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Eco-Swaraj: The Rainbow Recovery That Our Post-Pandemic World Needs

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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.

There is a disquieting hush across the world as the linkage between the planet’s health and human well-being become pronounced during the times of the pandemic. The deepening socio-economic and ecological crises caused by patterns of production and consumption are being increasingly recognised.

“The recovery plan by governments to deal with the health and economic impacts of Covid-19 should not be premised on ‘business as usual’, but on alternative approaches that are sustainable and integrate ecological protection with tackling inequality,” said Ashish Kothari, Founder-member of Kalpavriksh, Pune.

Kothari was speaking at a webinar on ‘Eco-swaraj: Towards a rainbow recovery for justice and sustainability’, co-organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) and India Water Portal as a part of the #PlanetTalks series, ‘The state of the environment’.

He spoke about the renewed debates by the political mainstream in Europe and in the US such as the one proposed by Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential contender – the decade of the Green New Deal (GND), encouraging decarbonisation. Governments and industries are expected to move towards a reset to build a sustainable, inclusive economy, revitalise industry and preserve vital biodiversity systems as per the GND.

The Global Pandemic and Cohesive Development of Humans and Nature

“The move that considers pathways to a more just, sustainable future considers the climate and employment crises at the centre of economic recovery,” said Kothari.

Eco-Swaraj, Or Radical Ecological Democracy

Kothari shared the need to build on the emerging concept of ‘Eco-swaraj’ or radical ecological democracy, considering that Covid-19 has brought us at a critical political, economic and ecological juncture in our history.

“The current model of development has put a strain on ecological resilience and endangered natural resource-based livelihoods; this has produced glaring poverty and economic inequalities. The top eight billionaires in the world have wealth equivalent to 50% of the world’ population, while the richest 20% have 83% of the world’s income. We are rapidly approaching a tipping point as violence against nature, communities and cultures is on the rise. Covid-19 and the related global crisis have provided an excuse for more authoritarian and corporate profits, or opportunity for systemic transformation towards justice, equity and sustainability,” he said.

Resistance to statist, capitalist, patriarchal, casteist and human-centred worldviews is a part of the fundamental rethinking of the human project and the search for sustainable and equitable alternatives. Eco-swaraj can draw lessons from many grassroots initiatives and diverse strands of resistance that have sprung up in South Asia and the rest of the world.

Kothari shared the example of the Deccan Development Society in the Sangareddy district of Telangana where thousands of women struggling with food security problems were collectivised to form sanghams, or self-help groups. They came up with solutions by reviving traditional crops such as millet, pulses, oilseeds and wild greens suited to the area.

They are now working on securing women’s land rights, reviving traditional agricultural diversity/practices (millets), doing organic farming and creating community grain banks. The sangham members helped the poor and marginalised sections brave the coronavirus lockdown by donating 20,000 kilograms of grains to supply nutritious millet porridge in the villages.

Kothari discussed an initiative from Gadchiroli, Maharashtra called the ‘Maha Gramsabha’, which provides an alternative vision of direct democracy in the region. The federation of 90 villages has been working on stopping mining, sustainable livelihoods, forest rights and conservation, local governance, women’s empowerment and cultural identity.

The residents’ collective of Bhuj in western Gujarat that comes up with their own project to manage waste and drinking water is yet another example of trying to make a dent in entrenched institutions and mindsets. “The work supported by Homes in the City covers water self-reliance, solid waste management, sanitation, re-commoning of spaces, livelihoods and dignified housing of poor,” says Kothari.

Embracing radical ecological democracy would require amplifying such efforts whose relevance has been amply demonstrated during the pandemic.

The new framework would learn from local indigenous peoples territorial struggles and notions of well-being from India and other parts of the world.

A Rainbow Recovery

There are several debates on the policy response necessary to recover and reimagine what a post-Covid world should look like. Kothari suggested the need to embrace a recovery that is not just based on restricted notions of green or red, but is multi-coloured and founded on creating dignified livelihoods, protecting nature, ensuring justice for all and reviving solidarity.

This new framework would learn from local indigenous peoples territorial struggles and notions of well-being from India and other parts of the world, and build on strong ethical foundation degrowth, commons, solidarity economy, biocivilisation, ecosocialism and ecofeminism.

With its strong democratic impulse, the rainbow recovery seeks to provide space to the most marginalised people in decision making. “Embracing radical ecological democracy will require achieving human well-being through empowering all citizens and communities to participate in decision-making. It would also need to ensure socio-economic equity and justice and respect the limits of the earth,” said Kothari.

He added:

“Substantial public investments coupled with serious wealth redistribution are needed as pointed out by economist Prabhat Patnaik – 2% wealth tax along with 33% inheritance tax on the richest 1% of India could generate more revenue than the total recovery package announced in May 2020. It would need substantial investments in public health, education, housing, transportation and other basic needs.”

The five values on which the transformation will be built are – radical democracy; economic democracy; social justice and well-being; culture and knowledge diversity; and ecological resilience and wisdom.

Note: The post was initially published on IndiaWaterPortal.

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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.

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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.

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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