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7 Freedoms Students Are Still Fighting For As Independent India Turns 72

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The words ‘independence’, ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ are correlated. Independence connotes freedom from restraint – in spaces, thoughts, and expression. In India, campuses and universities have more often than not, told a tale of a withering sense of freedom and justice. It is this state that had led to universities becoming the new thriving grounds of dissent and opposition to all things wrong with our educational spaces and the country.

Freedom, today, has become a privilege. The country gained independence from the crown 72 years ago; but, we are still struggling to break free from the shackles of the top three P’s (Patriarchy, Power and Position) in educational spaces across the country.

Here’s a list of things we are collectively fighting for, waiting for these fundamental freedoms to be realised.

1) Freedom From Gendered Restrictions

College hostels for women in most parts of the country have sexist, restrictive rules. There are only very few hostels in a vast country like India that is known to have gender-just rules.

From being locked in hostels and paying guests as early as 7 pm to the absolute curtailment of movement for fear of harassment during festivals like Holi, different fee structures in men’s and women’s hostels go a long way in highlighting the disparity and discrimination. In other outrageous instances, in some places, non-vegetarian food is served only in men’s hostels shows the deep-rooted patriarchy and sexism in educational institutions.

2) Freedom To Equally Participate In Knowledge Creation

All students/academics who are a citizen of this country should have the equal right to participate in creating knowledge that informs our understanding of the world. Affirmative action through reservations in educational institutions was one way of ensuring that students from marginalised communities get a chance not just to acquire education on an equal footing with the others but also to actively participate in research, in bringing out into the world, their stories. With each passing day, these opportunities have been repeatedly attacked, especially in social science institutions of great repute. From the massive seat cuts for MPhil and PhD in JNU to the roll back of financial aid for students from marginalised communities at TISS being the most prominent examples.

3) Freedom To Think, Discuss And Disagree

Campuses are spaces where students should have the freedom to think, talk, express, critique and contest ideas. Even though the Constitution of India assures the freedom to assemble peacefully, protest and form associations but instances of intolerance of a different viewpoint or political affiliation has crept into educational spaces as well.

The violence that broke out between members of the ABVP and other students, after the former disrupted a seminar where Umar Khalid was speaking in 2017 to two years ago, when a group of students in JNU had assembled to protest against the execution of Afzal Guru and show solidarity with Kashmiris were arrested and slapped with sedition charges to the cancellation of a magazine launch event on ‘Freedom of Expression’ by Delhi University.

4) Freedom From The Threat Of Privatisation

While commercialisation of education was already a growing concern in the country, some recent changes hint towards massive restructuring of the public education system. The UGC’s move of granting autonomy to 60 institutions of higher education to ‘maintain high standards’ and the govt. proposing to scrap the UGC and replace it with the HECI (Higher Education Commission of India) is a twisted attempt at curbing democratic debate and intellectual autonomy in educational spaces.

5) Freedom To Occupy Educational Spaces Equally

We, as a country, are still fighting for equality of opportunity, employment, respect and spaces that doesn’t discriminate against people of the third gender, and other non-binary identities. TISS took a conclusive step in furtherance of the same by making a hostel for trans and gender non-conforming students from this academic year. The Govt. of Kerela added two seats for trans students in all colleges. Kabir Trivedi, a trans student in Miranda House, has built a thriving society that’s acting as a safe space for the queer community in the college.

Although we are taking baby steps in reaching the goal of educations spaces that treat all students equally irrespective of their gender and sexuality, we are far from being called progressive when it comes to that. As a society, we need better education, awareness, and acceptance of other genders and identities, and there is no place better than to start from educational institutions.

6) Freedom From Taboos About Mental Health

It would be safe to say that we’re living in a time and age when mental health issues are not just common but widespread, especially in students who are battling with depression and anxiety owing to the ‘rat race’ like structure of the Indian education system. Patterns of socialisation have pushed students to question their identities, make tough decisions due to peer pressure. When sometimes what can really help is if they had someone to listen and talk to, someone to understand. Universities need to focus on the mental health of its students, create peer support groups and employ counsellors.

7) Freedom From Shame

Educational spaces and relationships forged in these spaces should ideally be devoid of violence and harassment, just like every other space we inhabit. But of late, it has come to light how educational spaces are plagued with not just sexual harassment but complainants also facing dire consequences (grades can suffer, character assassination during the inquiry, isolation etc.) for reporting the incident.

We need to cultivate a culture that deals proactively with sexual harassment and doesn’t put the onus on the complainant for the incident/harassment. We need to be able to assure complainants the freedom to talk about it, devoid of any judgment, and their demand for justice. The institutional systems of redressal need to be stronger. Last year, Raya Sarkar, a law student, had circulated a list asking fellow students to share the names of academicians who were sexually predatory, and later published this crowd sourced list on Facebook with many high profile academics on it. The system needs to be made better and stronger so that students don’t have to publish viral Excel sheets to protect one another from sexual predators. The system needs to stop shaming.


Image source: Kaushik Roy, Sanchit Khanna, Ravi Choudhary/Getty
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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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