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To The Class Of 2020: We Don’t Know What lies Ahead, And That’s Okay

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ReimagineTogether logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #ReimagineTogether, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with UNICEF India, YuWaah and Generation Unlimited, to spark conversations to create a new norm and better world order in the post-pandemic future. How have you and those around you coped with the pandemic? Join the conversation by telling us your COVID story and together, let's reimagine a safer, better and more equal future for all!

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

To the class of 2020,

I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if there is a start to this. Three months ago, none of us would have ever thought we’d reach a juncture where our present would come to a halt and our future would become this uncertain. Ignorance would have been truly bliss, three months ago.

Exams are uncertain, so are their modes. Some of you might be leaving the cities you had come to for college, while others might be lamenting over the cancelled plans that you and your friends had put together for the last months. Convocations aren’t happening, refunds might not get processed. There’s a “might” attached to every possible existing academic and professional thing right now. I check all these boxes too. These situations make us realise how sometimes, no logic, reasoning, solutions can solve certain problems.

Even though all of you might be facing diverse and unique academic and career problems, we all stand united in the face of the repercussions this pandemic will bring in our careers and lives.

This capitalistic idea of productivity has caged our whims, bottled our spirits on the chances we wanted to take, and chained our aspirations on the leaps we wanted to make.

To The Ones Who Were Looking For A Job

Your courses were going to be over in a month’s time. You might have started polishing your resumes, curating those cover letters, figuring out the contacts of your choice of firms, companies and organisations, sending those emails with a prayer and a pinch of belief, and waiting with bated breath on their replies. While some of you had planned to begin the search after college ends too, now everyone is sailing in the same boat.

The economy is going into a recession; companies are laying off employees; there is a hiring freeze at least until the next few months; add to that, the cut-throat competition for a marginal number of seats. It is causing a wave of anxiety, uncertainty, raising questions on your self-esteem and the jazz, I know. I know.

To The Ones Who Had Planned To Go Abroad For Further Studies

You toiled hard. You had been working on your applications since September, some even July. You drafted and edited, and re-edited, “and repeated” that Statement of Purpose, burnt the midnight oil for that essay, checked up on your referees twice a day, took the effort of compiling so, so many documents, all the while already being crippled with anxiety, fear and doubts about missing the deadline or whether you’ll get through your dream college or not.

I know the waiting process was worse. You literally learnt what patience feels like when you waited on your universities’ replies for three months, and then you got in. It was a dream you had harboured for so long, the exposure you had so earnestly wished for, all of it came shattering down. I know. It took a virus to reduce more than half a year of effort to a mash of uncertainty and sadness.

And now when you are torn between taking that loan or lamenting that scholarship getting cancelled for the year, or deferring, a lot of colleges are putting deferrals on hold, with no accountability, putting this big, bold question mark next to the ‘what next’. I know. I know because I am one of you.

To The Ones Who Didn’t Have Plans

Had you planned to take a quick break before you decided on your immediate future after college? Or had you already got an offer letter from your dream organisation and are now worried if that job will be sustained? Were you one of those who were unsure if you want to continue in the same profession and wanted some time to figure it out?

I know it sucks. I know you might suddenly be getting major pangs of doubt whether you should take that break. I know you might be confused, clouded with uncertainty if you can even afford to take that break to figure out an alternative career path. You might be getting the urge to rush into the cycle, float yourself in the competition, apply for jobs in any and all fields of interest, just so you don’t lose out on a year. I know.

What Lies Ahead: I Know You Don’t Know

And neither do I. This capitalistic idea of productivity has caged our whims, bottled our spirits on the chances we wanted to take, and chained our aspirations on the leaps we wanted to make.

Our mental health is paying the worst price right now. My most recent breakdown was yesterday, and it took me a two-hour conversation with a friend to come out of the vacuum. But, if we don’t take the reins in our hands, it might get a little difficult? I don’t think I have the agency to distribute advice but I can share some options that I’m personally considering to breathe amidst this outburst of toxicity.

We might have to wait for a few months to get that job, but sooner or later, we all mostly will. The time we have to navigate is those few months. Learn an instrument, maybe? You know what they say about there being no better catharsis than music. Maybe, instead of doing a course that would help you ‘upskill‘ and ‘remain productive’, take up a course relating to a hobby: planting, architecture or religion? Rewatch that l(o to the power n) ng series? Have that extra slice of cake? Okay, that doesn’t really help, but I had to. Let no guilty pleasure make you feel guilty. You’re not sitting and waiting by your own choice.

I know you’ll read all of this in a lot of posts; I am no different, I’m sharing what my friends, family and I, myself, keep telling me. But what I have realised is that ‘a nudge or a push’ might make the difference. After a month of numerous mild nudges, I did start reading Bell Hooks’Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. It’s a come and go phase; today, you might feel like doing something productive, tomorrow you might not want to get out of the bed. Let yourself free. With so much steaming pressure on your head right now, you’re allowed to do what ‘you’ want to do. You do you, friend.

Academically, we’re all creating a teeny weeny part of history. The future might look at us with kindness and love. The thing about being a part of history is that you get to make it. You get to own and disown your choices. You get to not be bogged down by any precedent or ideal choice you would have been expected to make in ‘usual circumstances’. That’s a win.

Remember, we are all meritorious. Because we are battling not just a pandemic, but also the uncertainty looming over our immediate careers that seem to be dangling by a thread. And it takes a great deal of merit to be able to take a disaster in your stride and manage to stay afloat in the tempest. This year, let no societal and professional ‘evaluations’ chain you. Be massively, and I’m underplaying it but massively, kind to yourself.

To all who say that this is romanticisation, be kind to explain to them the difference between romanticisation and coping mechanisms. The sole point of this piece is acknowledgement. I just want to acknowledge you, your fears, your doubts, your anxiety and your breakdowns, because I’m having all of them too. After all, I’m just a student of this batch of 2020.

Featured image for representation only.
Featured image credit: Sumeet Inder Singh/The The India Today Group via Getty Images
This post is a part of COVID Diaries, a special series under the #ReimagineTogether campaign. Tell us how this lockdown and pandemic has affected you! Join the conversation by adding a post here. here.
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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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