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We Are All Mental!

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There was a salty pull of air on that December evening, I was heavy-headed, sitting at the Queen’s necklace, Mumbai, Maharashtra, only 22 years of age. Pulling a grumpy, sad face I looked into the emptiness of the ocean, the city was a halo behind my head. I saw this man dressed as Charlie Chaplin and there were two others dressed colourfully, popularly labelled as jokers. I was extremely scared and I didn’t want them anywhere close to me, disturbing my upset aura, but it seemed I had already invited trouble. Charlie Chaplin stepped up beside where I was sitting, loosely resting one leg on the ground, his elbow on his knees, cupping his face with his hands. He kept looking at me, trying to grab attention. As discomfort slowly gripped me, in I moved my eyes their corners, away from him. He did not let go; he beckoned that I should smile and that it was a lovely evening. I absolutely adored his little non-judgemental intervention and went back to my happy pondering soon as he left, thinking that there are so many like me juggling balls of emotions.

“Mumbai is a place, Bombay is a feeling.” It was one of the most clichéd lines I had ever come across. But for me, both the names are feelings, and really very good ones. Each reminds me of the brutality of loneliness and vulnerability I have suffered here. I wanted to end a toxic relationship so bad that I wanted to run away from my beloved Delhi. I wanted to become an actor. “I want to fulfill my dreams” was the half-baked lie that I chanted. Well I was already an actor. I just wanted to get better at my craft. I never intended to become a star or a celebrity. The only joy I have found is when I am working on stage, in front, or at the back of the camera, writing a script, observing people and studying prospective characters for movies.

But I was too timid to welcome the city with open arms. I was bitter about anything and everything, but I also wanted to be accepted anyhow, hence trying to juggle being a liberal, independent woman, and in the process I stressed myself out too much. I ignored the people who genuinely wanted to spend time with me, and I never could summon the courage to trust them, and I was looking for honesty outside, my body running like a wagon in search for people who would really understand me. But in all of this, I only found more deceit. I simply did not respect my body, the suffering of which I still bear mentally and physically. I am so fucking scared that I can almost vividly imagine the shit I was letting myself get into. I have carried it so far that it has become one of the reasons for my anxiety and stress.

But you know, somehow those people who I did not want to allow in my inner circle were always there. I was in drama school when I met the people I believed were a bunch of “incapable assholes”, and I, for the major part of my studies, put up a show of being a good friend. It was only after confrontating my instructor that I realised I was trying to please an image of myself, with all its heavy baggage. And if I let go of that baggage, I felt I would be a nobody. And that’s when my journey truly started. I did not abandon my baggage, but perhaps what I did was slowly remove stuff from it one by one. But those were the hardest days of my life so far. And the people I found supporting me were those I believed were a bunch of incapable assholes.

Photo by Shriyam Bhagnani.

It’s been almost two years since I left Bombay, only to return. The people I thought I would never be able to keep in touch with, certain of the fact that I would only be a foggy memory to them, if nothing else, are still very much there in the vicinity and the only thing they keep asking me is “Kab aarahi hai (When are you coming back)?”

I moved to Bangalore to study further, this time my life had taken a more academic turn, and I was hell-bent on improving and get this shit off my shoulders. But in the process, I also added a few more burdens.

The point I am trying to make is that when you are trying to trash tattered, obnoxiously, smelly baggage, you can’t just dump the heap somewhere. While you are picking and trashing bits, you also keep adding more bits, and that’s how life is. It’s not about aggressively keeping your heap a certain size, which is really not possible, nor is it about just being happy. Rather, it’s about letting emotions happen to you.

There aren’t just two categories of emotions popularly boxed as “Happy” and “Sad”. They are not even umbrella terms, my dear friend. There are thousands of words we do not identify as emotions. We are all emotional beings, whatever gender you are, so let’s just be less mean and learn every day.

It’s okay to be upset, it’s okay to be crazy, it’s okay to be frustrated, and it’s okay to feel hurt. And feeling joyous or happy are not the only emotions that are ‘normal’, or which make you strong. Perhaps accepting what and how you feel makes you strong. Sharing is not shameful; sharing is powerful.

What is NOT OKAY is making fun of someone dealing with issues, and labelling someone “crazy” or “mad”, or whatever stickers people keep printing in their thinking machines. It takes immense strength to summon all one’s courage and trust the space to share one’s story. Also, it is not cool if, on the pretext of your mental health, you think it is your right to make someone feel small.

When life feels like it’s getting easier and harder simultaneously, you don’t have to look for Charlie Chaplin or Jokers. Probably just identify your incapable bunch of assholes who actually stand there with you, whatever weather it may be, and do not look for a flawed-shining-hollow-toxic-gleam.

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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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