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I’m Supposed To Love My Wheelchair, Par Shaadi Hamari Arranged Hai

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This is my wheelchair, it’s black in color.

My friend Gladson is posing and testing the new sets of wheels in the name of medical equipment. A wheelchair is a regular chair with two huge wheels attached to it. Two smaller wheels are also there to direct the wheelchair in any one direction. It also has manual brakes attached to it.

Representational Image.

I am supposed to be in love with it. The doctor suggested calmly accepting this new mode of transportation multiple times in the last three months. Offered vendors too to buy a new one from the hospital. I wish I was trying to avoid her as much as I can so that I could walk over my wobbly legs. I also consider it taboo.

The annoyed Kumar Gaurav from Tata Steel foundation said, “When people will understand that its “wheelchair user and not wheelchair-bound, which points out to the word “use” apparently in any context of our day to day life.” As we say about this lockdown, possibly this is the new normal I am locked into as part of ongoing treatment.

Hussain, Mumbai’s stand-up comedian, puts it, this is an arranged marriage between us two. I at least don’t like it but have to live with it. Like Stockholm syndrome, the captor will take me anywhere and probably provide me with a new identity. My building residents who have seen me running around between floors are now much more excited to see me on these newly acquired wheels. My professor added, “If it makes you more mobile and conserves your energy, then this arranged marriage is good.”

Curious too, that in a building without a lift, how will I get down to the ground floor. I don’t have answers at present. However, this is a smooth, light, foldable, and almost new movable chair. It carry a lucky charm too, for the old person it was bought, for movement and travel, she left for a better place soon, so the equipment stayed new only. Now close friends from college got me this as a jugaad last weekend for free of cost, lifting this on their shoulders to my first floor. The couple also works inaccessibility, so they just want me to come back to normal life in a wheelchair and accept the new reality.

The friend showed me how to fold the equipment, how to use brakes to stop moving, to use a seat belt at least at slopes, and how to fold & slide it to take it to the ground floor without lifting them. When I was healthy, I was running around to arrange these for others, never realized I would be married to one so soon. Now just need someone to push it and take me to all accessible places in my remaining lifetime around our country.

Gladson J S, a disability activist and teacher from  St. Joseph’s College added, “If a wheelchair can increase the accessibility of a person and give the person the ability to become more resourceful, then a wheelchair cannot be shunned. We as a society must develop an attitude of acceptance in every aspect of life and respect life for what it is than conditioning it.

One Incident With Wheelchair

When I got my 1st dose of the Covishield vaccine at the Hospital in Bangalore, you need to pay 780 rupees as it’s private and show an Adhar card to get registered directly. As I have this newly acquired disability that makes it difficult for me to walk, the Uber driver referred to me as a handicapped customer while finding the place. I felt mixed emotions to be called handicap and to the loud noise of ‘wheelchair beku’ (need a wheelchair, pointing at me). Seeing your hijabi old mother struggling with payment and Adhar registration is painful. I earned so much education and empowerment and it still all went to drain with accessibility challenges.

The receptionist came running to book me in the line as I looked helpless waiting on a wheelchair placed on the road. The hospital is still accessible, as you see walkers and wheelchairs rolling around. The receptionist came outside her stall and came to the road to take my Adhar Number and to take digital payment. India is less accessible, but people here help you out.

I felt great for jumping all the lines, as my wheelchair directly entered inside the vaccination centre or cubicle. Apparently, at the time I was the only wheelchair, so they finished with me before anyone else, as the security guard pushing me had to return to his place. At the waiting area, I requested mom to register me at the RT department for my radiologist Doctor, almost a block away, a 500-meter distance. So she left for another registration and I was left alone.

I started rolling my chair on my own as did not want Ammi to walk back only for this. The guard came from nowhere and informed me that I can’t push for so long on my hands over kaccha – pucca (raw) road. He arranged for an ambulance for my transfer within hospital buildings. I saw the inside of an ambulance for the first time. It took me to the RT ward. I sat on the floor of the ambulance to get out of the vehicle to another wheelchair.

I don’t know how I would have pushed a wheelchair otherwise for so long, all the way if it had not got 4 wheelers. Wish our country becomes more accessible friendly soon. Vishnu Soman, Volunteer Influencer and Founder of Smileys India NGO added, “Never stare at the wheelchair or a person on a wheelchair if you are curious, go ahead shake hands and make a friend”.

It’s not appropriate to touch the wheelchair without permission as many of the wheelchair users see it as a part of themselves. Always ask before you touch them or attempting to drive a wheelchair for a person with a disability. We need to understand as a community that Wheelchairs are 100% necessary for anyone who has an orthopaedic disability to mobilize independently. It’s the matter of their basic dignity.

Feature 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.

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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.

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 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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