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Something Is Missing From Our Education System, And You’ve Probably Not Noticed It

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By Bala Sai:

Last week saw the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize being shared by two luminous personalities, two people who dedicated their lives to fighting for the rights of others. More than recognizing their sacrifices, it reminded us of what it means to be human. It reminded us of the struggles of people across the world for their basic rights, something that every human being deserves, regardless of gender, ethnicity and financial status- the dignity of being human.

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India is a land of differences. For centuries together, we have transcended ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic differences to forge a diverse society that was built on tolerance towards one another. Our constitution enshrines equality as one of the pillars of the democracy. Yet, here are some latest numbers:

India is ranked 143rd in a list of 162 countries in the Global Peace Index, which means there are only 19 countries that are ranked as more violent in the world. Irrespective of whichever survey you find, India features among the top-ten most racist countries in the world. Crime rate in India is 45.26, more than twice of China, which has a substantially larger population. Increasing cases of rapes across the country have shamed us and severely tarnished our image as an emerging, progressive economy. India is 129th out of 146 countries according to the Gender Inequality Index, and has the dubious reputation of being the lowest ranked country in the subcontinent, barring Afghanistan.

These statistics are extremely worrisome, considering that India is one of the fastest developing economies in the world and aims to emerge as a leading global power. What has lead to this situation? We can no longer blame our history, given that two-thirds of our population is below 35 years of age. Communal tensions, ethnic violence, crimes against women, all are different facets of the core issue— our failure to acknowledge the rights of others. This is where Human Rights Education comes into perspective.

Human Rights awareness assumes great importance given the changing dynamics of today’s society. With increasing influence of factors like globalization, urbanization and migration, there is a greater interaction among people of different cultures and ethnicities and it becomes essential for individuals to develop tolerance and respect and appreciate each other’s differences, all of which begin with the basic understanding of equality and human rights. This has to be ingrained in our consciousness right from a young age, and the best way to do that is through education.

There is a reason why the Human Development Index (HDI) includes ‘mean years of schooling’ as one of the three main parameters used to gauge a country’s level of development. Education is not merely about cramming book-loads of data and mastering mathematics. Education is a wholesome process where children develop perspectives and opinions about the world around them. It is the duty of our education system to guide their young, impressionable minds and induce them to imbibe values that will shape their personalities and their outlook towards others. This is the reason that developing mutual respect among peers is a very important step towards achieving harmony in the society.

The basic structure of education in our country is based on competition for grades. Children are constantly under pressure to excel, which inadvertently pits one student against the other, creating divisions and tensions among them. They end up giving more value to success and failure than to interpersonal relationships.

An efficient Human Rights Education should go beyond providing mere technical definitions to promoting communication, developing sensitivity, conflict prevention and conflict resolution, sharing, building respect for others, handling responsibility and learning to empathize with others.

Such values can’t be taught by mere textbooks. They need to be gradually cemented in young minds through experience and interactions. Schools provide the ideal environment where students are exposed to such diversity. Human Rights education can be effective only if it is communicated interactively, so that it becomes a part of their principles, not just inside classrooms. At a young age, students will be able to understand and appreciate differences among themselves, preparing them for the world outside.

Countries around the world already have realized the importance of Human Rights Education in shaping young minds. In India, the awakening has just begun. Human Rights, for long has been sparsely addressed in our curriculum, generally limited to dry, pedantic definitions in Civics textbooks. Today, the National Human Rights Commission of India, the Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament and Environmental Protection (IIPDEP), and many NGOs have begun the process of change.

Schools around the country are gradually waking up to the cause, with many choosing to implement extra-curricular programs and events to promote Human Rights Education with the support of several NGOs. One particularly heart-warming instance was the huge response to a letter writing marathon organized by Amnesty where school children participated extensively, demanding the release of Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting for the past 14 years to protest against the AFSPA.

Events like this are positive signals of change. It shows our commitment to not only informing our children, but also developing their opinions and views. Indian education is fast evolving, moving beyond imparting rigid, empirical data, to integrating knowledge with practice, with building values and morals that prepare our future generations to cope with the rich, diverse society and its many challenges. Human Rights education, undoubtedly, forms a major part of the change, as it rightly should.

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  1. Babar

    Children are constantly under pressure to excel, which inadvertently pits one student against the other, creating divisions and tensions among them. They end up giving more value to success and failure than to interpersonal relationships.

    Competition creates a drive to excel, and that has nothing to do with relationships. A person’s good academic record does not create hindrance in their interpersonal skills, and is not detrimental for relationships. People give value to things based on the importance their attach to it, regardless of other factors. I am sorry but your entire article is based on fantasy.

    Last week saw the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize being shared by two luminous personalities, two people who dedicated their lives to fighting for the rights of others.

    Only one was deserving of the award, while the other is U.S. mouthpiece, reiterating their propaganda, someone will not talk about U.S. crimes against humanity because it jeopardizes the money and fame and tours she is enjoying, along with the 3 million dollar book deal and 2 million dollar home. Must take a lot of courage to bow down to U.S. masters and win the Nobel Prize.

    I forgot, she is a feminist.

    1. Babar

      Read my comments here.

  2. Gaurav

    India does not have an education system. India has a system that systematically destroys the capacity of a child to think for oneself, stand up for oneself, find out what makes one happy, take care of oneself and others, cooperate with others, serve one’s nation and pursue one’s dreams. the indian education system also destroys your peace of mind and health after which people have no option but to live a miserable life each day cursing their own lives and people around them. every initiative is stifled and every path blocked till each human becomes as obedient as a donkey or as violent as those boys who raped nirbhaya. that is the fact of the matter

  3. Harsh Doshi

    Check out my views on the Indian Education system
    http://finebakedbread.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/what-india-actually-needs/
    on my blog Fine Baked Bread.

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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.

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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.”

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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