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What’s In A Face? A Billion Words!

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By Rucha Pande:

A face can talk more than a thousand words in a book. A face holds more chapters than an epic could hold. A face can be read faster than a child’s ABC book. A face, they say, is a window to the soul. Now then, how accurate can this ‘reading of faces’ be? If reading of books is prone to mistakes and ‘slip of tongues’, reading of faces is much, much more prone to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. The face is a symbol, and a symbol is read by individuals on their own depending on their knowledge about it. Does the same apply to reading faces? Have we become so tech-savvy that real facial expressions become hard to read? Here are some instances where I have tried to understand one merely by seeing them.

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Standing there., on the bus-stop. A lonesome face, a cigarette in hand. Dingy clothes yet, a determination on his face. Yes, the ‘homeless guy’. The homeless man who exists in every street, in every town, in every country. He, who nobody knows, yet all see. He, who to us, has no life to go back to. What do I see on his face? There’s not much to read, for you see, he was blind. Eyes are like a dictionary if the face is the book. Without it, reading the face is neighing on impossible yet that determination. As he gingerly walked, a stick in his hand and a limp in his foot. Where was he heading? Nobody knows, what was he doing? Nobody cares. He walks his own path, he paves his own way with that determination.

I see my friend sitting beside me, her eyes on the flying road that zooms past us. She’s sitting by the window seat in a city bus. Her eyes on the zooming road. She knows where she is going, yet she doesn’t.  Do I see similar determination on her face? No. It is the opposite in fact. Her mind full of thoughts yet none seem to make sense. Funny how this can come to be. The homeless man, with no house, no money and barely any body can walk the walk, while my friend here, with no limit to materials is lost. She knows not where she goes, he sees not where he goes.

As usual, I was sitting on the bus stop, which is the best place to observe people second only to the railway station. There was this woman, in a striking green sari. Her child tugging at it, screaming for something. Stubborn, small child. Yet she has no attention for him, her eyes busy searching the road for a bus which she knows not for sure will arrive or not. He, with his small problems, and she with hers. I read his, probably trying to seek attention from her. And one way, which this generation knows very well, is to ask for something, or throw a tantrum. That’s exactly what his face told me. His mother’s, on the other hand, was so full of tension. She was probably getting late, with her husband waiting, or worse, her mother in law. And still, she would wait for a bus instead of taking an auto. Ah, a money saver. Understandable. Beautifully dressed, and still a money saver. We waited for a bus for almost half an hour. She providing me, and I providing her, a quiet solace. A bus comes up and she leaves. Now tugging along her son, who, tired with all his whining quietly follows her. Home to his father, maybe he’d get some attention there? That I cannot read on their faces. Will his father even be there? That I do not know either. What I did read on their faces, was tolerance that comes only with unconditional love.

Listening to a song takes you to another world. Rather, it creates a world of your own. The lyrics are the keys to unknown doors within your soul. People lost in songs, are literally lost, knowing nothing about what is going on in front of them. I observed the same happening to a friend of mine. She was listening to the song “unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield. Ironically, it talks about how nothing in life is written down in stone, we make our own decisions every day and the future isn’t written. While I was staring at her, the song went “staring, at a blank page”. And yet there I was, reading a chapter on her face. It spoke of a million feelings. I think she was tired, tired of how haywire life can go sometimes, tired of how things go out of our hands just when we think we’d gripped the situation. She takes in the song, drinking in the words, nodding her head now and then, as if to agree with the singer. She looks at me, but her mind is elsewhere. She thinks quietly while I write this down quietly. I read her, and she reads the song. Both finding so much meaning in their respective interests. When the song gets over, I see her rise, as if renewed and she says to me, “I’m tired, let’s go home”. Expecting no less, I put my book away, and lead the way.

Has the youth really become so weary? So tired? And yet many more philosophical than the older generation? Has our tolerance level become that low? No, we are acclimatizing and we will speak up. And we will make a change. So, put a smile on your face because someone might be looking right now, and may be motivated. So don’t just listen to youth ki awaaz. Look at youth ka chehra too.

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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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