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“Every Institutionalised Way Of Causing Psychological Damage Must Be Destroyed”

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TW: This article talks about suicide.

What happened with actor Sushant Singh Rajput was tragic. Yes, we all should take mental health more seriously. We should be kinder, individually, to everyone we know. We should also listen carefully to the ones who seem to be in trouble. I also understand that his suicide was a sudden shock and it’s fair that we all are mourning. All of us would agree to these. But, I would like to shift the focus a little bit towards the systemic and institutional ways of depriving someone of their mental health wellbeing. Almost all of it is state-sponsored and sanctioned by society.

As a society, we have completely invisibilised thousands of suicides of the farmers. Their sorrow and hopelessness would never fall under our mainstream, reductive, understanding of mental health. We mutter to ourselves “Afterall, they have committed suicide because of their poor material conditions” as if it has nothing to do with the emotional trauma of being in a debt trap.

The poorest of the poor of our country start their day frantically searching for some work to feed themselves for that day. I have no idea why have we conveniently ignored their cries for a basic income and dignity. I can never fathom their trauma of working in a dangerous/unsafe environment for pennies.

migrant labourer walking with their belongings
Migrants who have braved the miles on foot will have to work under MNREGA in order to survive a crisis they did not create.

Left on their own to die in the lockdown by the cruel and irresponsible state, they still start their day desperately waiting for some work to come their way. Only this time, it’s worse. They are supposed to take the risk of getting exposed to a deadly virus just to not starve for the day. Nobody can probably explain this paradox which makes certain lives insignificant.

A lot of these workers were forced to walk for days just to reach home. An entire nation’s apathy towards their arduous journey and silence on their deaths were louder than the hollow apologies they got from the supreme leader. In the madness, no one could care about the isolation they felt while walking down what seemed like an endless road of dejection. Our inhuman justifications about the inevitability of their conditions continue to echo in our hollow minds.

New Delhi, Feb 24 (ANI): Protestors throw brick-bats during clashes between ani-CAA protestors and the Supporters group of the Citizenship act, at Jafrabad in North-East Delhi on Monday. (ANI Photo)

For the past many years we have forced an entire community to prove their patriotism time and again along with proving that they are not terrorists. Our worst nightmares are their lived experiences. Why have we never talked about the emotional state of those who have lived through state-sponsored lynchings, rapes, and riots? Who had their houses burnt by angry mobs for no fault of theirs? We have successfully reached a point where our imaginary boundaries and distinctions legally require them to prove where they were born. The othering of Muslims and the subsequent stress of being called an alien in their own country has rendered them homeless.

Are those who took birth in so-called ‘lower’ castes ‘impure’? Or is the pollution in our texts and rituals which have sanctioned discrimination? Are we not the harassers? Are we not to be blamed every time a person from a Dalit community feels ashamed of their identity? What gives us the authority to define merit and belittle someone, ignoring their social setting?

Image sourcce: Ravi Chaudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Mental health did not seem important to us when a person was made to feel empty because of his caste. We have ruined the dignity of a people, what would cause more trauma than this? How many years will it take for us to eliminate centuries of oppression which we have very much institutionalised?

Enough people have suffocated in the closets thanks to our toxic hetero-normativity. Our norms have crushed the hearts of many because we felt their sexualities were inappropriate. It would take a lifetime to measure the trauma of being denied the freedom to love.

Not just that but we also live in a land where women are respected only if they are goddesses, where multiple women are raped, harassed, beaten to death every day, where we have put barbed wire around them for their protection but it only ends up hurting them more, is such a land, a safe space, mentally and physically, for women?

Representational image.

The police broke the bones of those students who chose to speak against the unjust regime but little did we know that their agony was more emotional than physical. To get up every morning, protest until midnight, come home drenched by the water cannons and beaten by mobs and yet get called ‘anti-national’ while an entire state hounded them for trying to save a sinking nation, have scarred them for life. We would prefer not to talk. They got sabotaged (and even jailed) for fighting for the people who define the abstract idea of a nation, by those who reduce the nation to the state. The police, when they thought they were breaking their bodies, were probably breaking their spirit as well.

The naivety of arguments which claim that individual efforts can defeat mental illness becomes evident only when the structural and systemic mental harassment is exposed. I hope that our determination to battle depression and other illness will not end when the mourning ends. It has to go on until every institutionalised way of causing psychological damage is destroyed. We should acknowledge that material conditions must be improved not just for the sake of better physical survival but also for the sake of better mental health.

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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.

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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.”

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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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