To Students: Write Your Story Before Mainstream Media Hijacks Your Narrative

Did you see the MarchForOurLives last Saturday?

I had goosebumps for the whole of 6 minutes and 23 seconds as I remained in an almost frozen state listening to Emma Gonzalez talk. She survived the shooting at her high school last month in Parkland, Florida, while as many as 17 of her schoolmates perished.

On March 24, thousands took to the streets across the United States of America to fight for stricter gun laws.

The young came out strong. The young said, “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” The young made it known that they were a force to be reckoned with. The young made it known that they were not to be messed with.

The media, domestic and international, gave them all the attention. They were on my news feed everywhere I looked. The march’s presence, its effect was inescapable.

Closer home, a lot has been happening too. I am writing this because there’s a lot I have to say and there isn’t enough time.

Time for what? Time to save ourselves from what’s coming. No, I don’t intend to plant seeds of fear or induce paranoia. That’s been the government’s job. But we have got to sit down and take a moment to acknowledge the full-fledged assault on education, and students, if not in the last four years, but just the last three months.

Students at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences have been protesting for over a month now to get the institute’s administration, the respective state governments, and the UGC to not take away current and future scholarships for those from marginalised communities.

Students at JNU have been fighting many battles. It’s under siege. The vice-chancellor wants research students to stay within the confines of the college chained to the attendance sheets. The administration refuses to take action against a professor who has eight FIRs filed against him on charges of sexual harassment. The fact that he was arrested and got out on bail within an hour is another story.

Thousands from JNU started their march towards the parliament last Friday, and the police instead of ensuring the safety of peaceful protestors cracked down on them. The mainstream media looked the other way.

Hundreds of students from NIFT Kannur rose against sexual harassment this month. In February, hundreds protested against the SSC exam paper leak in Delhi, and there were those from Mumbai university too, who were protesting against the exorbitant hike in exam fee.

I could go on. But there’s no time. The mainstream media is making its choices, to not report, to misrepresent, to ignore. It’s time you made your choice too. Just like Emma Gonzalez, Naomi Walder, Yolanda Renee King and the countless young people in the US (who also have the mainstream media’s attention). Maybe you already have – on your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts but your stories must travel further and reach a wider readership.

I try every day, as Team Lead at Campus Watch, to talk to as many students as I can, and urge them to write about their experiences as a student. The experiences range from being a part of the long march to sharing the endless difficulties that come with being a student in India today. The routine sexism, bureaucracy, weak curriculum, fee hikes, lack of systems to deal with sexual harassment and what not.

But students always tell me, “write about us”. I do, and I will but would it be the same? I have no ownership of your experiences. I have not the slightest idea of how you felt when you were at the receiving end of the water cannon. Most journalists won’t either. It’s your story.

Your words have the power to bring about change. They will break barriers if you write. You will be heard. I can’t promise, but I can try and help.

Write before they can say you’re marching for your right to bunk. Write before you become numbers in an article in reported speech. Write because you can. Write because you should. Write because access to the internet is a privilege. Use it. Write because you matter. Write because each one of your experiences is valid and needs to be heard. Write because Youth Ki Awaaz is a platform that’s yours as much as it is mine. Write because there are people reading.

Write because it’s never too late.

P.S – If you’re wondering where to start, just click on the ‘Start Writing’ option that’s right at the top on this window, and you will have already taken your first step. Good luck!

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Image source: Times Now/Twitter | SAA Talks Back/Facebook
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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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