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When Learning Is The Main Aim, Why Does Age, Gender, Caste, Calibre Matter?

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By Radhika Jhaveri:

My husband makes a lot of furniture around the house. We dislike store bought furniture since it is made of poor quality materials and is much overpriced. My husband hasn’t learnt carpentry and did not go to any fancy design school. He is a naturally gifted craftsman and over the years has taught himself everything there is to know about this trade.

Our spare room looks like a tool shed with a variety of woodworking essentials (a Black&Decker plunge router – which I gifted him on his birthday several years ago, precision drilling machines, circular saw which he has reverse mounted on a work bench, a variety of sanders and grinders, a whole lot of spare plywood, screws, nails, hammers and screwdriver sets) lying around the floor. Our circle of family and friends marvel at the book shelf, chest, kitchen utility cupboard, storage racks, bird houses that are on proud display in our house. One of my very good friends insists time and again that my husband enrols himself at a design school, talented as he is. So last evening I got tempted and checked out the NID website (National Institute of Design). Not surprisingly, the Masters program that they offer has an eligibility criterion and students above the age of 30 are not encouraged to apply.My husband is 33 years old.

I have always wondered about the necessity of eligibility criteria in educational institutions. What is the purpose of an educational institution? Is it to impart knowledge? If yes, then what is the need of eligibility criteria? Shouldn’t an educational institution worry only about imparting knowledge and not be so picky about who it chooses to impart knowledge to? If the purpose is to enable students to avail a job and nothing else, then we really need to ask ourselves – what ought to be the purpose of an educational institution?

I have a Masters degree in Political Science from the University of Mumbai. The UoM is nowhere near the likes of JNU and the department of Civics and Politics, specifically, is in desperate need of new direction and leadership. I completed my Masters a little over a year ago. When I joined the course there, I was required to give an entrance exam. I was a field change student and having come from a commerce background, had no knowledge about the world of political science. Luckily I got in despite performing poorly (I believe) in my entrance exam. Had I applied at an institute like JNU, I would never have been able to secure an admission.

When I started attending my lectures, a whole new world was opened to me. I was introduced to a variety of new thinkers and got the opportunity to explore many new subjects  – Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Political Economy, Political Theory etc. I was nowhere near the most talented pupils in class. I had no achievements to boast about. I had only just begun exploring ideas my classmates had long ago debated, discussed, mulled over, discarded and were now yearning for new ones. I brought no talents with me except curiosity. This course changed me as a person and gave me something that no other field of study and no other educational institution had given me – a new perspective. Had the eligibility criteria been as tough as it is in institutions like JNU, I would never have been able to access the knowledge that I was able to at UoM. I would not have discovered Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. I would not have known to explore ideas of justice and equality.

I am sharing my experience to bring attention to the fact that a certain course changed the way I perceived the world. I may or may not go on to achieve great things in life, but my entire world changed because I was able to access the lectures provided in the university classrooms. I learnt a new way of thinking and I will be able to pass on what I have learnt to my nieces and nephews, to my neighbours’ kids, to my own family members, to friends and (if one day I decide to have them) my own children. None of this would have been possible if I was turned away from the university just because I was not considered clever enough or because I did not have the right certificates or the right age or the right gender or the right caste.

Almost all educational institutions desire only those students that are over achievers. Meanwhile, the calibre of students from different financial, economic and social backgrounds is measured with the same yardstick. Throughout the educational system in India, the percentage scored in exams is used as a barometer of intellect, talent and capability with no thought given to the fact that this system of measuring a student’s calibre is highly inaccurate. Educational institutions believe that their status, desirability and ranking are on account of the kind of talent they let inside their gates. But is it not easy to teach someone who is already smart? Shouldn’t true ranking and status belong to those institutions that display an ability to teach and help those amongst us excel who may not be as gifted as the crowd they seek? No Nivedita Menon or Usha Ramanathan or P Sainath ever appeared in the schools and colleges where I studied. How does someone who does not have the privilege of studying at an Ivy League university benefit from the kind of ideas exchange that happens at such places of learning? Since when did learning and education become synonymous with good grades and the ability to secure a job? Why are courses desirable only if they can secure placement? Whatever happened to the belief in learning for its own sake? In our haste to grasp those six-figure salaried jobs, have we forgotten the true purpose and meaning of the word ‘education’?

I firmly believe that universities should always remain openly accessible to everyone who wishes to learn, irrespective of their age, class, caste, gender and calibre (whatever that is supposed to mean). Otherwise, what is the point of having a university?

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  1. Dipika Jain

    You are right in saying that there should not be any age criteria or students should not be barred on the basis of their social and economic background. But as you say you would not have secured a Place in an institution like JNU because you knew nothing abt the subject and would not have been able to perform well in the entrance exam. So let me tell you ma’am that these entrances are conducted as there is too much competition. colleges have limited capacity and cannot give admission to everyone who applies for a particular course. Of course, grades are no measure of one’s intelligence but there has to be something to justify admission of a particular student. Are you suggesting that admission should be given to those who perform poor. if not, how do u suggest that colleges admit students, keeping in mind that every institute has limited infrastructure and has to limit it student intake. And let me tell you that calibre of students with different social backgrounds is not measured with the same yardsticks and for that we have reservation policy. Moreover, there are ample sources through which you could easily have discovered socrates , pluto , etc. study material of every college is available in the market.There are so many discussion forums on the internet where you can easily discuss your views on any topic.

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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.

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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.”

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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