Old Age, Fear Of Death And Afterlife

We often hear old people saying, ‘once this (some task) is done, I am free to die’, or sometimes when everything is done they are content to die. At times like these, there is always at least one person who says, “why do you say such things? You are going to live long, don’t fuss”. This person or many times a big group of people present in everyone’s family are always cheerful about life and fearful about death; even if it’s someone else’s. They always poke those who talk about death or are dying. They are the ones who don’t like to hear about someone’s death; they like to jab and ask us only to hear us say ‘he/she has passed away’. They like bitching about someone who is dead but teach us to ‘have some respect for the dead’ at the same time; even if the dead one had scammed the property worth millions, or betrayed his wife!

Basically, they are just not ‘death-friendly’! But almost everyone does that, right? Many people try to postpone a medical test or skip it; they don’t want to know about their health issues, they like to stay in a sweetened myth of a healthy life. It’s another thing that this attitude, many times leads them to a more advanced stage of their illness, may it be diabetes, heart disease or cancer, number of patients of which, are evolving in our country.

There are many, who hide their age. They’d dye their hair, use anti-ageing products for skin, hide wrinkles and thus, their insecurities are utilised efficiently by various beauty product brands. Then there is a particular category of those who call themselves ‘young at heart’, and try to sound cool to the younger generation by sometimes participating in adventurous activities and come up with one-liners like ‘Age is just a number’ or ‘Age is a case of mind over matter’ etc. They are so overenthusiastic about everything that it makes us wonder, what exactly are they so excited about?

All this reminds me of a distant relative’s 99th birthday party. The person’s sons had arranged for an extravagant celebration, to celebrate his achievement of reaching the age of 99, which is rare these days! My six-year-old nephew was stunned by the idea of elders having an extravagant birthday party; he used to think that it was only for the young people. After an in-depth analysis, maybe he got an exciting conclusion. He said, “Okay, now I get it. It’s his 99th birthday, so when he turns 100 it’s finished! Right?”

It’s funny how numbers play with our mind, the shopkeepers and brands trick us all the time by writing price as 499 or 999 instead of 500 and 1000. We say it’s a psychological tendency to feel that we saved so much more by buying the product worth 999 than by that worth 1000, though it’s just a rupee. Same was the case with this kid, who thought 100 is a complete number. He was a very thoughtful kid with a vivid imagination, but all his skills got constricted by this incident; just because he kind of predicted the person’s death (surprisingly, the birthday-boy/grandpa died before reaching 100! But let’s get serious.

There are many theories regarding death and the afterlife. The entire ‘religious market’ is based on such theories. A theory would be very bad terminology, but the people following them take it very seriously. Every religion (except a few) tells only one thing, follow our principles and you’ll be placed in a world of infinite happiness after death. If you don’t, then a world of infinite suffering is ready for you. Our entire life is then spent in worrying about the ‘life after death’, but that’s a different story.

If such a thing exists and a majority of the population follows it, then why is there is no talk about death? Why do we fear death? And why ignore its approaching? Why overlook the ageing? Or even if those worlds of happiness and suffering after death don’t exist, what is the point of this ignorance? I wonder if it is because people tend to shed significant responsibilities. People always seem to struggle for power and authority, but it’s an illusion. People may like to lead a company, or a political party, or even just a small scale organisation, they may like being called up on stage to receive awards or felicitation or even just a bouquet but they don’t really like to accept the maturity that comes with age. When you convince yourself to be young at heart, when you hide your age, then you deny the wisdom and knowledge of life that comes with it.

In Tuesdays with Morrie, Prof. Morrie says,

”As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know, it’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

All this philosophy sounds nice. But we always observe people saying “I wish I were young again”. For just that, they create an illusion of this wish fulfilled. ‘Fulfilling’ this wish, varies from person to person, some like to ‘look’ young, some like to ‘feel’ young, some behave like youngsters, some take part in the mischiefs and spoil their grandkids, despite the defiance by kid’s parents to be considered a member of the kids’ gang. We never hear once, “I wish I were seventy.”

If ageing is so valuable, why don’t we embrace it? Because this ‘ignorance’, reflects unsatisfied lives, unfulfilled lives- Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you would not want to go back, you will only want to go forward, see more and do more. But, you can’t wait until sixty-five. So, all younger people should know this if you battle against getting older, you will always suffer, because it will happen anyway. And the most important fact of life is that eventually, you are going to die. The only thing you can make sure is that the death doesn’t start early and stay for a long time you die. Morrie answers to the query if he is envious of the young,

”Oh, I guess I do. I envy them being able to go to the health club, or go for a swim. Or dance. Mostly for dancing. But envy comes to me, I feel it, and then I let it go. Let it go. Tell yourself, That’s envy, I’m going to separate from it now, And walk away. Of course, it is impossible for the old not to envy the young. But the issue is to accept who you are and revel in that. This is your time to be in your thirties. I had my time to be in my thirties, and now is my time to be seventy-eight. You have to find what’s good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now. Looking back makes you competitive. And, age is not a competitive issue.”

The truth about the old ones is, they have a part of them in every age- they are three-­year-old, five-year-old, thirty-seven-year-old, fifty-year-old at the same time. They’ve been through all of these phases in life, and they know what it’s like to be younger. We should delight in being a child when it’s appropriate to be a child. We should delight in being a wise old man when it’s required of us to be a wise old man. Just think of all we can be! We are every age, up to our own. So how can we be envious of where the young are when we have already been there!

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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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