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Looks v/s Substance – The Paradox of the Indian Youth

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By Avani Bansal:

As kids, we were never forced to make choices. We could have had all that we wanted to. We could have toys and chocolates too. We could have dad and mom too. We could have dresses and books too. But as we grow up, the realisation dawns upon us was that now we are faced with tough choices, choices that are inevitable. We have to choose: Science or Humanities as a stream. We have to choose: staying with parents or in boarding. We have to choose: Girlfriends or Boyfriends. But as we grow further and step into being a youth from a teen, we realise that the choices are only becoming tougher and more complicated with the passing of years.

To choose between cheating in an exam and losing those few marks that would have otherwise given you the rank that you so desperately needed to choosing from staying single or being committed. To choose between being a silent spectator to being a rebel. Yes, we are born in an age where choices are available. Where we are free to determine our destiny. Where, we aren’t looked upon as an alien for making the choices that we do. But all this while, a feeling that stays is that of being ‘sandwiched’. For though there were choices, there was no ready made guide map to ease my decision-making. But more than the decision making, what was frustrating was the very act of choosing one over another. Didn’t you always wonder — why couldnt’ you have it all. But this remained mere wishful thinking as you were never left with a choice not to choose. Sometimes easy and at other times tough but decisions had to be made.

But when you look back and then look around, what strikes you is the similarity of situation in which you find the majority of the Indian youth today. Doesn’t each one of us face this dilemma at umpteen times wherein issues range from trivial to life-deciding. But one such choice that clearly stands out as the most commonly found among the youth today is that of ‘Looks v. Substance.’ Though some are equally blessed with both!

Believing that you are the best in everything that you do, how many times did you wonder that perhaps all you needed to work was on your looks. Having convinced yourself that you didn’t have to change just because you didn’t fit into the so called ‘universal standards of beauty’, how many times did you revisit this very fundamental make-up of yours when somebody raised the slightest doubt about it. How often did you sit alone to have this conversation with yourself but concluded that for right or for wrong but one does need ‘looks’ and so you better look good. Knowing fully well, having read over a dozen times that it’s the ‘substance’ alone that takes you far, how often do we settle for the ‘superficiality’. And continue to feel that perhaps ‘gori chamdi pe hi gumaan kar sakte hai!’ ( You can only be proud of beautiful skin!)

Born in the East in a culture more exposed to the West, how is the youth supposed to deal with these and a million choices. How are we to know which path to take, what pointers to follow and most importantly how not to be ‘sandwiched’. Whether to go for what the world testifies as sure short success mantras and the prices that it comes for and whether it is worth all of it.

But you may say, that all this makes for good debate but is rather useless. I would say- if only each of you reading this took a small pledge — to treat every person you come across as more human, irrespective of how he/she looks – wouldn’t much more love be flowing around and consequently so much more humanity. Looks, looks, looks — Doesn’t anyone want to be more human anymore!

You must be to comment.
  1. Radhika

    “Doesn’t anyone want to be Human anymore!” ?
    There are so many people who practice the magic of “giving” – giving towards others, genuinely belive in the act of kindness, and the list goes on, but what do the majority really think of these people?
    These people are “different” no one appreciates them anymore, and judge them – for what I will never understand.

    “Beauty lies within” – WHY IS THAT A MYTH?
    The ads and products I HATE WITH A PASSION are “FAIR AND LOVELY/ HANDSOME” products~
    I mean serioulsy, do people not understand this is Racisim and Discrimination?
    What problem does the world have with the Darker Skinned?!
    What makes a “fairer person”more beautiful than a “darker skinned person”? I’m not being politically correct, just refusing to call people who are not Black and White, Black and White.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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