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Losing out on brains and pennies

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Abhirup Bhunia:

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan is the recipient of the coveted Nobel Prize, something perceived as the subject of delight for Indians since he is of ‘Indian origin’, but what if he had continued to be in India, and pursued his research here? Would he have been the recipient of such an award then? Had the facilities, prospects and infrastructure among other things been adequately in place, which is not the case and does not look to be in the near future, then sure he would have. In that case, Indians would have enjoyed the liberty to rejoice without the fear that someone could cause discomfort by asking that itchy question — ‘What is in it for you to rejoice? He isn’t an Indian citizen’.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

India talks little about issues in education, exclusive of the HRD ministries marathon of reforms. But to talk of education — a significant conundrum in India and in various other undeveloped & developing nations is the case of brain drain whose fitting definition is ‘hefty emigration of individuals possessing talent, knowledge or intelligence to developed nations’. Brain Drain can be traced back to history when persons migrated from one nation to other to evade political unrest. But the issue had little to do with India. Today the vast proportion that it has assumed has much to do with India.

The chief reason: serious dearth of opportunity for the bright students. Wide-ranging amenities that are a must for research and development are indeed lacking, experts say. The very quality of higher education is put to debate every now and then sparking concerns over the future. That India and many other such nations lose out on a chance to cultivate and promote good brains is a fact. While R&D is one of the objectives behind moving overseas, it is not the only intent that students like pursuing abroad; engineering, management and medical studies along with arts and social sciences majors are on the list too although technical and scientific subjects feature right on top. Indian students who are drifting to developed nations in order to pursue and see through their careers might be considered as ambassadors of India, its cultures and its customs. But the enormous economic loss that the country suffers due to brain drain simply outshines such romanticized thoughts. The gravity of the problem, especially the one with economic tenor, can be measured if African nations are instanced. There has been so much outflow of individuals from South Africa and other African nations to developed countries like USA, that it has almost wiped out the chances of Africa rising from poverty.

Back home in India, the problem is no less severe. There were one lakh Indian students in USA last year. In the last five years the number of Indian students in Australia rose to more than 80,000. India provides USA the maximum number of foreign students, while in institutes at Britain, India provides the second most number of foreign students. Quite clearly these world powers welcome such inflow, since it adds to their wealth. To attract more and more students, lucrative and tempting scholarship programmes are arranged and brainy Indian students do not fail to grab these chances. There is ample reasoning behind such decisions, since there cannot be any institute in India that can stop one from gunning for Cambridge, not even Indian Institute of Science (IIS). Even the Indian Institutes of Technology cannot prevent an undergraduate from moving into USA for MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Pass up top schools — a student from India would, in most cases, prefer to be in an institution that is ranked tenth in USA, compared to one that ranks first in India. The reasons — far better infrastructure, state of the art facilities, economic gains after the course, luxurious lifestyle, and so an and so forth. David Miliband, UK’s Foreign Secretary once commented that the scholarship schemes would be focused on India and China which are going to be most important to their foreign policy success in the coming years. BBC reported in recent times that Australia’s higher education industry is its third biggest ‘export earner’ after coal and iron ore. Australia reportedly earns twelve billion dollars yearly as revenue from the four lakh foreign students that they have of which almost one lakh are from India. Singapore is not far behind; it was reported that out of the eight lakh students enrolled in institutes there, 4% is formed by Indians, and authorities there anticipate at least 6% hike in the number of Indian students in three years. A UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) estimate some time ago said that India loses ten billion dollars in foreign exchange outflow annually! Perhaps some unanimously accepted facts are that no Indian institute can offer a laboratory as high-tech & facilitating as in Harvard or no research center in India can be as full of prospects as in an AIP (The American Institute of Physics) and so on.

Hence it is time to eliminate hitches in Indian panorama of higher education. The ways to attract students, things the HRD ministry has already contemplated, are to augment quality. To do that, fourteen world class universities in partnership with global institutions, increasing the number of IIT’s and IIM’s and raising the number of seats for research in IISER from 1200 to 2400 per year, are the measures mulled over by the government. Salary incentives, perks, and assurance of improved prospects can lure students and scholars to retain their native citizenship averting economic beating in form of brain drain. The resolution of allowing foreign universities to come up in India will considerably curb brain drain, it is believed.

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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.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        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.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        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, 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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