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I Escaped It, But This Is Why Many Students Buckle Under The Pressure Of Expectation

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By Shasya Goel:

Exam-StressUndoubtedly, each of one of us has lived through the ordeal of the dreaded boards. The albatross that dangles around the neck lurking furtively for another comeback; just in case it didn’t choke you well enough the first time around. With nosey, prying aunties, making others’ business theirs, discussions concerning board results have never been anything less than the heated discussions at Arnab Goswami’s ‘News Hour Debate’. Once through with the exams, the harrowing task of deciding upon one’s stream of choice and getting into a decent college is just the tip of the iceberg in a seemingly unfathomable, impenetrable sea of problems.

On that eventful day that I remember so vividly, we found ourselves in the company of an old friend of dad’s, one of those people who have their nose permanently stuck in others’ lives. After skilfully finding an opening during a dull moment in the conversation, our esteemed guest (let’s call him Mr. XYZ) looked up from his perfectly round glasses and inquired about the stream I had decided to pursue. Looking at my face fixedly, eyebrows propped up and a visible smirk on the face that added to the comic effect, he added, “so, is it Science or Commerce?” Cringing hard as I was to suppress the laughter that threatened to erupt like a volcano, at the same time thinking of the perfect response, I managed to mutter something like, “uncle, but you see, there’s also a third stream called humanities. Call it the road less taken, if you may.” What followed after that is anybody’s guess. Fuming hard and snorting like an engine gone bad, the visible redness on his face was hard to miss, and harder not to laugh at. For such a bunch of nincompoops who never cease to amaze me, there’s only one thing I would say, “pesky, prejudice-laden guests and neighbors, not allowed!”

This brush with reality taught me a valuable lesson at an early age, apart from functioning as an important eye opener. While perusing the facts provided by a recent study conducted by LinkedIn, I found that a startling and disturbingly high percentage (82%) of parents are involved in deciding their child’s career. According to the study, it is estimated that globally India is among the top three countries following the trend, with Brazil topping the list at a whopping 92%, followed by China at 87%.

In India, last year, 1.4 million candidates appeared for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), making it one of the biggest exam conducted in a single day in human history. According to Adhitya Iyer, author of the bestselling book The Great Indian Obsession: The Untold Story of India’s Engineers, more than half of the engineers in India enter this field either because of pressure from parents, or a simple lack of choice.

The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that 45 students committed suicide in Kota in 2014, a rise of more than 61% from 2013, for being pressurised by their families to pursue engineering. The severity of the situation can be gauged by the fact that several coaching institutes have now jointly launched a ’round-the-clock’ helpline to offer counselling, and track callers suffering from depression to provide assistance. What is more, there was a spike in the number of suicides committed by students studying in India’s most sought after chain of ‘ivy league’ institutes, the IITs.

Along with the faulty framework of our education system, the flawed mentality of the society at large needs to be questioned. What comes across as alarming is the frightening ease with which ignorant people assert and reinforce the stigma, conveniently dismissing the existence of a third, least talked about stream. On a larger scale, it depicts a frightening pattern that has taken hold of the country as parents force their kids to chase after fat packages; crushing their dreams under the weight of bulging pockets, teaching them to barter passion for money. How many cases of suicide, depression, failure, and bullying will it take for us to let go of stereotypes that have been damaging the very fabric of the country, limiting the immense potential for the growth of today’s youth? If now is not the time to wake up, then when?

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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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