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I Invoked The Dangerous ‘D’ (Drop Out) Card In My Undergrad And It Changed My Life

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Like every other Indian teenager, I had also determined or at least I had tried to determine my career path a couple of years before starting college. I joined the ‘right’ coaching centre, took the required tests, studied for hours, managed my school and boards prep on the side, spoke to the right people, and convinced myself, every day that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I wanted a stable, high paying, respectable, and powerful profession so that I could survive and thrive in this society. Being the only daughter, I was under constant pressure to outperform others; that would enable me to have a safe, financially secure future, which would enable me to be financially stable enough to fend for myself when I grow up.

And I believed it to be the right thing, considering the fact that the society I live in has always expected more from women; they have been required to be above average (in all ways), to fight even for smaller privileges. We have been required to outshine to get mere recognition.

Transitioning from my social commentary to facts, to cut it short, I wanted to do law (or at least I thought I wanted to do it). The plan was pretty simple: I would study for two years, crack my law entrance, get into a nice, top-tier law college, study for five years there, then do my specialisation from some high-end university abroad, and settle for a renowned law firm. I would have financial security, wealth and respect. It all sounded perfect in my head, and in the opinions of all my relatives.

That was until I realised it was not as perfect as I thought.

Initially, studying law felt good. The debates were healthy, the arguments were strong; the competition was rigorous. I could almost convince myself that I was enjoying it, loving it – that it was my thing to do.

But, soon, the paradise of its novelty ended. One month in and I already wanted out. I realised, that even if I loved debating, discussing and deliberating over laws and other social issues, law was not the way I wanted to go about it. I realised that I wanted to bring a change through a more subtle and emotional approach; one that would enable and entail a direct connection with the people, where I’d be able to see and experience the change first hand. Academic essays, research papers and citations were not my way of reaching out to people. I loved stories and experiences and philosophies; and through them, I wanted to contribute to this world.

Whenever I would work on assignments, I would realise that spending hours on reading judgments was not my way of reaching out to others. I was looking for experiences. And, finally, when I came to the conclusion that it was literature that I wanted to read, and novels that I wanted to write, so that I could touch people in the most abstract, yet in the most powerful way – the delusions of perfection broke, and I started doubting my ‘perfect’ plan.

I did not want to do law, and I wanted to study literature, or something just as creative, that was all the clarity I had. However, it was not an easy decision to make, especially in a country like India, due to various reasons. I have listed the major reasons below.

Money Matters

Law is one of the most expensive courses after medical and engineering courses. Add the coaching fees and it becomes a huge investment which you wouldn’t want it to go waste. At an average NLU (National Law University) you’ll have to pay somewhere around 1.5 lakhs to 2 lakhs, which is four times the fees of any other language or non-professional course in a government college. One is highly reluctant to back out after investing so much into a professional course, something which applies to all other professional courses, like medical and engineering.

Looking Down On Liberal Arts

Even if there’s been a considerable increase in enrolment figures in liberal arts courses, there’s a lot that needs to change when it comes to the attitude towards liberal arts. Seven out of ten most popular courses, according to the statistics released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in 2018 are either from the technology or commerce stream. Liberal arts is still seen as a course for those who are considered intellectually inferior. Thus, leaving a professional course for a non-professional course (language/arts, etc.) never goes down well with one’s family.

The Negative Attitude Towards Drop Outs

The word ‘drop out’ has a pejorative charge and is often frowned upon. The moment someone says that they have left or have dropped out of a certain course they are instantly met with judgment and criticism. Their choices, decisions and intellect are subjected to greater scrutiny; they are seen as less hard working or less committed. And, even if someone has left a course simply because they were sensible enough to get out of an unsatisfactory situation before it was too late, people perceive it as ‘chickening out’ of hard work. Huh?

Lack Of Proper Counselling

If there one’s thing that can be done to avoid the entire situation, it is with the help of proper counselling, which, again, is seen as something shameful in the Indian context. Everyone is ready to give their advice or force their opinions upon others, but they would look at you as a confused, unstable teenager if you ever as much as mentioned consulting an expert. People still cringe at the idea of seeking professional help when it comes to mental health issues and are apprehensive, unwilling and unaccepting about the idea of it.

Despite these hurdles, it’s important to be aware about the battles that are not worth fighting for, and the right time to back out from certain endeavours. I knew that even if I studied for years and managed to bag a well paid and secured job, I would never be able to give my hundred per cent in the career I was pursuing. And, hence, I took a stand and left law without wasting any more time on it, and saved myself a great deal of mental pressure.

What is the point of slogging through a course which imprisons you? A content and satisfactory life is what everyone aims for, right? Is spending a lot of money and dragging yourself through years of labour over something that you don’t want to do and it doesn’t even make you happy even worth the effort? Especially when it does not even guarantee you a happy lifestyle in the end?

No, it’s not worth it.

And so I decided to take a step back from the wrong path at the right time, and started pursuing something that does not feel forced. Something that I feel is my calling; something that I believe I am meant to do; something that gives me a good night’s sleep; something that makes me want to get up every morning and work towards my goal?

I am out of my prison, are you?

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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.

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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.

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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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