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From Making My Bed To Fighting Depression: NIT Bhopal’s Hostel Teaches You Life Hacks 101

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There comes a time in everyone’s lives when we have to step out of our homes, our comfort zones to study or begin work, not knowing about the life we are venturing into. You feel it more when you need to migrate to a different town, leaving the comfort and candour of the hometown aside.

I left home to pursue my undergraduate studies from NIT, Bhopal when I was 17 years old. Just a teenager who had never been on his own anywhere, the idea of living in a hostel was a mix of scary and exciting. I was scared because it was going to be my first time away from home, and exciting because, well, independence, no instructions, no restrictions!

After completing the admission formalities, my father and I went to see the hostel and were utterly disappointed. It was a ‘government college’s hostel’, what were we even expecting? The building had been built in the 1960s and, by the look of it, it had never been repaired ever since. Leaking roofs and walls, faded paint, doors without locks, windows without glasses, fractured furniture, and toilets and bathrooms, you get the picture. The condition wasn’t too fit for human habitation. After convincing myself that it’s wasn’t that bad (but, it really was!), I was officially a ‘hostler’. And there, just that moment marked the beginning of a roller-coaster journey.

Living in the hostel really teaches you things which you couldn’t have imagined learning at home. It’s an institution in itself, which at the end of your tenure, gives you a degree in ‘life’. And with that degree, you’re, then, ready to face the world. But, as it goes, the syllabus begins with slight difficulties. From making your bed, cleaning your room to arranging your shelf, almost everything related to your life, you learn to handle yourself. There’s no househelp, no guardian, no parent for guidance or assistance.

All you have as solace is a bunch of students who are undergoing similar problems and are on the same journey as you become your fellow travellers. But, living in the hostel really teaches you to manage your own life. It gives you a complementary degree in management. Your body clock also tunes its schedule according to the schedule of your classes – you know when to sleep when exactly to wake up to reach your class on time. It teaches you to make the most minute of calculations – trust me when I say this, I’ve woken up at 8:55 am, and attended the 9 am class! I learnt the art of conquering the impossible(s)- going on studying for nights without sleeping, finishing an entire semester’s syllabus in one night and getting good pointers, at that!

The risk and fear associated with ragging ran right through my first year, adding to that were hundreds of preconceived notions and rumours. The one good thing about our college hostels was that they had been allotted on the basis of seniority. So, our hostel had only freshers. Voila, we were safe inside! After that, there was no way I was going to step outside. I was terrified of ragging. The mere thought of someone slapping me without any reason or making me do something against my wishes was enough to make me stay put. I had fixed my routine to just stepping outside to attend classes in the morning, and coming back, and staying in my room. Simple. There, one big problem solved. Hostel taught me when, where and how to stay safe. You make your own plans, you know when to sneak out. You become a neat planner and become even better at implementing those plans.

The only way to survive in a hostel, amidst all problems, is to make friends. And luckily, I found the best of people (at least, initially). We all do. There is no way you wouldn’t find people who share similar interests and likings. And in the end, they become the reason you’ll miss college.

It usually begins with a big group of 10-12 guys, going to class together, going for grocery shopping together, discovering teeny weeny shops located in the oddest locations. You discover places together, grow new interests together, all of that enhances and enriches the new friendships.

But as college unfolded, differences and conflict of opinions (and personalities) grew in the way of friendships and, my group kept getting smaller. And, before I knew it, it was just me. During my four years there, I was a part of many groups, but either the others screwed up, or I did. And by the end of the third year, I was really lonely. And, loneliness gets to you. You become broken, you give up on friendships, and a part of you vehemently protests every time you want to give friendships a try. But, the one thing I learnt was that you survive. You always do. You leave, out of it all, with a bag full of experiences that add value to your life. You grow accepting of the different temperaments of people, and learn how to deal with them effectively. You start valuing the strength of solitude. You learn to thrive and survive on your own; no matter what the situation is.

One of the major lessons and realities hostel life brought me to terms with, was the alarmingly growing cases of depression – the failures, the breakups, the battle with self-esteem and confidence, all leading into the dark, gloomy and withdrawn world.

In my case, since I had no one to talk to, it piled up and led to a lot of accumulated anger and frustration. Having someone to pour your heart (and mind) out to helps, but if you don’t, it ends up becoming a disaster. You really start blaming yourself for everything and your self-esteem, confidence starts dying a slow death. You grow remorseful, and you begin to despise things you do and think and the ways you act. I went through that, and I found my own ways to channelise the negative energy. I drowned myself in extracurricular work and started taking up many projects, with positive results!

One of the most positive things I did was to resuscitate the ‘cultural’ society of my very ‘technical’ college. Being a hardcore engineering college, we were not encouraged to participate in cultural events. I’ve always believed how arts and culture add value to the mechanics and monotonous aspect of life. So along with my two of my friends, I decided to take a step in further and change this once and for all. It was a welcome change, and there was appreciation and praise from all corners. People recognised me, and suddenly I become an integral part of the college. This is what hostel taught me – that, when everything goes south, wait for your turn to bounce back, because the lower they push you, the higher you’re gonna rise.

My takeaways from my hostel life went further on. It taught me how to respect everyone, to be accommodating of varied and conflicting opinions and perspectives and how to cherish the diversity and the unexplored night time. I did things I never imagined I’d do, realised that I enjoyed them eventually – right from blasting music on the speakers at midnight, to getting high, to chai and bike rides to getting caught by the police. All these experiences added to my personality and defined who I am.

I began this journey as an immature 17-year-old teenager, and there I was, a 20 year old, grown in intellect and experiences, ready to take on the world with all it has to offer.

And with that final lesson, I locked my hostel’s room one last time, with the luggage of my experiences, lessons and memories in my heart. I came back with a graduate degree from college, but most importantly, a degree in Life, from my hostel.

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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.

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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.

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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