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The Mental Cost Of Being Gurmehar Kaur

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I have written my thoughts in many articles after everything that happened in February, but this one is the hardest and the most important pieces that I will ever write. It is also one of the most personal and self-confrontational ones. I have avoided the topic of how I felt throughout it all, mostly because it is not something I was ready to go back to and accept.

Our mind knows how to protect us, it blurs away memories of things that we don’t need and I never bothered to go back. The image in my head that pops up when I think of the campaign is a blank white wall and nothing else, which is probably why I have always dismissed the question. But today, I want to talk about it because I can’t be the only one dealing with something similar – a memory of an incident that you purposely want to forget, that will not leave your head, that makes airplane rides torturous, that keeps you up at 3 a.m. and that which has turned you into a numb zombie going about motions, smiling when you’re supposed to, laughing when someone cracks a joke, almost robotic.

I want to talk about how I dealt with feeling that way. I know it will make me look vulnerable to whoever reads this but I have felt this way and I still do feel this way more often than I would like to admit, but there is no shame in admitting that. Someone once told me that being vulnerable and being strong does not always have to be mutually exclusive. You can be a strong independent woman or a 150 kg gym-rat and it will still be okay for you to have your moments of weaknesses. This was one of the first lessons I learnt and this is the one that helped me stay sane(er). I understood early on that I don’t have to fit a role, I don’t have to be every single adjective they were using about me, I do not have to be the bravest person on the planet. I let myself be sad, I let myself shed a tear or two on every airplane I’ve taken, mostly because at 40,000 ft with just music in your ears and your thoughts ringing in your head, it is hard to keep control.

I had moments when I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Usually, after I would read a series of bad tweets, my chest would get heavy and my heart would beat like a drum. It seemed almost impossible to feel okay, to feel like I could have a life. While on the internet, it seems like I have a lot going on, which I do and will always be grateful for, it is my everyday life that was paying the price for it. I had been someone who always initiated a conversation with strangers, always giggled and laughed with new people, but all of a sudden, I was suspicious of every person who looked my way. ”What do they think of me?”, “Have they read so-or-so article”, “Does this person hate me”, “Did they write nonsense about me?” These were my thoughts every time I was in a group of people or in a public space and unlike myself, I would stay quiet.

I was no more cracking jokes, no more saying the most random things that popped into my head and no more complimenting people on their accessory choices. Somewhere, this silence became a habit and this habit made me feel lonelier than ever before, drifting away from the person I was and turning into somebody else I couldn’t recognise or accept. Whom can I trust? I still don’t know the answer to that but I have come to terms with it. It is a price that I had to pay.

This is when I realised how important it is to have your people. I created a bubble around me to protect myself, I did not let negativity enter and I surrounded myself with people who couldn’t have cared less about what went down in February. These people became my support system. I didn’t have many friends but I had enough. I started talking to my family more. The last thing anyone our age going through similar emotions would want is to talk to family members, but for me, this became important. I didn’t have to talk about deep thoughts – sometimes my conversations were only limited to talking about what I’d eaten the whole day and if I’d eaten at all, but listening to familiar voices turned out to be therapeutic and comforting.

One night, just recently, I received a hate message followed by countless more, and that night turned out to be unusually unbearable. Think about that one mean sentence that someone said to you that you still cannot forget and how bad it made you feel. That was me, but the same sentence was being said to me repeatedly by almost every random nobody on the internet. That night, I made myself some green tea, I put my phone away in a drawer, dropped the temperature to the lowest on the air conditioner, wrapped myself in a blanket and constantly repeated this one sentence to myself: this too shall pass. And it did pass. All of it passed. There were moments I thought I couldn’t go on anymore but those moments passed. The storm that I was hit with passed and it was followed by some of the most beautiful sunny days.

No matter where you lie on the spectrum of political ideologies or whether you agree with me or not, helplessness and pain feel the same to everybody. If you are someone who feels that there is no end to your suffering, whatever that suffering is, just know that it ended for me and that I survived. And if I can survive that, then you can survive anything. It too shall pass.

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  1. Ved Aum

    Never stop being you. It’s too dear a cost to let circumstances or others close the real you. Shine on, dear girl. You are an inspiration.

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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.

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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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