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The Missing Trickle Down Effect: Covid-19 Has Magnified The Disproportionality For The Poor

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

“India lives several centuries at the same time. Somehow we manage to progress and regress simultaneously.”

-Arundhati Roy in The Algebra of Infinite Justice

While reading this book recently, the relevance of this phrase struck me hard, particularly in the current scenario.

On the one hand, we just had the third massive display of gratitude to the “Corona Warriors” with the Indian Air Force conducting a flypast and showering flowers, after the clapping and lighting of lamps from the balconies previously. The more recent was the ‘Vande Bharat” Mission – airlifting migrants stranded abroad. And on the other hand, there are migrant workers who were crushed to death by a cargo train, and many mowed down by vehicles while returning back to their homes by foot, people fighting for food packets and in worst cases starving. There has also been a 100% rise in domestic violence and a highly increased incidence of caste atrocities since the lockdown.

Migrant workers were crushed to death by a cargo train.

The world is in the midst of the worst crisis in humanity. But as per theories of evolution, human species evolve and adjust according to the situation for survival. More so, everyone around the world is trying to find solutions to this and also simultaneously getting used to a new kind of normal. And India is no different. Perhaps a certain kind of normal always existed ever since. In India, several worlds exist with their own kind of normal, and the pandemic seems to have only amplified it.

The Downside And Many Structural Challenges Of Online Education

Whether it is masks becoming a part of our daily life or working within the confines of our home, we have all got accustomed to a ‘new routine.’ Most of us have entered the digital learning/working spaces. Schools and colleges have switched to online modes of learning, teaching and participation. We are more than forty days into the lockdown and in the whole discourse of digitalized learning, the education sector seems to have touched altogether another level of exclusiveness. Private schools, particularly those in the metropolitan cities are managing to keep the fluidity through zoom classes, smartphone apps, online learning modules and even online parent-teacher meetings.

However, it has to be realized that these schools include only a very small proportion of the children in India. Nearly, more than 65% of children are enrolled in government schools especially at the elementary level. There, of course, is an overall temporary loss of learning but the worst casualty are these children enrolled in public schools, most importantly children from marginalised groups, children of migrant labourers. Will they ever make it to these digital learning spaces?

Delhi government has planned to provide data packages to children in order to participate in online learning processes. UP government has also planned to use Doordarshan to go for audio-based learning. In some schools, they have also made provisions for students to engage through SMSs and voice notes who have connectivity issues. But these plans are far from the ground realities. Apart from connectivity and accessibility problems, there are a number of structural issues. The socio-economic diversity of the Indian education system does not make this an easy task.

Education has rarely been our priority even before the pandemic. Over the years, increasing measures to privatize education has only made it more and more far-fetched to the people on the margins. Government schools have only become tokenized. There has been an extreme sub-optimal allocation of resources, most importantly human resources. As a result, the majority of the children in these schools with starkly different learning abilities and capacities are cramped up in the same learning spaces. The vulnerability of these children will only increase after the lockdown.

Short-term disadvantages can easily be cited. But there are going to be concrete long-term consequences.

How This Pandemic Has Worsened Caste-Class Disproportionalities

Any policy can be said to be successful only when it trickles down to those on the bottom of the social pyramid.

Extreme inequalities and extreme disparities have always existed in India even before the lockdown crisis. Migrant labourers have always been walking miles, children in the peripheries have always remained many steps backwards in the learning curve. But what the pandemic has done is only magnify it. Manifold! Exclusion in education is not some unfortunate consequence of a state of poverty and inequality. It is a consequence of structured handicaps created by us as a society.

A country so sharply dictated by caste, class, community and gender will only see a further widening of educational disparities. Enrollment rates in schools can be anticipated to go down let alone the increasing learning gap. The loss of livelihood of so many poor people will only make them send their children to work in desperation than to school to look for alternate sources of livelihood. The coronavirus has only further aggravated the ever-existing extreme exclusivity that has been prevalent and only going to widen it.

Any policy can be said to be successful only when it trickles down to those on the bottom of the social pyramid. Therefore, the solution lies only in giving specific response and deal with the realities of the existence of these communities and their children. In the post-COVID phase, a time which we are all looking forward to, there will be a lot of changes and alternatives – a new set of normalcies, a new set of businesses (some revived, some lost), new promises and pledges, new healthcare structures, medicines and technologies. But parallelly, for those on the periphery, especially the children, it will be a long road.

Often because more some things change, more other things remain the same.

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  1. The Bleeding Ink

    well written

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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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