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How Students Like Ruby Rai Expose The Hollowness Of Indian Education System

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By Akshat Tyagi:

When the ‘prodigious’ Ruby Rai, the Arts (Humanities) topper of Bihar state board, was asked to name the subjects she had studied for scoring an exemplary 444 marks out of 500, Rai replied thus – “Hindi, English, Geography, Music and Prodigal Science.” The word ‘prodigal’ means wastefully extravagant and sardonically that is an honest synonym of the outlook which a majority of the Indian population shares towards Political Science and Humanities stream.

Ruby’s reply wasn’t a slip of tongue, she even elucidated that it is a subject pertaining to cooking. Even before the reprehensible image of Bihar’s cheating scandal, in which parents climbed walls of an institute (ironically named after the ‘Nai Talim’ advocate – Gandhi) to help their children cheat in 10th Boards examinations faded from world’s recounting, here was a state board topper astounding educators with her unfamiliarity of even the name of the subject she scored the highest marks in, let alone its content.

To save its shame, the Bihar State Education Board ordered a re-test of all the fourteen toppers of science and arts. Only Ruby failed to appear in the exam on the pretext of depression due to the public trial of her competence. Nevertheless, when she appeared she failed desolately. “Tulsidas ji, Pranam,” a confident Ruby wrote in one line responding to an essay question on the poet-saint in the re-test before being arrested.

Interestingly, while being arrested Ruby appeared confident and refused to cover her face. She only used her scarf after being insisted to do so.

Ruby and Shreshtha (the science topper who also failed the re-test) have become a laughing stock for everybody over the past month. But the hard truth is, it is instead the education system which should be laughed at and hidden under a cover for the crimes it commits.

The re-test did not fail these children, it failed the education system.

Bihar may already have a notorious reputation for the poor education standards it has, and quite comfortably we have accepted it as the fortune of those who cannot afford elite private education. That surely does not mean private schools are closer to the real meaning of education, but they are at least committed in their business. What we must not forget is, even the largest education board-CBSE affiliated schools are not immune to cheating (mass-cheating within the examination rooms is not uncommon), it may happen more cordially and prudently but no student having appeared for the board exams would deny its prevalence.

These students who are caught under the radar are only less lucky than their peers. And these frequent cases are often dealt with stringency as a display of no-tolerance-for-unfair-practices.

But the radical (root) questions are never thought about. Why do children cheat? If children cannot be honest with themselves then what is the worth of their schooling? If schools, which keep over-stressing discipline, build students who are not sincere, then what values are we promoting? Why are exams becoming so imperative in life that it pushes students to risk a five-year long debarment from all government exams just to fetch a few additional marks?

We need not punish pupils for they are the representatives of a hollow design of education which we have built for our children. Children like Ruby occasionally expose what exactly is wrong with the way in which we educate our children.

When a few digits on my report card, based on my performance calibre of only five days, very arbitrarily evaluated by examiners who check over 40 sheets in six hours, each for less than fifty rupees, is going to determine the future course of my education, then maybe it is the system which indulges in unfair practice and not the other way round.

This same evaluation process can also be easily and significantly altered at the will of the education board. Like when outrage over a difficult question paper triggers statements such as “checking of answer sheets will be lenient“. It is immoral to joke with students by setting question papers, forcing them to buy reference books, putting the burden on them to seek help from commercial ‘educational’ publishers and coaching. And also, if the board can ‘adjust’ the evaluation process to ‘leniency,’ then it becomes highly unclear what benchmark we are aiming for and what sort of a predicament a student is about to face during an exam. The idea of examination is little more than bad humour when kids are allowed to see their answer scripts but not question the fairness of the evaluation.

Beyond boards, let us ask ourselves, are these annual standardised examinations any less than a year-long torture for our children? Are we selling the beautiful period of learning and teenage in exchange on a few inconsequential digits on a piece of paper we call the report card? And we decide that this is all there is to the lovely and life-long journey of education? Or are we making this journey irrelevant keeping in sight some other glittering dream which has no space and time to worry about the sanity and happiness of children?

This is certainly not what our children deserve. I may not have all the answers, it may take me a lifetime to figure out, but is it not our collective responsibility to ensure a better system to the future of our world?

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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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