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An Open Letter To All Parents, Because Real-Time Conversations Are Not Our Thing Yet

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Warning: Mental Health, Assault

“We have fights and differences of opinions; and then some time, we bury the hatchet, and with it, the problem.”

As we are all stuck within the confines of our homes to save ourselves from a virus (I still find this super funny and pensive), we’re facing another challenge: we’re spending a lot of time with our families. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, I miss living with my mom too—the comfort, candour, the homeliness, all of it.

But, the other day, my brother called me from home and said: “It’s all great, but it’s just difficult to have a conversation sometimes.” I would like to believe that we’ve all lost count of the number of times we’ve heard this statement. Given that I had all the time and privilege in the world to think about deconstructing that one statement, I did it. Here’s the attempt. Some might agree with it cohesively, some with parts of it, and some, not at all, and that’s okay.

Calling family a challenge is antagonizing, I’m aware, especially given Indian culture and tradition, which is rooted in worshipping our parents and elders. Our grandparents did, so did our parents, and now we’re expected to. Again, give me a chance to explain. If you disagree, leave a comment below the post and let’s get talking. 🙂

Worship Your Parents, Just Like You Worship Your God

It’s not just COVID-19; even we are showing strong and weak strains of being communal, racist, classist and casteist in a pandemic that has literally brought this world to a pause. Can I attribute the communalism and casteism to varying forms of religious supremacy that today’s version of religions bring about? Yes, very much so, thank you.

Similarly, a culture that brings you to worship your parents is problematic. Because remember, it is asking you to be deeply, traditionally religious, and not spiritual. Religion, in India today, asks for fear from its followers: go to the temple, else what will my God think; let me do some charity and say a prayer for everyone at night, else what will my god think; I need to do good karmas, otherwise, god knows how will my next birth be? You get the drill.

Do you see the driving intention here? It’s not an innate wish to do something good; it’s the fear of repercussions in case one doesn’t do good; it is a deep-seated fear of the unknown. This dictate of ‘worshipping’ parents stems from this equivalent fear. That, I find super problematic. Respecting and fearing are different emotions, and a lot of times, respect is ‘falsely’ equated to fearing your parents, and that is unhealthy and needs to be spoken about.

Years Of Brushing Conversations Under The Carpet Gave Us Depression

We have fights and differences of opinions; and then sometimes, we bury the hatchet, and with it, the problem. There’s often a complaint that we don’t share what we’re going through or thinking. It’s only fair on your part to want to be a part of our lives, and trust me, we’d love it too!

But, I just have a few questions. Did you have a conversation with us about the boy we had a crush on when we were 12? Do you remember telling the brothers and sons to “cry if you want to?” Do you remember Papa ever telling us that “go do exactly what you want, don’t harm someone, but don’t let anyone’s expectations harm your pride or wishes”? And yes, it’s not just emotional; it’s also about gender roles.

These are the most basic conversations we have with our friends and peers because this is the reality we fight every day. So, why do children distance themselves from parents in the first place? Why does anyone distance themselves from anyone? Same common things: fear of judgement, unconstructive criticism, expectations to fit into suffocating roles and spaces, and the like. So many of us are battling varied kinds of mental health issues, some chronic too.

This is not to cast an accusation, but merely to state how we don’t want to fight our parents when we’re already fighting the world and its members. For so many of us, our homes are not our safe spaces; they act as triggers—triggers of assault, gaslighting, misogyny, mental attacks, and suffocating dreams.

I don’t know if it can be said enough, but we love, respect and want to reach out to our parents. In a world of varying degrees of toxic social relationships, we need safe spaces, and with effort, intention and understanding, we’d like our homes to be those spaces.

From “Log Kya Kahenge?” To “Mrs. X Ke Bachche Aisa Nahi Karte

You want to dictate our lives with the same “samaaj yeh allow nahi karega.”

You want to dictate our lives with the same “samaaj yeh allow nahi karega,” when this very society jumps at the first opportunity it gets to disagree with one unconventional thing you do and then puts you in a corner for people to point at you, shame you and question you. What is this human need to please people who don’t have the nature to ever be pleased? And, more importantly, why?

There have been thousands of moments where we’ve had to apologise for not being as financially secure as Mrs X’s children. It sounds ridiculous even as I type it. Yes, parents want the best for us and there’s no denying that. But what use is that best if we don’t feel safe talking to them about how that guy who’s not from the same religion, but loves us way more than possibly anyone ever has, or that job that won’t pay us as much but will make every day worth it?

“It Is My Fault That I Failed To Give You An Upbringing That Would Make You Respect Me”

Don’t indulge in this self-victimisation. It’s a trap, parents, take it from us. This is not about you, really. This is a world where every five years, a new generation evolves. There are massive differences between your and our approaches and attitudes to life. It gets difficult to navigate and deal with two starkly different exposures and approaches: that of the family and that of the world.

In a world where productivity and skills are the ‘be-all, end-all’, it’s difficult for children to even understand that the world does have a space for them that’s just theirs; one that’s not been polluted with the whims and fancies of degrees, awards, ‘productive’ work cultures. We’re still struggling to be a society where we accept vivid and unconventional career choices, let alone support them.

Conversations with you, and I hate to say it, sometimes become emotional manipulations. Parental pressure is a thing. It causes some of us to take our own lives. Imagine the pressure.

So, no. Disagreeing with you is not disrespecting you. Not waking up and doing house chores exactly when you want us to; or not doing things according to your schedules and plans, or not agreeing with the decisions you take for our careers and lives—that is not us disrespecting you.

Please understand. You and we—we’re battling the same enemy. And since we’re out here, in the field, facing them up-close, we need allies, and not to be attacked from within.

“You Have To Start Making Choices That Will Make Your Life Better Eventually”

Common Dilemmas | youthkiawaaz.com
What insane pressure it is to take charge of your life all at 17 years of age?

No, we don’t want to. A 17-year-old is too young to decide on a career that will last her a lifetime. We’re called freshers for a reason. We don’t know how the world works. What insane pressure it is to take charge of your life all at 17 years of age? And ingraining this fear of getting it right, else signing for life-long unhappiness and suffering?

From whatever I understand, parenting is super-hard and pressurizing. Apparently, there’s this invisible system that parents think they’ve to cater to, some scales, trends and standards they have to live up to. This makes it all the more important to battle this invisible foe that is making increasingly harmful notions like productivity and contentment a “normal”. It’s like they’ve created their own happiness index with all the wrong measuring indicators.

It is genuinely difficult for both sides to push past these and try and have a conversation. Attempts at conversations are reduced to a battleground where both the sides are just always on the defensive.

Burn The Bridges, Turn The Tables: It Is Time

Why is it that we have to plan for days to have a conversation with our parents? Why is it that we have to plan for years to come out and share something as basic to our existence as our identity and orientations?

We’re living in a society that is getting more and more toxic by the day. Parents and children, both, are trying to fight it in their own ways. But, we need to get past them. We need to be empathetic and kind. And parents, also be kind and mindful of the conversations you have with your tribe. You don’t know how they’re perceiving it. Try and break the mould, please. In the end, no one wants to fight. We want to co-exist. I apologise if you found any of my criticisms unwarranted, know that I’m willing to have a conversation about it, and I mean no harm.

Yes, it’s easier to form new worlds and build spaces when children are young, but it’s not impossible to start working on them when the realisation dawns upon us. Any time is a good time.

Yes, these pose bigger questions on the upbringing, conversations, societal norms, traditions and culture that we propagate. Those questions also deserve a discourse, a conversation.

We’re reaching out, would you please too?

You must be to comment.

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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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