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Youth And Spiritualism: As Unlikely As Chalk And Cheese?

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By Srishti Chauhan:

How likely is it for an average youngster to have a ring-tone of Gayatri Mantra along with his usual Akon hip hop? Quite likely, it seems. A research by Dr. Peter DeBenedittis states that contrary to popular belief that the youth have drifted away from all forms of beliefs in scientifically unproven things (like religion, spirituality, paranormal activities etc), the youth are inclined towards each of these in their own distinctive way.

Continued and persistent efforts by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to encourage dialogue between science and religious philosophy to fashion a life science in which the two do not conflict- rather collaborate -to deliver intellect with empathy have been taken into consideration by the Sikkim Government. From 20-23rd December, 2010 the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (in the capital, Gangtok) hosted a galaxy of scholars and spiritual masters from around the world for an international conference on “Science, Spirituality and Education”. This has indeed been a breakthrough from the belief that spiritualism and science are mutually exclusive. Believing in one does not imply being a non-believer of the other.

If experts are to be believed, then spirituality is the new way to go. Along with imparting scientific information to students, it is necessary to impart some spiritual knowledge starting from an early age to promote a more efficient mechanism of thinking, doing work and in general, a more productive form of life.

Many people have somewhat wronged notions of what spirituality is all about. Thanks to the million “spiritual” channels on the TV, the word spirituality brings to the mind the picture of boring somniferous lectures given by some sexagenarian who seems to be in amnesia state (which his devotees proudly call Nirvana state) and is surrounded by the paraphernalia of faithful disciples and foreigners raving about eastern mysticism.

Things, however, have taken a turn for the better now. Various forums like the “Art Of Living”, instead of promoting going to an ‘ashram’ and living there, now promote a simpler and healthier way of leading normal lives. Spirituality is seen as a refuge from the mundane and the stressful lives that the newer, younger, MNC-joining population lives. The Art of Living foundation has become so popular with the youth that now a separate website operates to cater to the young and interested. This has something to say about the interest trail of the youth.

Indian youth are not the only ones finding their path to a more spiritually enlightened way of life. Countries in the west too have awoken to a consciousness about the significance of spirituality and have launched it in the program of study. Ivy League Institutions like Stanford University and Harvard Business School have ‘pranayam’ and meditation classes in their semesters.

According to researches, youth turn to spirituality for many reasons. It’s like saying there are as many meanings to the word ‘spiritualism’ as there are number of individuals. Like each one has a different goal in life, similarly, each one has a diverse objective in spiritualism. A few years ago, when the MNC trend had just begun to become the colossal giant that it is, a news report stated that many youngsters working in MNCs suffered from a ‘mid-life-crisis’ situation at ages as early as 28-30. This was because despite pocketing huge pay packages, these people could not just take pleasure in earning huge sums of money which they do not even have time enough to squander.

All this, mingled with the confusion, worry, fast-pace and anxiety that people are encountered with adds to the magnetism of spiritualism to the youth which guarantees some amount of cerebral tranquility. A very excellent example of this is the book “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert (who was in her 30s when the book was written and launched), which is touted as ‘one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia’. The part of the book relating to India deals with the spiritual search for forgiveness to the author’s husband and the need for sterilization of the mind from all negativity. This speaks of much of what we need today.

Conclusively, the youth today have their own definition of spiritualism. Many may not understand it. Hidden beneath over-used guitars, skull printed jackets, dragon tattoos, truck-loads of make-up and for some cluttered desks in the office- lies the spirituality that they chose. Appositely put by a Guru- “They do head banging in the night and pranayam in the morning”.

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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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