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Right to Education and Student Suicides: An Ironical Situation

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Aditi Gala:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy once procalimed, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and the best hope for its future”. These words hold their ground even today. But the alarming rate of student sucides in the recent past sends shivers down one’s spine. Believe it or not, in 2006, the most recent year for which official figures are available, some 5,857 students or 16 a day killed themselves due to exam stress (globally). In turbulent times likes these, the Right to Education Act [RTE], that came into effect on April 1, 2010 is seen as a major breakthrough. (read YKA reporters’ perspective here and here)

The Act aims to address the impending problem of illiteracy that our country is still fighting against even after 60 years of independence. The major goals of the Act are as follows:

  • That every child receives free and compulsory education up to 14 years of age [Class VIII]
  • Children coming from all kinds of socio-economic sections of the society receive good quality of education without any discrimination.
  • Ensuring that teachers and schools meet certain specific norms laid down for them.

The RTE clause also states that no student can be held back up to Class VIII. All states have pledged their wholehearted support to this Act, including the state of Maharashtra. Many a schools in Mumbai declared their results in the month of April but still there have been complaints from parents stating that despite of the Act being effective from April 1, 2010, their children had not been promoted to the next standard. A cruel proof to this are the flashing headlines of students hanging themselves to death every other day.

Divya Salunki, a class VIII students of Dadar Parsi Youths Assembly School hanged herself to death in her house at Wadala after having failed in the subject of Social Science by 4 marks. After failing to clear his class VII examinations for the second time, Shamz Merchant, a student of The Janki Devi High School at Versova also hanged himself to death at his residence in Jogeshwari.

Even after the implementation of this Act, young minds are still giving up on their lives. This clearly indicates that something much more needs to be done in order to curb this epidemic. Two major influences on the minds of young ones are their parents and teachers. The RTE Act does provide for a very student-friendly atmosphere but what about the teachers? The former is hard to achieve in absence of the latter. The teaching vocation has tumbled down miserably in the last few years. Some reasons for this are the lower wages handed out to teachers, the worsening student-teacher ratio [now standing at 100:1] and a loss of dignity suffered by the teaching community. Teaching as a profession is not considered attractive anymore and this is the reason as to why the talent pool opting for teaching is becoming lesser with each passing day. The teaching community has to be given adequate incentives like any other profession is given. Burdening teachers with unnecessary political work and ignoring their requests is going to have a devastating effect on the students.

Apart from this, one observes that though this Act exists legally on paper, Herculean efforts have to be taken in the direction of well-being of the students. As baffling as it may sound, on May 1, one student allegedly commited sucide in Malad [W] even after having scored good marks, just because he was unhappy with his performance. This scenario only points out towards taking vital steps in order to look after the mental well-being of children. For major acts like these to be successful tiny, incremental changes have to be made on that part of parents, teachers and the school itself. A friendly, encouraging atmosphere for students to flourish under, is the need of the hour. They must be given wholehearted support in extra-curricular activities that they ace in [be it singing, dancing, painting or sports] and marks should not be the sole instruments upon which they are judged. Teachers would have to essay dual roles-one being that of a teacher and another being that of a counselor to make sure that these young minds do not run astray. Providing them with essential training programmes in the same will prove to a good investment in the long run.

Quoting Annie Sullivan-“Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.” The RTE Act is one step forward in the direction of betterment of litteracy in the country. But one must remember that much more needs to be done so that this Act proves to be a geat success. Students, irrespective of their age, class or caste need to be treated with kindness and understanding so that they can bloom into prolific and responsible citizen of our country.

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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 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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