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How My School Stood In The Way Of Education

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In the past few days, the news has been full of articles and shows on examination results. I recall the days when I used to wait for my results. Invariably, the day on which the results were scheduled to be announced would turn into a doomsday.

I spent 10 long years in the same school. When I was admitted to the school, my parents told me that I had been admitted to one of the best schools in the city – a privilege which only a few received in the country. Followed by my parents, the teachers told me that I had to be disciplined, hardworking, obedient and regular.

We followed the instructions as they were supposedly for our good. Years later, when I moved to a university in a new place I realised how I was taught to be what I wasn’t supposed to be.

The worst nightmare for us at school was the ‘diary entries’. I had weekly tests at school. The passing marks were kept high, as were the expectations. Failure meant ‘diary entries’. So the diary had sections like, “Date of offence”, “Subject failed”, “Teachers’ signature” and “Parents’ signature”. Failing was a serious offence, no matter how hardworking you were. The daily and weekly tests were so boring and burdensome that a huge section would fail. Failing twice meant going out, while failing thrice meant that your parents would be called. I too had to ‘move out’ once – and this remains a shameful memory even now.

Though I never pondered upon the meaning of those tests back then, I now think about questions like these: Did passing all the tests make me a good student? Was I supposed to perform well in every single test? Are tests so important for my education?

We were supposed to behave in a disciplined way. We felt proud over the fact that we were disciplined, besides getting the best education in the city. And every kid outside the school premise was a ‘savage’!

The discipline had a lot to do with our personalities. We believed whatever the teacher said. We were taught only those subjects which were deemed to be necessary for our future. We obeyed them happily. Only the ‘bad children’ disobeyed their teachers.

I remember – once we had a free class, as the teacher was absent. We didn’t have any sports. So, we asked the vice principal whether we could go and play games. This courage was construed as our dislike for studies. Consequently, we were asked to complete every single exercise in all the subjects that had been taught till then. It turned out to disastrous for us. The mathematics exercises deserve a special mention here; the exercises for the other subjects were burdensome too. I remember students waiting till four in the evening, sitting in the class and figuring out the giant task to be completed. We didn’t sleep that night.

The day of the results was also a day of mourning for us. No matter how hard we studied, our results were seldom up to the expectations. Even when we scored well, the next time, we had to do better. Progress was reduced to numbers, and we were bound to lose the war.

The principal, whom we considered to be the strictest man on earth, used visited us on the day of the results. There would be an eerie silence as we would see him visiting different classes and calculating the time by which he would reach our class. A deep state of mourning would prevail after his visit, and a similar sorrow would wait for us at home.

We didn’t learn the way we should have. The biology classes were all about a set of diagrams. The chemistry classes left no impression as I seldom understood the lessons. I still remember that class where I couldn’t make the sense of the distinction between an atom and an element. Both were synonymous for me. The fear of the teacher going mad at me led me to mug up the definitions of both.

However, the physics lessons would turn out to be interesting, as I could relate them to the world around. The history classes also sounded interesting, as did the geography ones.

With a few months for me to pass out of secondary school, we were told to decide for our future. The 11 subjects would get reduced to three or four main subjects after we went to the next level. Some wanted to be engineers, some doctors, a few of them IAS officers and others chartered accountant. I wanted to be none of these. But I had to choose among the four career options. I still hadn’t decided for myself what I should aim at.

At the end of it all, I was left with either science or commerce. In my area, arts or humanities were mainly pursued by those who studied in government schools. I was contacted by private coaching academies with their attractive packages for becoming doctors and engineers and what not. I was left with no choice – I had to stay within the limits set upon me. Schooling, in many ways, stood in the way of the education I wanted to pursue. It created a binary where there was no room for the third option.

Years after I left my school, I wondered whether my school wasn’t actually meant to educate or create narrow passages within our minds. Sometimes, I still think about the meaning of the Sanskrit prayer that I recited daily in the morning assembly. I still wonder if the education imparted at my school had anything to do with my future at all.

Must the low marks I scored back in school stand on my way to success? Also what is the nature of success we are taught at school? And why do we have to think about all these after we have finished our schooling? Isn’t it better that we think about these issues within the school premises itself? It’s time for us to introspect.

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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.

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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.”

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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