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A Year Later, Kamala Nehru College Still Feels Like Home

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By Ishita Mishra:

My days at school were over and it was time for a big transition in life. College. While I was in school, I had built a picture of an ideal college life in my head which was mostly inspired by the books I’d read and the movies I’d watched. Every bit of my imagination had painted a scenario of a happy and carefree life, but little did I think of the difficulties that I would face before making it to college in the first place.

Choosing College And Course

I researched about all the courses I was interested in and after days of analysing and counselling, it occurred to me that I wanted to do journalism. I informed my parents about my decision and was delighted to know that they respected my choice. As far as the college was concerned, I’d applied to all the colleges offering journalism in my city Calcutta and also to the much acclaimed Delhi University. On the day the cut-off lists for DU came out, I was overjoyed to know that I had made it to Kamala Nehru College (KNC) in Delhi University. This meant that I would have to travel to Delhi for the completion of my admission procedure. Tickets were booked. I headed with my mother to the national capital. The flight seemed like the longest journey I’d ever made. It was full of excitement, anticipation and a subtle fear. I couldn’t stop a million thoughts from creating a labyrinth in my mind. Finally, the never-ending journey came to an end and we reached Delhi.

Admission Process

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The view outside the cab made me realise that studying at Kamala Nehru College meant moving out of home. It is something that I had never thought about much. It meant leaving Calcutta and the thought hit me hard when I saw Arvind Kejriwal and not Mamata Banerjee smiling from a poster put on the back of a bus. Before I could organise my wandering thoughts, we had reached. Big bold letters in black read ‘Kamala Nehru College’  at the top of the gate. The guard welcomed us with a smile as he directed us to the front porch, where the admissions help desk was located.

As I moved towards the admissions desk, I was both afraid and curious. I was greeted with a smile and asked about the course I wanted to take. The girl at the desk seemed to understand all my fears and nervousness. She helped me out with a few formalities that were to be done before I was sent to a room for the admission procedure. Two women greeted me there and introduced themselves as professors of journalism. They asked me about my parents, my relatives in Delhi and my reasons for choosing the subject. The kind and amiable tone in which they spoke drained all the anxiety in me. When everything was complete, they congratulated me on becoming a part of the KNC family. As I moved outside the room, my happiness knew no bounds and the excitement to begin college had multiplied.

Preparation For Moving To Delhi

The feeling of beginning college in DU had not even sunk in when my mother reminded me that there was a ‘paying guest’ (PG) accommodation to be searched for as the college did not have a hostel.  After weighing the pros and cons of the numerous PGs we visited, we finally booked one and we returned to Kolkata on the very same day. With uncontrollable emotions of excitement and curiosity, I then started packing all my belongings as I had to leave in less than ten days. The thrill and restlessness continued until finally the day to bid adieu to home and Calcutta came. I was given almost a million instructions regarding my safety. My father advised me to handle my money with care, while my mother told me to eat healthy food. Relatives called up and shared whatever little they knew about Delhi. At one point, I felt like I was leaving for the moon! I was sad about leaving the comfort of my home and the care of my family, but the excitement to begin college soon overpowered it all. After I had wiped my mother’s tears at the airport and promised my family to take care of myself, I bid them goodbye and boarded the flight.

A Perfect First Day At College

When I reached Delhi, I went to the PG I had booked for myself and was welcomed by the owners. I was introduced to my roommates who were all from different parts of India. We spoke to each other and in no time we got along really well. None of us could handle the enthusiasm for the next day, which was going to be our first day in college. The next morning, I stepped into college and was astounded to see it superbly decorated. A few girls, who looked like seniors, directed me to the auditorium where the orientation for the first year students was to take place. A huge banner outside the auditorium read ‘Welcome to KNC’.  The auditorium left me dumbstruck. It was huge and exquisite. I took a seat and waited for what turned out to be a warm welcome. The college principal spoke to us. She told us about the college, its rules and facilities. Teacher-in-charge of every department introduced themselves and provided us with information about the department’s functioning. After the formal orientation, the various college societies performed for the freshers. I was amazed at the brilliant cultural performances and each performance made me want to join every society! We were then instructed to go into our respective departments where I met my teachers, classmates and department seniors. We all introduced ourselves and everyone seemed wonderful. The seniors were very interactive and told us to never hesitate in asking for help. With all of this, the first day of college ended on an extremely happy note.

Truly Becoming A Part Of The KNC Family

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During the first few weeks, when there wasn’t any scheduled lecture, I’d explore college with the friends I’d made. Every place was marked with a board and that made it easy for us to see around the college. The library was the most enriching place in the entire college-numerous shelves packed with books and spread over three floors. It felt like a dream come true. The college also had an amphitheatre where the street play society would perform and practise. We came to know that the college had a fully-equipped gym and a small, cosy common room. Everything we saw or heard of, got us excited. Every society seemed to be so good that the freshers were in a dilemma over which society to join. While some of my friends went in for the performing societies, I chose to join the creative writing, photography and film society.

Soon enough, the college had become a familiar place. Yet, it never failed to surprise us with something new each day. The lectures never seemed boring and every day I went on to fall in love with journalism. Going to college, attending lectures, working for the societies and enjoying with friends in the college canteen became routine. The amount of love and care received from people in college never made me feel homesick. KNC has taught me innumerable lessons – it made me grow so much in my first year than I could have ever imagined. Everything from college fests to semester exams has made me more creative, as well as instilled more confidence in me. It has given me abundant opportunities to learn and gain maturity; living in a new city would have been unimaginably difficult if the warmth, help and love of people at KNC had been missing. It has become such an integral part of my life that during the semester holidays, I was craving to go back.

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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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