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ISM To IIT Campaign: These Students Are Asserting Their Demand Through Creative Modes Of Protest

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By Rahul Maganti:

Over the course of evolution of student activism in India, we have seen students engaging in different struggles and movements through protests, dharnas, marches and many more creative forms of dissent. Student activism is often heralded as the consciousness of any society. This is generally prevalent across Universities where Social Sciences are opted for, and students from elite institutions in engineering stream have always shown indifference towards activism. At this juncture, the students of ISM Dhanbad have been at the forefront of a mass struggle, which will surely be a starting point for other technical institutions to follow.

Very rarely do we find these kind of novel protests which the students of ISM Dhanbad have been doing as part of their campaign to demand up-gradation of ISM Dhanbad to IIT Dhanbad. Over 2000 students from the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, went around 12 slums of Dhanbad City and distributed 1500 Education Kits to children living there. They spent around 10 minutes with every child and their families, motivating them to send their children to School. The Education Kit comprised of a basic book, a notebook, 2 pencil, 1 eraser and 1 sharpener. Innovatively, they named the programme as ‘Knowledge Packet Challenge’ concurring with the recent online trend of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Book Bucket Challenge.

They are not really stopping with this. They have a series of similar protests taking shape in the next week, hoping to build public consensus and thereby, support for the cause, which is a long standing one, but failed to cross different political obstacles due to lack of dedication from the same people who promised it. These determined students have another programme planned on the 12th of this month where they are organizing a Cleanliness Drive, where 2000 people will clean up different localities of Dhanbad. Then, on the 14th of this month, they are organizing a mass blood donation drive wherein they would give 800 units of blood, the blood that could be stored in all of Dhanbad’s blood banks.

The need for the Conversion of ISM Dhanbad into an IIT:

Indian School of Mines, though predominantly a Mining School, had later taken up other streams of Engineering like Electrical and Mechanical over the course of its evolution. The entrance to the same has been IIT-JEE, which is also the entrance examination for all the IIT’s. Varun Pandey, a final year student who has been leading the movement since July 2013, says, “ISM is viewed as a Mining school, both by academicians and the industry, when, in reality, it is not. We have huge number of students from other streams as well. They don’t get represented generally and have a negative advantage attached to them as industry fails to take notice of this fact because of the bias the name ISM offers.” To be frank, this would have actually dented a lot of careers and dreams of students where the students who belonged to, say, electrical or mechanical, had suffered due to lack of exposure to their respective core industry. “The perception of the academicians that the programmes at ISM are oriented towards Mining, Earth sciences and related areas had in fact hampered the institution, attracting a limited number of well qualified faculty. The faculty of ISM has not been able to get major funding (mega projects), like in the IITs, in areas of Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics, Computer Science & Engineering disciplines,” feels Shashank Shekhar, a final year student and another lead organizer of the movement.

Journey from 2009 to 2014 via Jantar Mantar:

The political journey of hurdles and obstacles started in 2009 when Rahul Gandhi visited the campus and promised the up-gradation of ISM into an IIT after an interactive session with the students. However, as all political promises, this took a backseat. The issue again got raked up in 2011, this time thanks to Arjun Munda, the then Chief Minister of the state of Jharkhand, who decided to request the Govt. of India for the conversion after the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to that extent. And, this again got relegated amidst the myriad of proposals and promises our politicians make. Finally, in January 2013, the issue came under consideration of the HRD Ministry when it appointed a five member committee to look into the proposal of up-gradation. The committee members are professors and former directors of IIT’s. This committee, formed 20 months ago, is yet to submit a report on the same to the IIT Council, which is the governing body of all the IIT’s. The IIT Council too, hasn’t been frequent in it’s meetings as it last met in September 2013, which has set a tradition previously of meeting every six months.

As part of stepping up the pressure on the Govt., the students escalated the protest, this time right infront of the power corridors in Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, in September 2013. They stayed there for three days and three nights. Very soon, the model code of conduct kicked in and the same issue was again used by political parties for political benefits. Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh promised the up-gradation, which hasn’t been taken up till now. “It’s very sad that the issue hasn’t been given importance by the Govt. even after 100 days in governance, considering that they themselves promised the up-gradation. We collected signatures of all the MP’s from Jharkhand and the Governor of Jharkhand and submitted a memorandum to the HRD Ministry. Unfortunately, none of them have taken any material shape,” says Varun, who has coined the slogan ‘It’s now or never’ to induce fervour into the struggle. “Fortunately, the authorities are not hostile as you would think they are, and have been supporting us in one form or the other”, says Shashank Shekhar, who hopes to see the movement bear fruits very soon when the IIT Council meets at the end of this month.

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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.

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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 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.

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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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