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I Am Fit In Every Way For A Job In UK, Except For The Fact That I’m Indian

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My cheeks are always wet. I keep wiping the tears as they roll down my eyes every time I think of going back home as a loser. I get offended when my friend leaves after a coffee. I can barely sleep. I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety issues. I crib over things that were unimaginable for me. I distance myself from things that I love the most. I try hard to keep my eyes dry in the dark.  I am always lost, trying to figure out the ways of getting a work permit here. And with every passing day, I dig deeper to find someplace where my mind can rest.

I was never this ‘busy’ before. I was always happy working on something or the other, ever since my early school days. But these days, I am busy finding something; some company who could be interested in hiring a Journalist with sponsorship. I had imagined working for a company in the UK, build up some savings in a currency that actually mattered, make my parents proud and eventually return to India. However, the mischievous plan, for some reason, was to get a foreign degree and a foreign job ‘so that your family could name-drop you and your company at weddings.’

I’m Aarzoo Snigdha. I am an Indian, I treat English as it is my first language, and I’ve been raised in a privileged, progressive home. I’ve been a part of the internet since I was a child, and as such, can pass easily for a global citizen. I moved to London to Loughborough University in 2016 at the age of 22. I’ve known I wanted to work in the media industry since I was 16 years old. At eighteen, I interned with national newspapers, at twenty-one I finished my Media degree from one of the best journalism colleges in Asia with a blessedly high GPA, I decided to get a Masters in Media because I am that privileged. Also, it seemed like the obvious thing to do.

Before coming to the UK, I knew the job market is tough, but I never knew that employers became cruel after Theresa May restricted and cancelled the post-study work visa programme and made it much harder for international students like me to stay on and work in the UK. In 2011 when Theresa May was elected as the Prime Minister, the nation applauded the victory of a female leader with a loud cheer and a belief that UK’s economy will boom and the country would be steered towards a progressive path. I am uncertain of the progress the country, where the reputed universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are dominated by 30% of Indian students, has made. What I certainly know is – the number of applications has reduced drastically since.

Well, the first semester of my MA was a blur. I was the kind of student who sailed through work at home, and yet, my first paper at Loughborough University received the lowest grade I’d ever encountered as a student. The style of academics was one that didn’t reward my particular flamboyance, so I adapted and did better. I had friends whose grades suffered as they weren’t fluent in speaking English. They had to become better too. It is, after all, an English-speaking market.

In the second semester, when it was time for us to apply for the jobs, I remember going to the student employment office and confidently rattling off what I’d hoped would be employable skills. I was a postgrad with a work experience. What skills? The lady at the employment office said, deadpan: “Skills are a different thing, you’ll have to find a job with a company that can sponsor you, or you’ll need to leave as soon as you graduate. Anything else?”

I was puzzled but kept reassuring myself that they can’t just say like that. What about people who chose England because of the opportunity to gain experience here? Either you get picked up by an MNC, or you go home. Most companies simply say on their recruitment pages: “If you don’t have the UK or EU passport, don’t apply.” I remember a pretty good phone interview with a recruitment officer ending with her saying, “Well that all seems lovely. And I assume you’ve got a right to work in the UK?”

“Ahhh, no. I’m Indian.”

They are ready to hire someone with the lesser skillset, zero work-experience, but not an immigrant who might be over-qualified for the job he is ready to do even for peanuts of a salary.

There are always questions that I ask myself the most: Why am I not good enough? I feel I have failed my parents and myself. I keep telling myself that I didn’t work hard enough or wasn’t smart enough. International migration for young graduates is not a God-given right. The job market in Europe hadn’t recovered. I don’t have any relevant skills. I know of friends who have been able to stay behind in the UK with MNCs, so it must be me.

Now, have big countries that accept international students cancelled their post-study work programmes in the wake of the global recession? Not necessarily. Germany — many of their courses are taught in English, totally free of charge even for international students — offers graduates 18 months of residence to look for jobs. Australia and Canada have similar programmes. The US has its 12-month OPT (Optional Practical Training) program. It’s not much, and it’s not easy to get hired full-time, but it’s something.

Yes, there are many students – Indian students – who come to the UK for fake English language courses and work illegally in restaurants and other un/semi-skilled jobs. I wasn’t going to work in a curry house, though I do make amazing curries. The more I think about the UK kicking me out, the more I’m left scratching my head. Is it policy? Or politics?

The market was tough.

In some ways, I understand the motivation behind May’s decision. It was a tough job market even for British and EU graduates, whose parents had been paying taxes into the welfare system for years and should have first right over jobs. The British government did not want phoney students to take unskilled jobs meant for unskilled British and EU labour. The British government must look out for its own citizens first. But my parents had paid three times the fees that British and EU students had paid. Theresa May certainly wasn’t worried about letting so-called “mediocre” international students in, as long as they could front the fees. She just didn’t want them sticking around, paying taxes and contributing to the economy.

It was a tough job market, but I’d have appreciated a fair shot. I don’t think Theresa May and the Home Office were targeting people like us. But they did, and here we are – the goodwill I had for Britain long gone. Maybe I’m really not good enough. Maybe the UK is thriving. I don’t know because I’m not a part of it. What I do know is that I will be telling every Indian high-school student who has the misfortune of coming to me for advice exactly what happened to me.

Maybe they’ll still choose the UK, and I wish them well. I just feel like Britain is shooting itself in the foot. Has “cracking down” on foreign students really boosted the government’s approval ratings among its people? I’m not sure. Has it boosted employment among UK and EU graduates? Again, I don’t know whether they are doing the jobs that non-UK/EU students would have done. Is Britain really full? Is every foreigner likely to be a fake student who works in curry houses and undercuts local labour markets? I don’t have much sympathy for them, and I understand why when an immigration officer sees an Indian passport, he/she is immediately fearing the worst. Surely, the real culprits are the business-owners who employ and exploit illegal migrant labour. Did the government think I would squander my parent’s life-savings to work in a curry house? My curry isn’t that good.

Any welfare state fears the poor immigrant, coming over to steal state benefits. But I am not one of them. I’m at Loughborough on a scholarship. There must be another way to screen in the “best and brightest” — if that really is the government’s intention.

I’ve noticed a trend – an unspoken understanding – among kids like me: getting out of India is easy. Any spoilt brat can do it. But staying out of India is hard. Those are the real winners. They beat the system. Maybe I’ll find myself in the UK again in the future when they deem me good enough. I’m not holding my breath. I wish everyone all the best.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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
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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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