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My Quarantine Story: “I Had To Remind Myself That It Was Not An Apocalyptic Movie”

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.

It was March 22, 2020. The Janata curfew had just ended at 7 p.m. I was pursuing social sciences at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. I began my journey back home to Mumbai by car. The roads were empty in the country of billion-plus people; I suspected something unusual and terrifying. One could easily count the number of people on the road.

Empty roads were chilling on the highway. The lights of the toll, all but one, were switched off. It felt like the end of the times; the few people, who were seen, were hushing around covering their faces with masks and applying sanitizers. The government was issuing new orders every 30 minutes, and everything seemed uncertain. The borders of the Telangana state were sealed; I somehow managed to sneak home to Mumbai.

Mumbai, the city that never sleeps, was experiencing something unprecedented. The modern world had not experienced anything like this before. I had to pinch myself a couple of times to remind myself that I was not in an apocalyptic Hollywood movie. No private vehicles on the road, public transport virtually absent, and deserted streets.

Modi
The day I came back home, at 8 p.m., Prime Minister of India announced nationwide lockdown for 21 days.

The day I came back home, at 8 p.m., Prime Minister of India announced nationwide lockdown for 21 days. The lockdown kept increasing in the days to come as if we were in a time warp, while everyone around us remained in the present.

People started experiencing their ordinary lives, the supposedly “new normal”, hearing the urgent news advisories and directives, sharing posts on social distancing and about how life is going to unfold in the future. My everyday duty was to sanitize my mother’s cellphone, wallet and vehicle keys as she, being a government official, was stationed at one of the Public Health Centers for surveillance of doctors and nurses.

On May 3, I had a webinar to attend at 8 in the morning, and I woke up earlier than usual. The chirping and chattering of the birds were melodious in lockdown silence; the trees were blushing as there was stillness on the streets. “I need some help”, my mother whispered hoarsely. I rushed into her bedroom, and she was shivering inside the blanket.

As I searched for a thermometer, she murmured to my father, “You shouldn’t stay here,” as she got frightened dreading the coronavirus. The thermometer displayed 103°F. Amidst the soaking sweats, terrible aches and after hours of fever, I took her to the nearby hospital. Constantly reading stories of people being hospitalized, being put on ventilators to breathe, dying, sick with the same virus set the family environment in fear and trepidation. My father, being diabetic and suffering from hypertension, was certainly not a suitable choice to accompany her.

As soon as I entered the hospital, the fears echoed by the media regarding COVID-19 seemed absolutely true. At the reception, a man in his 40s with dark hair and glasses gave us a stern look while the other, who wore gloves, ran his hand through the stubble, seemingly oblivious when we entered. There were nervous humans applying sanitizers on their hands and checking if they were at enough distance from each other.

The attendant came to the desk and murmured, applied sanitizer to our hands, while the second attendant quietly gave us gloves. The doctor, pulling out long grueling shifts, with lack of proper mask, gown and eye gear, came in the OPD (out-patient department), and the nurse gave him the details. He inquired about the symptoms, and without doing any physical check-up, he asked us to get a swab test done for COVID-19 quickly.

Representational image.

For us, those 3-4 days when tests were done, and samples collected were overwhelming. We were already living inside the news stories of testing, people being quarantined, hospital bed shortages and the disease progression. The television at home was finally switched off for a few days. Suddenly, the neighbors started to ostracize my family. We felt stigmatized, lonely, and it felt like they looked at as only a contagion.

The stories of gardener not trimming the hedges of a COVID-19-recovered woman’s home; the veterinarian refused to treat a recovered man’s dog could be virtually imagined; we were outcast in a few hours. After a couple of horrifying days, I was sipping coffee, and an email popped in my cellphone; it was from the laboratory, the report showed the swab test was negative. We were relieved, the heartbeats were rising. It felt like we had won a war.

The hardest nights, when the fear and dread descended, had taken a step back from our lives, albeit, a thought crossed my mind: millions are living a dystopian story right now. A virus has changed the way we live, and there is always a presence of anxiety.

In the lockdown routine, with all the master-chef cooking, social media challenges and overwhelming Zoom calls, I had done brief volunteering with some friends serving food and water to migrant labourers. It was heart-wrenching to see the migrant labourers trudging unbelievable distances on foot towards their home and battling hunger.

Amidst the scorching heat of 38.5°C (101.3°F), extreme heat waves ravaging the body with dehydration, nausea, dizziness and cramps, the painful trek towards their villages with blisters on their feet with bags and children on their shoulders—the picture was painful. Despite such circumstances, the migrants’ everlasting thirst to reach their home compelled them to walk throughout. One of the workers said, “Ek purani chappal de do bhaisahab, khana mil jayega (Give me one pair of slippers brother, food can be arranged).”

The migrants were wearing the same sweaty clothes for days because it was too hard to change out of them. It was too hard to stay barefoot too. Some said, “It is better to die on the way back home than to die of hunger.” The silver lining in the dark clouds is that the pandemic has turned millions of people into good neighbors. Young people across India have organized food packages for the migrants on the highway. The soup kitchens are helping the differently-abled people.

The social fabric is going through a transformation in the pandemic, and we need to emerge stronger with a better balance in the future. The world we once knew, seems to have gone, perhaps forever. The human nature is not changed, and we are reminded that what we know is less than we do not know, about ourselves and the world we live in. Perhaps, societies have to go through their own trials and tribulations to address challenges and adjust to the demands of the time to survive. It seems that the world that I once knew was falling apart and breaking in a blink.

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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