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The Battle Is Never Over by Manju Chellani

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“If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go”. These words by Edmund Hillary, the first person to have stepped on the peak of Mount Everest, along with Tenzing Norgay, leap to mind as I start writing about Dr. Renu Addlakha. They sound just right. I have known Renu for a long time and have never seen her run away from a steep challenge. And there have been many in her life. She has had an acute visual disability since her early childhood. Now well into her fifties, she has also had a number of other illnesses throughout life, associated with her visual disability and otherwise. There have been other obstacles as well. Obstacles of not being comfortable in crossing busy roads; not being able to read for long hours at a stretch; of stereotypes and mis-information about disability; of feeling that her vision will get more limited as years go by. But she has moved avalanches and rock-slides out of her way and marched on with grit. Sometimes she has just walked around the boulders. In a way which most other people, with the advantage of having no disability, would not dare to even dream of. But she has dreamt…both while sleeping and awake. And with her characteristic grit, coolness and determination (which seem almost superhuman sometimes) she has transmuted her and her parents’ dreams to reality. Today she is standing at the peaks of both her personal and professional life. Based in New Delhi, India, she is an internationally respected academician, researcher and author; and also a consultant for many organizations of diverse disciplines. She lives a full life and manages to dictate her own terms single-handedly. But reaching here was not easy. As she has often expressed, she has been brought to the brink of hopelessness many times in her life. Sometimes she has pulled herself back with dire action; at other times, waiting it out has helped. But never has she turned back. I feel very proud to have known her, walked with her on some rocky terrains of her life and now to introduce her to the readers of White Print here. A prolific writer, she will tell us about the trail she has carved out for herself, in her own words.

MC: Your research and work have concentrated primarily on issues related to women, disability, psychiatry and public health. You yourself have had an acute visual challenge since your early childhood. Has that drawn your professional interest to these issues? What have been your areas of focus, at different points of time?

Dr. Renu: My work has always been inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary in nature. This probably began with my Master’s degree in Social Work which is a professional course. It draws from disciplines like sociology, psychology, economics, political science and management, among others. Subsequently, even though my higher degrees were technically in the discipline of sociology, my topics were again drawn heavily from psychology, and medicine in addition to sociology.

My professional journey has also followed the same trend. I have worked in the diverse but overlapping domains of health, women’s gender and disability studies; within different work spaces like the government, civil society, multilateral and bilateral agencies over the years.

So though it does not seem to me that the diversity has been influenced by my visual disability; but definitely it cannot be denied that it has played a role in my choices.

MC: Having worked with various Indian and international organizations for many years, what do you perceive as the key differences between the organizational programmes for development of women living in different types of regions across the country: tribal, villages, towns, metros?

Dr. Renu: Privileged access is an advantage for urban educated women. However due to absence of adequate sensitization and ad-hoc networking among different agencies, they may not always be able to access opportunities and resources despite ecological proximity. On the other hand, the disadvantages of women living out of the cities are too well known to be repeated here. Nonetheless a handful of persons located in even the most far flung areas may benefit from opportunities if they fall within the catchment area of enterprising NGOs (non-government organizations) or are fortunate enough to be in areas where government agencies are doing their work. But the latter is too random. So the urban rural divide continues to predominate.

MC: You have now been with the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) for a number of years, in a senior capacity. Please tell us about its role in bringing issues related to gender and disability to the forefront of both academic discourse and non-academic initiatives?

Dr. Renu: CWDS is primarily a research institution and my work therein has also been largely research-oriented. However the research has been more in the nature of action research resulting not only in the production of academic papers and books but also of advocacy materials such as manuals on sexuality and reproductive health for people with disabilities; and legal empowerment of women with disabilities in India. These materials have been circulated to leading disability NGOs and government departments working on disability in the country.

Due to its historical location, CWDS is itself part of many national and international networks. It is also well-known in the government and funding sectors. Hence the opportunities to advocate for the issue of gender and disability have been umpteen in the diverse arenas of academia. Same is the case with civil society, the corporate world and the non-governmental sectors both nationally and internationally.

MC: You have spent your childhood and early adulthood in different countries. How would you compare the lifestyle of a person with one or more disabilities, in India and in some other countries, especially the western?

Dr. Renu: I was living out of India as a child. My adult life has been mostly in India apart from occasional short trips abroad. A lot has changed in India since my childhood – both for persons with and without disabilities. Hence, I really cannot make a comparative statement but it really depends on our location. For instance, a disabled person from the lower socioeconomic strata may be worse off in the West (state support notwithstanding), as compared to an upper middle class disabled person living in a metro in India.

MC: Over the decades, the specialized facilities to make daily routine easier for persons with different disabilities have increased in the country. Do you perceive them as being sufficient both in terms of quantity and quality, across the different regions? Examples of such facilities could be getting in and out of public vehicles; specially-equipped washrooms; ramps for wheelchairs in restaurants; separate sections in bookshops dedicated to books in Braille etc.

Dr. Renu: You have to have some level of privilege to be able to access the facilities enumerated above. One of them is living in an urban area because most of these facilities are available in large cities. Secondly, even within cities, such facilities are clustered within specific enclaves like airports, high end hotels, convention centers etc. Although more facilities are now emerging in schools, colleges, banks, transport hubs and offices, they are still few and far between.

MC: Whenever a non-disabled person sees a disabled person, the immediate instinct is to start helping her/him with a “difficult” chore, such as opening the car-door for them or holding their hand while climbing the stairs. What do you feel about this?

Dr. Renu: Such actions are rooted in misperceptions about disability and the capacities of disabled persons; they are often borne out of ignorance and ad-hoc thinking. They show some good intention but are patronizing and may not be needed – depending on who is the recipient of such actions. It is better to ask the disabled person upfront what is her need. However, non-disabled persons feel hesitant to do that for fear of being offensive. A lot of the confusion arises out of miscommunication and the lack of an established disability etiquette system.

MC: Stereotypes also hamper the recognition of the problems faced by a person with a disability. Apart from some well-recognized and obvious problems, what are the tensions below the surface you would like to put out in the open?

Dr. Renu: Stereotypes are not always false but they may be based on misperceptions and prejudice. The effort should be focused on dealing with the latter. This effort should be to challenge the negative stereotypes. One example is the stereotype of disabled woman being asexual and this should be challenged by more realistic presentations of the lives of disabled women. While movies like “Margarita with a straw’’ may do this dramatically, more realistic presentations may be more effective.

MC: Do you think that gender and disability sensitivity in early scholastic education and in non-scholastic reading would be influential in bringing about more consistent changes in attitudes, imprinted stereotypes and the resulting behaviour at the individual and societal levels?

Dr. Renu: That may be the case logically because early socialization significantly impacts personality development but I feel constant reinforcements are required throughout the lifecycle for the changes to be made permanent. With regard to non-scholastic reading, I agree with the standard reply of making the central characters disabled and making a conscious effort to remove the linkage between disability, negativity and evil which crops up in fairy tales, religious scriptures and other literary and artistic genres including painting, theatre and poetry.

MC: How can parents work towards strengthening feelings of self-esteem and inclusivity of a disabled child from as early an age as possible?

Dr. Renu: Parents can do a lot to increase the confidence and wellbeing of their disabled child. But in order to do that they have to first overcome their own anger, guilt and unhappiness about having a disabled child. Once these deep-rooted emotions are sorted out and they begin to look at the child not only through the lens of disability, other things will fall in place. Of course, the child will have some specific needs due to the disability which require understanding and management. But then every child has some ‘special’ needs which require understanding and management.

MC: How does the financial status of the family impact the psycho-emotional nurturance it can practically provide to a disabled family member?

Dr. Renu: It may appear obvious that if the family is financially well off, there would be no difficulty in investing in the wellbeing of the disabled member. Furthermore, it is likely that higher educational status should result in better awareness about disability and a subsequent decline in stigma. In seven out of ten cases, this is indeed the case and the disabled persons coming from a well off family would have access to better life opportunities and hence have a better psycho-emotional status than someone from a less well off family. But sometimes families refuse to invest in the wellbeing of their disabled members. This may be especially in the case of a female disabled member even when the resources are available to do so. This is because the power of negative stereotyping is so powerful and the disabled member may in such a situation be actually worse off in all respects than someone similar in a less privileged family.

MC: You have faced other health issues throughout your life. Dealing with them physically and emotionally must have demanded a high level of introspection and self-discipline. Could you share some of this personal space with us? It could prove to be very motivating and insightful.

Dr. Renu: Disability often carries a high probability of secondary health conditions and I have not been spared from that. Apart from normal ups and downs of health, I have had chronic conditions like idiopathic thrombocytopenia (ItP), hypothyroidism asthma among others. And now there are also issues related to aging. I manage them in the same spirit as I have managed other difficulties in life i.e. being proactive, strategic and cautious.

MC: Due to your visual disability, what additional life-challenges did you face in your developmental years? How did you deal with them and emerge as a high-achiever, multi-faceted professional which is a difficult achievement even for those who may not have had to grapple with your challenges? Have you been able to subsume those challenges completely?

Dr. Renu: Lot of challenges came from the family that have not been helpful in developing good levels of self-esteem. An inferiority complex and low esteem linked to my disability have been constant challenges in the journey of life which I continue to struggle with even now in my fifties.

MC: Since the past nearly two years of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, all of us have been through extremely stressful times. During these and at other difficult points of time, how do you keep yourself relaxed, serene and self-motivated?

Dr. Renu: I have been an only child and now both my parents have passed on. So I do not have any family support. But I am fortunate to have supportive friends and colleagues. The pandemic posed many challenges especially when I contracted the infection and had to be hospitalized. However, my own vigilance, determination, independent spirit and the support of well-wishers have helped me pull through. I am fortunate in having a high level of resilience and the capacity to both be on my own and do things on my own.

Thank you so much Dr. Renu for your realistic insights and inspiring words!

The Story of Robin Singh: Reducing Suffering Footprint by Geeta C Yadav

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What is the purpose of my life? This question usually comes from a seeker who wants to evolve and grow spiritually. The answer to this question comes after being in a constant state of struggle that comes from striking a balance between personal needs and responsibilities. Money beckons, materialism flocks around in its varied avatars and one lives to chase the mirage of happiness that is hooked to people, situations and things. Time flies and confusion is replaced by utter frustration. Is life a pursuit of happiness?

Slowly another question pops up and that is Who am I? This question is the beginning of a journey of exploration which is no longer about winning or losing in the outside world but all about looking within to know and understand the higher purpose of life. The answer to this question lies in realising that ‘less is more’. At this juncture, life becomes an expression of happiness and one seeks kindness for its selfless nature and tries to reach its formless centre. It is like a drop becoming the ocean.

Robin Singh, the co-founder of Peepal Farm, dropped all his baggage that reeked of unresolved emotional turmoil, the hopelessness of being anxious about whether or not he would know or find happiness and picked up life as it thrived in the innocent eyes of the voiceless animals and re-purposed his life around them. From being an ethical hacker who successfully led an e-commerce company in the United States, Robin now works to spread the philosophy of reducing suffering footprint. He finds complete and unconditional support from his partner Shivani who heads Peepal Farm Products where she works with the local women of the village and his team at Peepal Farm. Together they strive hard, lead a simple, sustainable and purposeful life in a small village near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

Let’s know more about Peepal Farm from Robin Singh.

WP: Share the story of Peepal Farm and why did you call it by this name?

RS: Our mission is to alleviate and prevent the suffering of as many beings as possible.

In December 2014, we began by building a place where people who wanted to share our mission could have the space and resources to do good work, and where we could involve and inspire others. We expanded to build our stray animal rescue, farm, product line, and media team!

The Peepal Tree sprouts in the most unfertile climates, including in the sides of buildings. If left there, it will eventually grow so large that it will break down the structure it rests on until it reaches the ground. Like the Peepal tree, we are breaking down the societal structures which cause the oppression and suffering of beings.

WP: What is suffering footprint? Can you guide us to reduce or reverse our suffering footprint?

RS: Suffering footprint is the trace of physical harm caused to life and liberty of other creatures in our pursuit of food, clothing and shelter. When you buy a kilo of rice from your local grocer, for example, to begin with it carries the history of pain in soil organisms — from rats to earthworms — when the earth was tilled to sow the paddy. Then there is the transportation of water and exploited, under-paid labour, which involves the mining and burning of fossil fuels. At each further stage, harvesting, transportation and storage, until the grain arrived at the grocery, there has been physical pain, no matter how minuscule, caused to some or the other life form. It is heart-wrenching to imagine all the bits and chunks of suffering that add up to bring a single chapati onto your plate.

There is apparent suffering, like the slaughter of animals for meat, and there is hidden, implicit suffering, like in a kilo of rice. Every act of survival, even the most benign, causes some physical pain or loss of liberty in another creature. Whether you see it or not, our hands are always covered in blood. This is the inevitable truth of existence on earth. For someone to live, someone has to die. As a conscious and choice-empowered species, what are we to do about this? What are the choices we have?

If we must exist despite this bitter fact, we could begin by reducing our individual suffering footprint. One direct and verifiable way to do it is to simply reduce our consumption. Limiting the consumption to needs and avoiding indulgence. The first step towards reducing consumption would be figuring out our bare necessities — the bare minimum food, clothing and shelter needed for our survival. But living by calculating the suffering footprint implied by each and every one of our actions can become a complex and paralysing task. As a beginning, along with reducing consumption, it is simpler to eliminate actions that cause direct harm to others.
WP: What makes you focus on pain and suffering? What according to you are the 3 basic reasons behind pain and suffering in human life and also what makes the lives of animals painful?

RS: Physical pain is something that all sentient beings avoid. It is the common denominator between all. Pain is universal, everyone feels pain. This is why we have dedicated our lives to alleviate physical pain.

For humans, some of the reasons behind pain and suffering are –

  • existential pain and suffering
  • having expectations from others
  • ruminating over the past and the future

For animals, the reasons of pain and suffering are –

  • being born an animal, as they lack the ability to think and reason like humans.
  • our attitude towards them
  • all the exploitation the world does to them

WP: Why are humans, in general, cruel towards animals? Share from the sad experiences of stray or pet animals rescued by your team at Peepal Farm.

RS: People often pick on those who are weaker than them. Humans tend to exploit these beings because they can, and also because some of them are not even aware of the pain and suffering their actions cause. Laws around animal welfare are so weak and have not been updated in decades. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960 currently stipulates a penalty of Rs 50 for any act of cruelty against an animal.

We see many heartbreaking cases here at the farm. We have seen many breed dogs being abandoned. Once the family has fulfilled their desire of wanting a breed dog for a bit, they don’t even think twice before leaving them on the street when the dog needs them the most. These poor dogs have no idea of how to live on the streets and end up starving or being hit by vehicles. These cases break our hearts.

Just like abandoned dogs, we also see many abandoned male calves on the streets, starving. This is also a direct result of the dairy industry.

WP: What are the evident changes in animals when you remove physical pain from their lives at Peepal Farm?

RS: Our volunteers help us plenty with enrichment of our animals. When an animal comes here for the first time, a lot of care is put into them being treated for their wounds as well as giving them the love and affection they deserve. When we spend time with an animal, not only are we treating their physical wounds, but also some deep emotional trauma. We see them opening up and their real personality starts to shine through.

WP: How are veganism and no-till farming instrumental in supporting your philosophy of causing minimum harm and living a life to do maximum good work?

RS: Our goal is to minimize our suffering footprint and alleviate physical pain and suffering. The most evident way to do this is by eliminating animal products from our diet, but another not so obvious way is by growing our food by no-till farming.

We are trying to grow food with a no-till/low-till method, and we try to save seeds. Most of the year, we manage to grow veggies and herbs needed in the kitchen. We are learning how to store root crops and make them last longer. We also preserve our produce by dehydrating and fermenting.

We have an emphasis on beauty, to temper suffering with beauty so people who are not used to seeing it, can be exposed more to the animal rights issues.

WP: How can we bring up children to live with virtues of kindness, compassion and empathy towards one and all?

RS: Our schooling system needs to be less human centric and include all beings. Parents too need to put in extra efforts to sensitize their children towards animal welfare. If they did not have exposure to animals, they need to make sure that this is not passed down and the chain is broken. The least we can do is start eliminating animal products from our diet, and living by the mantra “do no harm”.

WP: What are the basic ingredients of a happy life?

RS: Knowing what your purpose in life is the basic and key ingredient to a happy life. Also knowing that doing good feels great, makes life happier!

WP: How has sustainable living changed your life? Is minimalism the cornerstone of sustainability?

RS: Minimalism and sustainability has not only decluttered my physical space, but also my mind. I now have more time to focus my energies on things that are more important. My mind is not drawn towards trivial matters such as what the latest fashion trends are, but more on how I can use my energy to make the world a better place!

WP: What are the virtues that animals can teach humans in order to simplify life in general? Has your life with animals at Peepal Farm diminished your ego (feeling of separateness) and increased your naturalness and sense of belongingness?

RS: Animals just need food, love and a safe space to sleep in. That’s really about it. They teach us that life is all about these simple pleasures, and not much is needed to be happy.

When volunteers come here, interact with cows, pigs, sheep, etc. they start to notice that they are not very different from dogs and other animals they are comfortable and familiar with. This breaks many barriers and helps people make connections that they would have not made otherwise.

WP: Who can volunteer to work at Peepal Farm?

RS: Anyone can volunteer here at the farm, as long as they are okay with doing repetitive tasks. We are a place of karma yoga, and if you find repetitive work boring, instead of finding it meditative, then this volunteering program might not be for you.

WP: How do you involve people to spread your message of kindness towards animals?

RS: Our motto is to involve and inspire.
Our volunteers can choose to work in Animal Enrichment, Farm work, Teaching and Products. More specifically, assisting in stray animal rescue (dog walks, brushing animals, poop scooping, flea and tick removal, baths, laundry, feeding infant puppies, playing with dogs and teaching the kids from the village) and assisting in the farm (weeding, mulching, preparing new farm patches, digging, planting, moving rocks).

We have noticed that people are more likely to take home learnings when they are physically involved in the work we do.

WP: What made you think of Peepal Farm Products?

RS: The quest to reach out to more people for spreading our message and getting them to join in the cause gave birth to Peepal Farm Products. Starting with farm grown herbs, the product line kept growing gradually into a vast range of categories with a major aim in mind – to generate more employment for women.

Our ethos is “Consume less, harm less”, so we even encourage you to NOT buy our products! We have recipes and how to’s for almost everything on social media. But if you don’t have the time for that, we got you covered. When you buy from us, all of our profits generated from the sales go towards saving animals in our rescue.

White Print wishes Robin and team Peepal Farm all the very best as they walk the talk every minute of their lives by loving animals, being kind to them and leading a sustainable life.

Championing sustainability: Chaitsi’s journey of nurturing ‘Brown Living’ by Upasana Makati

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The planet we live on is burdened beyond measure. The number and intensity of heat waves, heavy downpours, hurricanes, flash floods has undergone a drastic increase. Human habits and consumption patterns play a disastrous role in damaging the planet.

While the leaders of countries throw numbers, voice promises, they continue to damage the planet in the name of development. We at an individual level, can take small but impactful steps to save Mother Earth. Every step counts. It truly does.

A closer look at the incredible journey of Chaitsi Ahuja, Founder of Brown Living, an online platform that aims to promote a sustainable way of living.

  1. What gave birth to the idea of Brown Living?

In early 2018, I was going through a personal journey of switching to a more sustainable lifestyle. During the time, I started to re-evaluate my ways of consuming, eating habits, figuring out what I believe in, my ethos are and the kind of work I would like to be known for.

My personal struggles, clubbed with my eco anxiety* led me to change and start my journey of zero waste & plastic free living. I realised that this journey wasn’t easy, unless you put in many months of research on choosing the right products for your health and the planet’s too.

I began conducting research and spoke to numerous customers and businesses to understand why the green-products (or eco-friendly) industry hasn’t received the limelight it deserves both from a consumer preference and a business focus point of view. It was in November 2019 when I finally launched the platform WWW.BROWNLIVING.IN, to make a sustainable lifestyle accessible and affordable to all.

*Eco-anxiety refers to a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change.

  1. Building a business from scratch is a Herculean Task. Trace your journey for us.

I am deeply concerned with all the wrong we (humanity) have done to the health of this planet, which has affected our own health as well. A lot of lifestyle diseases today are caused by adulterated chemically-treated produce. Plastic is not just in our oceans but in our foods. Our previous generations may not have had the technology and aspiration we have today, but they definitely lead a good life (pre-industrialisation era).

How do we live like they did, and do no further harm than we already have? In March 2019, I started a challenge called the buy nothing project where I decided to not buy anything new except food. I also turned vegan that same year and started exploring sustainable ways to consume and nourish Earth in the process; I studied design thinking from a circular approach, ethical production methods and sustainable materials.

All this led me to ask another question, what if we could continue consuming conveniently, without waste? The first step for me to make a change was unlearning about consumerism and fast fashion and going back a few decades to when our planet’s health was better than it is today. I realised that the problem is not just management of human waste but in the consumption patterns itself.

I became obsessed with understanding ingredients, methods and packaging materials for products in my home and around me. I took multiple courses to study the impact of production, consumption, permaculture, and circular design for sustainability.

I started listing down all the things around me that I wanted to replace and not create more waste than we already had, right from from pens, pencils, toothbrushes, straws to skincare and even furniture that was made sustainably. Then, I evaluated them on parameters that were “earth-friendly”, for example measuring carbon footprint, plastic waste and footprint, energy and water consumed in the process, the cost of human capital involved. At the time it was a simple excel document where I would tick each product that worked according to this method, which later evolved into our product selection framework.

The Brown Lens, which evaluates each stage of the products lifecycle on parameters of lifecycle impact, carbon and plastic footprint, circular design, social impact, fair trade and ethical practices, zero waste production methods, biodegradability, compost-ability, plastic-free and reusable packaging and overall design functionality and aesthetic.

Why not just environmental footprint, you ask? Sustainability is a wholistic way of thinking and doesn’t only look at the environment. While the materials / ingredients you use are crucial to the sustainability of the product, it is also important that we are able to support a community that wants to make this planet a better place – In our case, artisans who are trying to preserve a craft or come from underprivileged or diverse backgrounds, and/or are MSME’s who have taken adequate measures to tick of all boxes for our sustainability parameters.

In just under two years, we have been able to positively impact over 3,000 artisans, 270+ MSME’s, 176 women entrepreneurs while planting 10,000 trees to negate our footprint as a business.

My ambition with all I do at Brown Living is to bring back some of the old practices of living (from pre-industrialisation and prior to invention of harmful chemicals and plastic) and make them relevant to our urban lifestyle.

  1. Sustainable living is at the core of the conversation across platforms, conferences because of the urgency to avert further damage to the planet. You’ve spent over two years in this space. What are your findings, learnings.

Going plastic free is a journey, it doesn’t happen overnight.

It definitely doesn’t happen overnight as you can’t just throw all of your plastic away. We also need to get used to the fact that Plastic is a relatively new material (just about 200 years old), but is not leaving our homes anytime soon (min 900 years for all the stuff we’d made in just 200 years).

Everyone must focus on Sustainability today, to build for a resilient future.

Competition is a great way to say that there is a definite market for sustainable products and is an upward trend for growth. This is exactly why we wanted to create a marketplace that promotes a healthy, fair and financially viable platform for sellers both small and big to showcase and sell their products.

We have helped form a lot of collaboration and synergies between sustainable and ethical brands as well as platforms, wherein they collaborate and co-create to promote this lifestyle; from categories that are complimentary (example, personal care and home care) as well as are completely unrelated (example, Eco-Tourism and Ethical Fashion), seen thrive, together.

However, our challenge remains to compete with large, funded companies with over- consumption and single bottom-line growth (read profit) as their main agenda. It’s about time we institutionalise the triple-bottom-line reporting (read people-planet-profit) to be able to truly make a change, quickly, we are already seeing the shift in equity markets with ESG Funds.

  1. Consumers are bombarded with a cheaper alternative every minute. How does Brown Living tackle this roadblock?

This is purely due to the economics of the segment. Many years ago (say 20 years), Solar panels were neither easily accessible not affordable for masses. However, today it is possible to even get subsidies and affordable rates (whether you are an individual or an enterprise) for using renewable energy sources.

I call this the “Economics of Accessibility”, wherein the more something is made available, the cheaper it becomes over time (read affordability is a function of availability). In about five years from now, you will see the entire eco-friendly and sustainable products and services industry go through a massive structuring, quality scrutiny, price mapping and consumer regulations.

Some of this is already happening via external certifications and quality metrics such as Fair Trade, GOTS certification, PETA Certification for Vegan and Cruelty Free, Ayurvedic Certification by Ministry of Ayush. We are yet to see this segment reach 10% potential, we have a while till we reach the bell curve but don’t have time till 2050 to make false promises.

Your impact is as good as the number of people using your product or service.

We, at Brown Living, want to make products and services for sustainable living reach the larger masses in India (to support the Economics of Accessibility concept I mentioned earlier), make it convenient, easy, affordable and accessible to all. We have also noticed that our target customers are age, gender, and income bracket agnostic, that supports our vision to do so too.

  1. An entrepreneurial journey is faced by a number of challenges. Share some prominent ones and how did you work around them to find a feasible solution?

Nearly three in four millennials suffer from Eco-anxiety without really knowing about it. Some of it stems from the fact that we are aware about the larger problem of the climate crisis, but we don’t know where to begin, what to do, or how to make a difference.

I am one of the 75% of these millennials and I can tell you with faith that it is because of this anxiety and fear that we are seeing even a slight change in consumption habits, brand communications, business models, and government policy changes at large.

Unfortunately, our generation doesn’t have a choice but to switch to a sustainable lifestyle as we are bringing in the future generations and raising them for a world that may not exist.

When you are at war, you worry about survival, we are at war against time left on this planet. Sure, it is an easy path if you have an intent to make a change and a super tough journey for those who want to make excuses or say it’s too hard.

Convenience being the key focus, at Brown Living our goal has always been to make low- waste and sustainable living super convenient and accessible to all. We do this by bringing over 200+ categories from 250+ brands under one roof (spanning over 6,000+ products).

It’s like any other lifestyle change you will make, like changing your diet; at first you will find the recipes difficult but once you try a few, you’ll be able to explore so much more.

  1. You now have a business partner too. How does it help leverage the conversation around sustainability and growth for the business?

I like to think that I have attracted some very inspiring people to be part of my tribe and Pragya Kapoor is one such person. She has been a great addition to the Brown Living Family. When she decided to support our cause and become an investor (after being a customer with us for a while), helped me take my vision to the next level. I was very sure from the beginning that if I do partner or decide to share my business with someone, we must both agree on many levels, the most important ones being the values, mission and the cause. Pragya is super passionate about sustainability, is a conscious consumer herself and has been a strong pillar of support since she discovered our platform.

I have found not just an investor and partner but a sounding board, a great friend in her. I think getting her on the board for Brown Living has been a very crucial step in our journey.

  1. What does the next one year look like for Brown Living?

We’d like to improve our footprint in India, become a household name in sustainable living, a discovery and shopping platform for people who want to make a change or an impact, a platform to show you the way to lead a sustainable life in so many different ways, remind you of the values we as Indians have practised of living zero waste for generations (before the decades where we got swayed away from supporting and consuming local and sustainable).

  1. If there is one message you would like to give our readers, what would that be! How could each one of us do a little bit for the planet?

Owing to “convenience” and “urban-living”, the key marketing tactic for most FMCG brands has been to promoted “packaged goods”. From fruits and vegetables to steel containers, everything you buy comes wrapped in a plastic that is impossible to recycle it all. All we can do is delay the process of that piece of plastic going into a landfill – find a new role for it, upcycle it, recycle it responsibly, and ensure it doesn’t end up in a landfill or pollute our oceans.

Becoming Sustainable is a journey and we all need to be mindful of all the things we consume. So the next thing you buy, ask them for plastic-free packaging; carry your own bag to the grocery store, carry a spoon and straw when you street food; read the labels when you buy your produce; segregate your waste; understand the recycling symbols; and if you need to shop, SHOP ONLY SUSTAINABLE.

Menstrual Health and Hygiene: A closer look – – Malvika Chandnani

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. (Source: undp.org) The relationship between menstruation and the SDGs is deep and at first, may feel counterintuitive. This read unearths the relations between menstruation and three SDGs – SDG 5, 6 and 9.

SDG 5: Gender Equality

The aim of SDG 5 is to end gender-based discrimination and violence, support participation of all genders in social, economic and political development, and ensure universal access to reproductive health rights. UNICEF’s Gender Action Plan 2018-21 presents suggested actions to dismantle the most stubborn barriers to gender equality by securing health and education for all. Two listed priorities in the plan are to promote gender-responsive adolescent health and Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH).

Gender disparity principally affects menstruators from marginalised groups, and those who don’t identify as cisgender women. Gender-restrictive social norms instil barriers in availing menstrual hygiene information, materials, facilities and services affecting their menstrual experience. Further, they’re exposed to additional vulnerabilities, and limit their academic and work opportunities. So, how can we influence change for our menstruators?

The first step would be to adopt a non-gender specific vocabulary. E.g. saying periods/menstruation instead of ‘lady business’, not referring to pads and tampons as ‘feminine hygiene products.’ The second step would be to invest in Menstrual Health Education. Promoting the flow of factual information is fundamental to systematically eliminate the stigma associated with menstruation. Such dialogues help build a supportive social environment wherein menstruators can manage their periods with dignity. These Education programs have immense potential in becoming gender-transformative initiatives. Engaging pre-teens (before they start menstruating) in such gender-inclusive programs would have two benefits. First, they would learn about effective menstrual health management, therefore, increasing acceptance and reducing apprehensions about menstruation. Second, through effective communication, we can help them develop acceptance of different genders before they’ve formed strong notions. These pre-teens would therefore become the seeds of a gender-inclusive society, which even though today seems a far-fetched dream, could be manifested through such initiatives. Through policy and advocacy, we can empower millions of menstruators with facilities, materials, education, and social support, moving closer to a healthier world.

In summary, social transformation is the stepping stone to gender-inclusive economic development of menstruators, and for communities at large.

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

SDG 6 aims to secure global accessibility of safe water for drinking and domestic purposes, and sanitation facilities for all. The first series of targets are directed at building sustainable systems allowing flow of freshwater, treatment of wastewater, and addressing water scarcity. The second set of targets bring together local and international corporations to build capacity in marginalised communities through Water and Sanitation Hygiene programs (WASH). Globally, six in ten lack access to sanitation facilities. In India, out of 718 districts, 22% had no appropriate toilets for girls and 56% preschools had no access to clean water on premises. This translated to high school dropout rates – nearly 23% menstruators dropped out of schools due to lack of WASH infrastructure. We would ask, what do these statistics mean for menstruators in these settings?

Menstruators are deprived of private spaces with clean water to clean themselves and change menstrual hygiene materials as needed. This leads them to use these materials for longer hours than recommended thereby creating an environment for reproductive and/or urinary tract infections (UTIs). Further, lack of safe disposal methods in these facilities pushes them to dispose of their materials in secluded places or in the dark, which has been linked to increased probability of violence and assault against menstruators. The end results of these practices are school dropouts, missed work opportunities and threat of violence.

How can we facilitate change through SDG 6? Acknowledging that investing in WASH-MHH programs is investing in social and physical well-being of menstruators and the communities as a whole. According to UNICEF, the four-pillars of Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) programs are social support, menstrual education, accessible and safe WASH facilities, and clean menstrual hygiene materials. Constructing separate toilets for menstruators and children in schools is projected to increase overall sanitation and mitigate disease risk, raising the attendance by nearly 11%. New WASH programs and policies are revolutionizing MHH by upscaling the construction of ‘period-friendly toilets’. The beauty of these toilets is that they are designed to be gender-sensitive and accessible by those with disabilities. Social, behavioural and knowledge barriers preclude menstruators, especially in low-income settings from efficiently practicing hygiene. The MHH-WASH programs must focus on continuous learning to overcome these barriers.

In summary, recognising that menstruators are fundamental health resources will enable us to support them in keeping themselves healthy through best hygiene practices.

SDG 9: Industry, Infrastructure and Innovation

The goal of SDG 9 is to facilitate sustainable development of industries, support small scale enterprises, boost quality research and innovations, build sustainable and resilient infrastructure by ensuring a conducive policy environment.

Menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) is majorly impacted by the growth of feminine hygiene industry. The key products of this market are tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups, and vaginal health products. Analysis of the Indian feminine hygiene industry reported by prnewswire.com predicts a steady growth of ~14.92% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the period starting from 2018 to 2024.

Note: Although referred to as feminine hygiene industry, the consumers are not restricted to cis-gender women and encompass many other genders who menstruate. A new gender-neutral term for referring to this industry would be a step towards gender equality.

Despite this growth, only 58 % of women in the age group 15 – 24 use a hygienic method of menstrual protection while 42% use unhygienic means of menstrual protection. Socio-cultural and economic factors contribute to these statistics. These are presented in the form of lack of awareness, acceptance and affordability. Lack of awareness prevents menstrual products from becoming a priority household need. Lack of acceptance leads to reservations to talk about and purchase menstrual products. Lastly, lack of affordability unfolds in the pattern of household spending. Menstrual hygiene products constitute only a small fraction of what is spent on other items.

On a positive note, with the expansion of digital media and online resources, awareness about intimate hygiene is growing. This is surging the demand for sanitary hygiene products and creating avenues for start-ups and innovations e.g. biodegradable sanitary napkins. Reusable products such as aesthetically designed cloth pads and menstrual cups are friendly to the environment and the pocket. Upcoming green technologies for menstrual waste management e.g. disposal units, chemical treatment units, and fumeless incinerators, are paving ways for efficiently managing the ever growing menstrual waste. MHH policies empowering new entrepreneurs would lay the foundations for sustainable menstrual management.

MHH Infrastructure encompasses safe sanitation and disposal facilities and systems for Menstrual Health Education. Many menstruators in low-income settings have an unclear understanding of efficiently managing periods. According to unicef.org/in, 71% menstruators in India remain unaware of menarche until their first period. Apprehension and shame about the subject prevents them from seeking vital menstrual health information.

We can have transforming impacts on the lives of menstruators by establishing an ecosystem of Menstrual Health Educators who use teaching models catered to different demographics. Further, engaging teachers, community leaders and elders in these initiatives would not just reform menstrual health, but also bring about social transformation.

In retrospect, collaboration of governments and non-governmental organisations with communities is imperative for creating better structured environments and resources for growth and development.

About The Author: About The Author: A student of Health Policy and Public Health evidence, Malvika is part of Red Is the New Green Sustainable Development Foundation, a Forbes 30 Under 30 recognised organisation centered around Menstrual Health and Hygiene. From a Research Associate to the Operations Head, Malvika has worked with and led cross-functional teams to successfully execute research and community training projects. Currently, she is pursuing a Master of Public Health from one of Canada’s leading academic and research institutions – the University of Alberta. She aspires to work in healthcare advocacy by gaining mastery in environmental health and public policy.