From Engineering To Women’s Studies: Have I Become Unlikable In The New India?

When I was doing my engineering in computer science, I used to think of ways of how technology can help the society and contribute towards making a more egalitarian world. We were never taught that in engineering college and there was no space for discussing anything social, economic and political. These professional colleges systematically keep you away from the knowledge and understanding of social institutions. During graduation, I used to give home tuition to school going children and teach them social science and mathematics.

That way, I was doing my schooling again because honestly school never taught me to think, question or learn. It only taught me to cram things, attain merit on that basis and just get all the appreciation you need to be a ‘good kid.’ Merit is a very capitalist idea in a factory like school setting but it helped me convince my parents and relatives that women can do good in studies. I used to fit in their stereotypical understanding of being an intelligent, hardworking kid.

During undergrad, I started reading books by critical thinkers like Ramachandra Guha, Yuval Noah Harari, Arundhati Roy, Rana Ayyub and others and I started developing curiosity about things like never before. Engineering seemed hollow and shallow to me, it was all good to learn new skills but there was no human connection and no touch with the society and its people.

Indian engineering students visit Hartlepool College’s aerospace centre. (Photo: Hartlepool College/Flickr)

I started planning to join a social science college but had no money and, to convince my parents to do a master’s degree was impossible. I am the only graduate woman in my family and according to them, I had studied enough. I joined a start-up and worked there for one year, saved some money and then applied for a master’s course in Women’s Studies in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

The odds of me not getting selected were high (me being an engineer) and even higher was the cost of living in Mumbai and actually pursuing the course that would not get me a well-paying job. Fortunately, I got into it and somehow with the support of my friends, I managed to pay my fee as well.

My journey began and I started reading things systematically and the lectures of my course gave me the perspective to understand those readings better. Initially, it was uncomfortable for me to grasp everything and some readings used to be overwhelming enough to make me sad for extended periods of time.

I realised that maybe because of my gender, class and life experiences, I am marginalised but still privileged in so many other ways. Recognising my privilege and accepting it was very difficult for me because I used to think that my life has been the most difficult one because of my parents’ extramarital affairs, its impact on me and my personality and also because of patriarchy in general. I learnt a lot from my friends and through our classroom discussions.

These classes used to be very different and there were students from diverse background unlike engineering. There were women who were the only ones from their village to be able to make it to higher education and there were women going through a divorce, while pursuing the course. It was inevitable for me to reflect more on what my idea of society was (in private schools and engineering colleges) and what our society actually is.

In this period, I believe I have become a better person and I look at things differently. Slowly and gradually, I started thinking critically and I think that my idea of what constitutes the critical thinker also changed. I now study, understand and question anything and everything in the world.

But today, I am scared.

I am scared that I am everything that I am not supposed to be in this new India. I am a thinker who questions the ruling party and its propaganda machines, its unfair and unjust laws, its Hindutva ideology and vision to divide. I see vivid dreams of mass killings and I am mostly scared to go to my library after the Jamia and AMU police brutality. I feel scared after putting out dissent on social media as I know that they are tracking all of us.

An anti-CAA protest at BHU, Varanasi. (Photo: BHU Buzz/Facebook)

Yesterday, I had a dream which has shaken me to the core! All those people who speak against the government were visible to police and to the RSS karyakartas. We were all running to save our lives but they were just brutally killing our loved ones, our parents and our children. I was trying to hide, but my existence could not be hidden anymore. I was out there being brutally beaten by lathis and just waiting for the death to come.

The streets were crowded with police, the Sangh Parivar workers, and the critical thinkers, the intellectuals were the others, the ‘terrorists.’ Good people who genuinely want to do good for the society, who believes in the constitution and who are mostly empathetic were all being portrayed as the bad ones and the actual bad guys were being cheered by the majority.

They were being cheered for being brutal, hateful and they were celebrated for doing mass killings. In my dream, I was looking at the happenings and was thinking helplessly that nothing is more dangerous than the infiltration of mind with hatred and bigotry. My heart told me, “Look what they have done to my people, they have made them real demons; full of hate and no compassion and empathy for anyone who is not a part of their hate-spreading Hindutva project.”

In the New India, being empathetic and thinking being feels like being a criminal. You are not allowed to love, care or empathise with marginalized communities, with students and other intellectuals. It has become a new crime to be compassionate, to speak the truth and uphold the idea of constitutional justice and, being a Hindu extremist male is the new ideal.

Parents, relatives and people in power expects you to be hateful and if you are not, you are ‘urban Naxals’ or ‘libtards’ whose minds have been indoctrinated by books. History books, our freedom fighters and our intellectual leaders are the new demons for them in this intimidating India.

What do you do when irrational, hateful bigots are the accepted ones in the society and that is how you are expected to be in new India? Parents are telling their children that they will not be sending money if they dare speak for the minorities and against the government. Those parents who always wanted us to excel in studies are now the upholders of WhatsApp university knowledge and disregard our emotional and intellectual labor.

This reality that sounds like dystopia has become everyday life for me, my friends and students across universities who are studying social sciences. We are right away called anti-national, irrational and stupid and there is no respect or regard for the work we do.

When I am told by my friends from engineering that I am spreading hate through social media, I feel hopeless. There is anxiety and bad dreams do visit me every day. We, the students, do not like this New India and we feel ashamed of coming from the families where parents, relatives and even some childhood friends are worshipping the Modi government whose sole purpose is to spread hate, divide our people and just ruin the idea of India.

In these dark times, I keep reminding myself that “a lie told a thousand times do not become the truth” and we need to stand by the truth.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Subin Dennis/Facebook.
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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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