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(Opinion) While India Gasped For Breath, The Centre Built Castles And Houses

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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.

By Jayasmita Datta

The joy of temporarily outpowering the virus was afloat in the air and mirrored by the flouting of social distancing and safety norms. The curve flattened, but it was the calm before the storm. The horror of an apocalyptic truth awaited us. A few months into 2021, the catastrophe unveiled, one at a time, seizing a nation of 1.3 billion.

India reached a peak of more than 93,000 cases on average in mid-September. By mid-February, India recorded an average of 11,000 cases per day. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths from the disease had slid and gradually gone down below 100. The chain of the infection had visibly declined. But the joy was short-lived.

Elections, Religious Gatherings And Callousness

The Election Commission of India, at the end of February, announced key elections in five states. The election beginning March 27 stretched over a month; 824 seats were contested, with 186 million eligible voters. The campaigning had begun in full swing soon after the announcements, flouting all necessary safety norms.

According to a report by BBC, “In mid-March, the cricket board allowed more than 130,000 fans, mostly unmasked, to watch two international cricket games between India and England at the Narendra Modi stadium in Gujarat.” Also, the Kumbh Mela, with millions of devotees taking part, turned into a super spreader in the blink of an eye.

Also, the Kumbh Mela, with millions of devotees taking part, turned into a super spreader in the blink of an eye. Photo: Bysines

According to another report by the BBC, “Authorities in Rajasthan blame the pilgrims for the rapid spread of Covid cases in the state, especially in rural areas. At least 24 Kumbh visitors tested positive on return to the eastern state of Odisha (formerly Orissa). In Gujarat, at least 34 of a total of 313 passengers returning by one train were positive. Further, 60 of the 61 – or 99% – returnees tested in a town in central Madhya Pradesh state were found to be infected.

All of this collectively pushed India into a state of a public health emergency.

Soon enough, things started to take a turn for the worse. The second wave broke out, grasping the nation and leaving it helpless. By mid-April, the country recorded an average of 100,000 cases daily. As of May 27 2020, India has recorded a total of 2.76 Cr cases, with 2.49 Cr active cases and a death toll of 3.14 L, since the outbreak.

According to a report by, “The various predictive models say this is just the beginning and the peak of the second wave will be anywhere between 3.5 L-4.4 L cases a day as per the IIT SUTRA Model, to 5 lakh new cases a day as per the NITI Aayog, to even 8 lakh-10 lakh cases a day as per Professor Bhramar Mukherjee of Michigan University.” The skyrocketing positive tests and the death toll started the fight for basic medical necessities. It started a fight for breath.

Unprecedented Demand For Oxygen

Before the outbreak of the virus and the onset of the lethal pandemic, India’s daily estimate for oxygen was 700 metric tonnes, according to industry reports. In September 2020, the requirement shot up to 2800 metric tonnes during the peak of the first wave. As of April ’21, India recorded more than 3 L cases per day during the second wave.

India even crossed the 4 L daily mark, ending up becoming one of the worst-hit nations. Keeping the increasing cases in mind and using extrapolation, it is evident that India’s daily oxygen requirement will gross almost three times as during the first wave, which comes out to be 8400 metric tonnes.

The second wave witnessed oxygen, a life-saving gas, turn into a rare and hard to procure commodity. People have died, around the clock, due to the scarcity of oxygen. During the first lockdown, in March 2020, the power to allocate oxygen to the states on their demand was taken over by the Centre under the Disaster Management Act of 2005.

According to this act, even if the state has the required infrastructure and resources to produce, support, and transport oxygen, it will have to ask the Centre to provide for the required supply. As mentioned earlier, the act further pushed India to the edge, creating a nationwide dearth of oxygen.

While the oxygen crisis and cases peaked at an all-time high, what India witnessed over the past two months is extraordinary. Representational image. Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Government Inaction And Oxygen Crisis

In nine days, from April 20, the requirement for medical oxygen shot up to 67% as per information collected from the oxygen allocation orders issued by Health and Family Welfare Ministry. The increasing cases only added to the struggle; The oxygen demand increased from 12 states, on April 15, to a total of 22 states on April 24. The allocations were then made accordingly.

The exponential rise in the positive results overburdened the public healthcare system. The hospitals ran out of supplies. The situation got so worse that the hospital had to put up notices reading, “NO OXYGEN AVAILABLE/ NO BEDS AVAILABLE.” Several factors aided the shortage, one of the prime factors being no centralized supply of oxygen.

There is no centralized coordination of oxygen supply and distribution. It is completely haphazard and red tape has held back timely deliveries,” Kumar Rahul, Secretary in the Health Department of Punjab said.

Inadequate transport and shortage of storage have been a grim factor in this fight against the intangible. Liquid oxygen has to be transported, to distributors, at a very low temperature in cryogenic cylinders.

The liquid oxygen is then converted to gas for filling cylinders. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of cryogenic cylinders in India. Only a finite number of cylinders are available, which further adds to the struggle. Not only cities and towns but also villages saw this scarcity, where the infrastructure is already weak.

The Power Of Humanity

While the oxygen crisis and cases peaked at an all-time high, what India witnessed over the past two months is extraordinary. The nation braved its walls, united, against the virus, in this fight for breath and life.

Representational image.

In these trying times, it wasn’t religion that saved us Indians. The never seen before side of social media came to light. Stories and posts filled with resources saved lives. That stranger you did not even know dialed up several numbers to get someone an oxygen cylinder, a bed, and God knows what not!

The oxygen langars at Gurudwaras became the last ray of hope in these tumultuous times. People from all corners of the country, forgetting their differences, came together to help someone they didn’t even remotely know in need.

Funnily enough, the central government had an entire year to plan for this but they didn’t. They sat down in their high castles and built houses for their mirth while the nation turned into a ticking time bomb. When the nation asked them about the numbers, the centre had but one answer: there are no numbers since there was no death caused by oxygen shortage.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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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