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After Over 70 Years Of Independence, India’s Campuses Are Still Not Equal For Many

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Equality, a core egalitarian idea compounded in the birth of the nation of free India and the founding principles on which our justice system is based upon; is devoid of its practical existence in present times. And this malpractice is vibrant within our educational institutions and its supporting systems (which on paper are required to abide by it). But in practicality, the discrimination can be said to be more vibrant and venomous than it was prevalent in times of pre-independence India.

The higher education system is extremely important, because it is here that the human mind evolves a structural thought process of weighing their moral principles and implementing it. School is a controlled environment and whatever is taught in books is applied in college life, where most individuals make decisions based on the environment they are influenced by.

And it is the experiences they gain here decides their views on society; if they see it as an association for their best interest or they feel oppressed – upon which anger is projected. At many times, such anger is projected as what we call anti-social behavior. Sometimes, it also manifests as a need to just keep our mouth shut and carry on, a path chosen by many, due to helplessness.

A protest demanding justice for Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad University.

The startling fact is that both the oppressor and oppressed exist within the same system, where only the former is highlighted when an issue grabs headline. But in midst of all of this; the real issues which led to such are often sidelined making the oppressed feel voiceless.

Article 14, the ruling principle on the idea of equality; is worn as a robe in the university space. From the top, it is always presumed that the system abides by it. The application of reservation system in the admission process exists on paper, but opinions remain divided.

But in reality, the bureaucracy and administration has found further means to beat the system and make the whole reservation process redundant. Students from the OBC community in the name of rationalisation are moved from the reserved to unreserved category on arbitrary grounds, resulting in a loss of seats in the unreserved category.

And many times, reserved category seats go vacant which in a system of rolling over in subsequent years, gets jumbled up in the process. This denies fairness and equality to students towards their right to attain education on their own choices. Within the debate on reservation, the real issue gets lost in the mist.

But in present day India, the concept of equality has transgressed the realm of reservation and is seen as a burgeoning issue amongst gender rights, LGBTQ+ rights, equal pay rights. Hostels are known to impose arbitrary curfew rules differentiating between both men and women; in the name of imposing culture by restricting women’s movement.

How are boys not susceptible to be eroded into anti-social activities (applying the same logic that women might do so) if they remain outside their hostels till late? Psychology says men have more risk-taking inhibitions and are more vulnerable to commit an act of regression while women weigh in their options meticulously before making decisions. But for the torchbearers of morality, science is beyond their logical comprehension.

Access to education is a right which was made fundamental under the RTE. And in principle, all government-aided institutions should be providing the same quality of education at a subsidised rate; yet is violated by the same agents of State, which are responsible for implementing it.

Within the same universities, registered and affiliated colleges are known to charge arbitrary fees however they may feel like. There is no fixed guideline on how fees are decided due to the principles of the free market policy in education. But, market principles should not determine what quality of education our children receive.

The salary of central university professors are equal all across India. But the teaching standards are not. Within Delhi University, for the same course, one can be paying fees ranging from ₹4,000 to ₹40,000 per year, depending on the college.

One can stroll alongside the swimming pool at SRCC whereas several colleges within the same campus are devoid of a dedicated building for premises. Drinking water still is a major electoral war cry for students in their local union elections. In such a wide disparity of facilities within the same 5 km radius, our kids are taught to move on with the attitude that it is what it is.

Southern India along with certain pockets in Western and Northern India have good quality education institutions, while Eastern India right along the Hindi belt sees quality education as a luxury which only the rich can afford in Tier-1 cities. Students in rural belts are forced to complete a 3 year degree course over 5 years while in certain IITs one can go for an accelerated course of pursuing double degrees including their masters in 5 years!

Merit is an important criterion. But one has to also observe where competitors stand in terms of resources and preparedness to face that which decides their future. At times, students can expect a UPSC Prelims result with over 10 lakh applicants within a month, but be expected to wait years for results from government recruitments. The concept of equality is violated here as well where differentiation and discrimination is made on the basis of reputation of services.

But, the viewpoint of class conflict is an issue seldom talked about. University spaces see class differentiation in its strangest form. Schools in India standardise dresses and the education system. But, once the child enters a university space, in the name of embracing freedom, one can see differentiation of class dynamics in social space as well.

The elitist vs. generalist divide is visible in one’s fluency in the English language and often, by the clothes they wear. This divide translates into friend circles and group dynamics; where one’s friend circle is often decided upon their ability to spend and the ability to communicate in a common language.

This further develops into regional biases and social strata biases where one group starts hating the other. Such group dynamics can be seen to be exploited in electoral politics where organisations use class, caste, social, regional and linguistic differentiations for their own vested interests.

Hence, inequality is widely prevalent in Indian universities. Where even issues of student protests projects the widening gap of concerns. When students of Magadha University can be found on the streets asking for timely delivery of their degrees, students in Delhi or Mumbai can be found on the streets demanding equality in treatment within hostels.

The issues of cosmopolitan India are seen as a joke or distant dream in the heartland of India. Pride marches for equal rights are unheard of by students of Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand. But you can see them on the streets for the implementation of basic infrastructure – permanent roofs and sitting arrangements within their buildings – while in some cities, the students are seen protesting asking for air conditioners and libraries.

The issue of inequality in itself is demanding equality in movements within educational institutions, where each institute has its own list of concerns.

But the bottom line is: who is listening and acting upon it? At such times, Article 14 seems a distant reality in azad (free) India, after 75 years of independence.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Shivam Jain Kakadia/Wikipedia.
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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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