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5 Things We Learned When We Asked School Students About Corruption, Gender And More

By Aditi Parekh:

Ask questions.

On the surface, that may seem simple enough. Introspection, reflection, analysis – all variants of asking questions – are hard. The average person doesn’t want to ask any questions for fear of upsetting authority, the status quo, or her own cognitive dissonance.

But here’s a really worrying set of scores from young India. In a representative sample study carried out by the Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness (CMCA).

• 55% of school students agreed that women dress and behave in certain ways to provoke violent reactions from men
•Only 26% correctly understand the meaning of the Fundamental Right against exploitation
•53% of college students ‘agreed’ that the military should rule India for some year.

The ‘Yuva Nagarik Meter’ (YNM) places young India’s democratic citizenship scores at an abysmal 21%. This means that 5-10 years down the line, this demographic is the one not observing but contributing to actions that endanger our democracy.

At Student Think Tank for India (STTI), we work to promote civic engagement and critical thinking among school students through questions. We believe that it’s not enough to just care about issues; it’s important to care to know about the multiple explanations, perspectives and implications of various issues. We organise workshops that get students to think about issues such as media literacy, gender, corruption, the refugee crisis, education, etc. When given a space to question these simplistic explanations, their responses display a depth that we miss even in national news channel debates.

The following are the inputs and answers of the students as a result of this workshop:

1. Ignited curiosity

Image 1

An exercise on asking questions about an issue, before we jump to solve it. Notice this student asking, “Is the education system corrupt?” and “Are you corrupt?”.

2. Standing in the shoes of the other (including the villain)

Image 2

Students tried to see from the perspectives of different groups involved in the Syrian refugee crisis, including the green note from the perspective of oppressive regimes themselves.

3. Seeing both sides of the debate

Image 3

Talking about reservations here, a Class 9 student acknowledges arguments for and against caste-based reservations, escaping the black-or-white thinking that pervades popular opinion nowadays.

4. Understanding abstract concepts

Image 4.1

In this guest workshop by No Country for Women, students learned how to use terms such as ‘stereotypes’, ‘norms’, and ‘narratives’. This is followed by an imaginary story, where a husband stands up for his choice to bring up his children with more responsibility while his career takes a backseat.

Image 4.2

5. Observing generalisations

Image 5.2
Being the banker in Monopoly makes a good analogy for corruption in public office. Students use the formula C = M + D – A to represent “Corruption exists when there is Monopoly and Discretion without Accountability.”

Image 5.1

We want more students to think critically about civic issues. Our workshops can’t be everywhere, so the question guiding us was: how do we reach students all across India? We’re calling this experiment ‘Baatcheet Boards’.

The Baatcheet Boards is an activity open to every high school in India where each week, students read to an assembly about a civic issue, and share their opinions on some critical questions by filling up a chart on their school’s bulletin boards. The assemblies provide a context, and questions are designed to voice and also inform their opinions.

Creating better citizens is one of the aims of education. This calls for a new space, what many aptly call the ‘5th Space‘. Can we fill in some of these hallway conversations with questions like – why does my mom do all the housework? How objective is my news? What do ‘fundamental rights and duties’ mean in Delhi when compared to Manipur?

By collating these responses and showcasing the diversity of perspectives among students across the country, we hope to see an increase in critical thinking and civic engagement, and also in that rare quality of listening to what fellow students and Indians have to say. And as an educator in the making, I will feel like I have done something to improve the one score I worry most about: 21% on the democratic citizenship test.

To see details of the Baatcheet boards, follow this link.

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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.

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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.

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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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