A series by Shikha Sharma

What is common between your favorite brand of chocolate, lipstick and shampoo? It’s palm oil - a ubiquitous ingredient hiding in nearly 70 percent of the packaged products you consume and put on your skin.

Globally, unsustainable palm oil production has been linked to one of the worst environmental disasters unravelling in our times, leading to destruction of some of the most biologically diverse rainforests in the world and contributing directly to increasing carbon emissions and the climate crisis.

With over 1.3 billion people, India is both the world’s largest consumer as well as the biggest importer of palm oil - and a direct contributor to this ecological disaster. What’s more, this scenario is unlikely to change, as the oil remains central to India’s edible oil needs.

Our appetite for palm oil continues to hurt the environment, even as a conversation on sustainable production remains a non starter in India. This series, curated by Shikha Sharma, aims to showcase how palm oil became the high-fructose corn syrup of India, and the environmental and public health risks its unsustainable production poses to the country.

Shikha Sharma is a New Delhi based journalist and photographer who writes on gender, environment and human rights. She is also the Executive Editor at Youth Ki Awaaz, India’s largest social justice media platform for young people to talk about issues of importance. Shikha has been a journalist and storyteller for more than eight years, having worked with leading media organisations like The Indian Express and Hindustan Times. She is deeply interested in pursuing stories mainstream media often ignores.

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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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