Ways to bring change
Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most profound figures in India’s freedom struggle also worked to free the country from other forms of bondage like open defecation and the practice of untouchability. Gandhi said, “Change yourself. If you change yourself, you will change the world.” He believed, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” He set the example by building a toilet inside his cottage and cleaned it himself which was unheard of in those times when toilets were considered polluting and done by low caste people. His actions paved way to a great shift in the mindset of the mass and resulted in the abolition of untouchability and the seed of swacch bharat or clean India was sown.
When we study the solid waste management scenario in India, we find that several initiatives have been taken by the government and authorities and a lot may have been achieved in terms of policy and adoption of new technologies but real change is yet to be witnessed and evidently, there remains one area which requires attention and that is, lack of people's involvement and commitment in waste management in their homes. People’s indifferent attitude towards sanitary and menstrual waste has made management of menstrual waste even tougher for the municipality and civic workers.
Do it yourself
On the lines of Gandhian principle of people’s involvement to bring change, the Khud Karo (translation: do it yourself) National Competition on Management of Menstrual Waste was organised by Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation on social media in August and September this year with an objective to create awareness on waste as a subject, nature of crisis but more importantly, build social responsibility towards waste management including sanitary waste disposal.
Menstrual hygiene and household waste management are correlated to each other. A house with poor waste disposal facility compromises collection and disposal of soiled sanitary pads which in turn adversely impacts menstrual hygiene and health among girls and women in the household, school, college or workplace who are most likely to keep wearing a sanitary pad for long hours. Do you know due to shame, secrecy and silence around menstruation, they go to great lengths to hide used and soiled pads?
Additionally, sanitary waste generators lack understanding and fail to assign importance and take ownership towards correct disposal which has implications on other people like the waste pickers and civic workers, and on the ecology?
Basic understanding on waste management scenario and the entire chain through which soiled sanitary pads go through till they reach their final destination in a landfill can go a long way in changing the menstrual waste crisis in India.
Nongmaithem Jerina from Imphal, Khumlo Gomti from Chandel in Manipur, Godwin Bosco from Kochi in Kerala and Dipak Sinha from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh were adjudged as winners in a prize giving ceremony conducted online on Gandhi Jayanti on 2nd October 2020.
Story of each household
Nongmaithem Jerina, a Master in Social Work (MSW) student in discussing the local state of waste management in Imphal puts the spotlight on how localities do not have garbage bins where residents can dispose household waste leaving no choice but to either store waste in the premises of their homes till the time the private organisations into collection of waste get it picked up for a monthly service charge, and those who cannot avail of the service throw waste in the drains or pile them around their houses. Citizens may be sensitized and even willing to participate but the absence of a city- based waste collection, transportation, segregation, processing and recycling, and landfill mechanism anchored by the local authority and supported by civil society organisations can cause confusion and passiveness in waste generators. When a comprehensive waste management system does not exist on ground, the issue of sanitary waste goes unaddressed.
Khumlo Gomti Khining, an Anganwadi Worker discusses how all waste management initiatives are concentrated around the district headquarters leaving residents to fend for themselves. The collection and transportation to dumping site mechanism run by the Autonomous District Council in Chandel is concentrated only around the bazaar area residents in rural Manipur do not depend on external facilities for managing household waste as house to house collection is non- existent and manage household waste themselves in their back yards either through burning or storing them.
Godwin Bosco who works at Cognizant Technology Solutions in Kochi points out that household waste disposal is running smoothly in Kerala since there is an effective waste collection system run by the municipality but their challenge is the final dump yard which has become the site for pollution caused by burning waste. Their need is to develop an effective method for waste processing.
Dipak Sinha a central government officer posted in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh attributes his passion for conservation of resources and recycling at home to his growing up years spent in Shillong among Khasis who according to him are exemplary in maintaining cleanliness and conserving the environment.
Through the Khud Karo National Competition a consolidation of ground realities in waste management existing in different parts of India was possible through the insight shared by participants along with a conclusion that no investment in waste management by the authorities, NGOs and partners can result in clean neighbourhoods and safe environment till each unit viz., the household, does its part with their garbage.
Note: This article was originally published in The Morning Bell on 29th October 2020.