of need has forfeited its responsibility of vaccination largely bypassing the baton to state governments after failing miserably at procurement efforts. By mid-February, the GOI had ordered barely enough vaccines for 3% of the Indian population. Curbing exports in April did not trump the problem.

Vaccination of minors is a distant issue as states struggle with doses for the 18+ population which were supposed to open on 1 May 2021. It seems that Indian politician’s propaganda has clouded their ability to plan for the future. India relies on the Serum Institute of India (with Oxford University) and Bharat Biotech (with National Institute of Virology)  which can produce 110 M units a month. With each vaccine requiring two doses (2B doses total), the NEGVAC should have been prompted that such large-scale production would require immense time and effort and should have made bookings on a larger scale such as the US or the UK.

The pandemic inflicted neglect on Indian minorities such as Adivasis, the Rohingya tribe, etc. While the Rohingya’s lacked documentation or money for acquiring vaccines, the Adivasis health stats have declined. The problems Adivasis faced were: Unavailability of drugs and providers (56.5% and 54.9% respectively), concerns of an absence of a female provider (45%), issues of distance to health facilities (42%), and lack of transport (40.9%). Reports suggest that tribal affairs minister Renuka Singh quoted from a non-existent study that less than 3% of the Adivasi population was affected by the coronavirus. In the absence of robust healthcare, several minorities have resorted to unverified home remedies and coping mechanisms.

The crumbling Indian health infrastructure has seen a major setback in the pandemic. India spent $73 on healthcare per capita, the world average is $1110 in 2018. Government healthcare facilities are used by less than a third of Indians. In the deeply poverty-stricken demography of India, state-of-the-art healthcare is accessible to a marginal elite population. If this is not addressed, the resurgence of a pandemic will leave India in the rubble.


In trying times such as the pandemic, India needs new members of the parliament, not a new Central Vista (the construction of the Central Vista continued even as the death toll rose in India). It is time to set propaganda aside and treat the pandemic as a medical and humanitarian crisis rather than an opportunity to exploit the masses (Eg. by introducing the controversial Farmers Bill).

5 possible solutions:

  1. Transparency should be encouraged: RTIs about coronavirus stats should be entertained and obliged and the monetary status of the PM Cares should be available to the public.
  2. Renewal of minority healthcare systems should be prioritized and improved, setting up special hospitals if required, with the presence of female staff and at regular intervals to increase accessibility. The budget of India needs to be reviewed to improve healthcare funding.
  3. Efforts need to be made for the vaccination of refugees in India in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in addition to the awareness camps conducted independently by the UNHCR.
  4. Since a national lockdown has not been issued, gatherings such as political rallies should be condemned. Threshold guidelines should be issued for state governments to ensure a minimal discipline and CoVID prevention protocol.
  5. The cost of vaccines should be borne by the central government while costs of delivery and personnel training can be left to the state. Private entities such as pharmacies can be enrolled as agents of the state and can vaccinate people with the help of Aadhar identification.
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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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