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My Experience Working With PARI And Documenting The Lives Of Everyday People

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We read in our textbooks about French Revolution, nationalism in Europe, Renaissance, various inventions abroad and the Industrial Revolution, which also flagged off in Europe itself. As we heading towards the our Independence Day, we’ll talk about the incredible contributions of Mahatma Gandhi, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh and other ‘popular’ freedom fighters.

Indian national struggle for independence.

The objective to go through these alien concepts is to understand their relationship with the events occurring in our surroundings. For that matter, before directly plunging into these issues, we must understand the larger context. But after reading these concepts, if we are not able to correlate with our regional context, then it is worthless to feed those alien concepts in our memory. If we are unaware of the various Birsa Munda of our surroundings, who contributed equally to get freedom in our lives, it means we are neglecting our own surroundings.

In sociology, I studied that one person is shaped by the persons, circumstances and the life around them. Without out social spectrum, we are nothing but a body with bones. To know about our own society is as important as knowing about ourselves. When Priti ma’am told us that around 14 villages in our district Udham Singh Nagar (Uttarakhand) are deserted, I was taken aback. Residing in the same district, I was ignorant of this issue that should be nationally known.

Indian journalist and founder of PARI, P Sainath

In the words of rural journalist and author P Sainath, “Understanding rural India is the most complex part of planet earth.” The ‘continent in the form of Rural India within the subcontinent’ needs to be covered diligently. That’s what People’s Archive of Rural India, i.e. PARI, does as an organisation. It documents the regional, linguistic, occupational, facial and other diversities of the ‘Unnatural Nation’ India. In spite of the literal meaning, PARI highlights stories, rural and urban, which deserve to reach our citizens.

My Experience With PARI

Working with an organisation like PARI, an initiative by Ramon Magsaysay awardee P Sainath himself and the team, was like a dream for me and my team. In our classrooms, we continuously quote veteran journalist P Sainath for his work in making the acquaintance of urban India with the diverse ‘Rural India’. Nanakmatta Public School is also on a similar mission to “enable an education that is holistic and contextualised to rural Uttarakhand.”

So here, our paths met and we approached PARI. The response from their end gave us a chance to spread our wings for our endeavour to contextualise learning with our surroundings. On August 10, 2021, we had an interaction with the team members of PARI: Priti David, Vishaka George and Riya Behl. We reeled over various dimensions to rethink our very own surroundings, which we are a part of.

Image has been provided by the author.

“India and world is changing very fast. And PARI aims to document this change,” said Priti ji. The “advancement” in each sector has increased the production and services by leaps and bounds. But it is the same advancement that has contributed in destroying the various cultures of rural India. As a modern human being, we believe that following eminent traditional practices is against our prestige and status quo. Despite our mother languages, we endorse Hindi or English in present-day.

Prima facie, this cutting off from our culture and traditional practices would not be a big deal for many of us. In a country where 700+ languages are spoken by thousands, the supremacy of any one or two languages signals a serious threat. This phenomenon has not only hit various sections of society, but proven the monopolising of one culture in a diverse society. In the words of Priti ji, “When one language dies, along with it dies its literature, songs, traditions, culture etc…”

Image has been provided by the author.

Sainath’s PARI believes that if a particular culture and tradition go extinct without being documented, then we would miss knowing about one episode of the diverse era. So the idea of ‘Online Archive’ came across. One can find an immense and diverse collection of hundreds of thousands untold stories, voice recordings, videos and pictures on PARI’s website. These are under the section ;Everyday stories of everyday people’.

Pioneer of the ‘Living Journal’ of PARI, Sainath confesses: “Our country and society runs on the labour of poor people, not on yours and mine. The objective of PARI also is to make you, me and others respect this labour of ordinary people.” And unfortunately, the stories of these prominent stakeholders of our Indian society have no trace in the mainstream media. This beautiful collection by PARI includes stories missing from our mainstream media.

Image has been provided by the author.

During the session, Vishaka ji said, “We need to change the way news is presented in the country.” Reality can’t be traced on the parchment, but in the field, in the communities, in the stories of different stakeholders, and in the dreams and aspirations of common people. And the only way to get introduced to the reality is to live the living of the common people of our country. On this note Priti ji added, “The impact of Covid and its lockdown are not what you read in news. The condition is much different.”

With constitutional values of equality, freedom, fraternity and justice as its core, PARI believes in challenging the norms of our society. These values can be channelised to understand the social spectrum of our surroundings.

We are proud to be working with an organisation that is working to be the voice of stifled throats.

Image has been provided by the author.
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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.

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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.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.

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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