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Transitioning From Today To Tomorrow: Adjusting With This ‘New Normal’

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Starting with a spark of controversy, I can recall what Karan Johar had recently said about this lockdown making us ‘self-sufficient’. Yes, it has. It has made the privileged lot self-sufficient and wreaked havoc on the unprivileged lives. While thinking about the new normal, the immediate future, I couldn’t figure and draw a singular line of thought. And then, it struck me how there can not be one.

While the caveat of ‘social distancing’ is hijacking us into a ‘new normal’, I’m forced to think of the multiplicity of ramifications it will have on our social lives. Will it affect us differently depending on our social positions and resources? Most probably so.

The past three months of the lockdown, I’ve stayed here in Bombay away from family, but also in the comfortable company of my flatmate. These months have been revelatory, pensive, painful and anxiety-inducing.

Grieving In Isolation, I Rethought My Coping Strategies

When Irrfan Khan died, like a lot of his fans, I was heartbroken. His craft had, over the years, become my definition of art. So, it was natural for his death to feel like a personal loss. My friend and I had always talked about how we’d try to be closer, in the vicinity of his home, to pay our respect. It, of course, couldn’t happen.

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What will happen if there are barriers to our need to socialise? Will it strangle and suffocate the human spirit? Representational image.

When I was just beginning to make sense of his death, a couple of weeks ago, I lost my grandfather. The next few days were spent on phone calls, crying and consoling, trying to make peace with his death, all through a device. Times were tough and it made me rethink and closely observe my existing coping mechanisms.

I’m finally going to be home after being stranded here for three months. It is killing me knowing that I won’t be able to hug my mom for fourteen days straight.

On the worse and most anxious days, or while doing a hundred endless chores for the house, I have longed to lie down in her lap and have her caress my head. As I think about it, I’m reminded how touch is an extremely powerful reminder of comfort, love and care.

To settle, grief calls for companionship. We’ve all suffered immensely, in different ways, where we’ve tried to make up for companionship in real-time but resorting to Zoom calls and e-chilling sessions.

We Are Going To Have Reel From ‘Covid Issues’

But, a human has social needs. We’ve been a social animal for a long time and society has enabled those needs by setting up systems to cope up. Be it celebrating or grieving together, we’ve always found joy and comfort in the company of our own. ‘To chill’ literally means to go out and meet people.

In rural areas, men and women often sit at the village square, playing cards, or reading newspapers together or resting in the shade, having conversations. It doesn’t have to be bigger celebrations and sorrows, but spending time with one another makes us feel a sense of solidarity and community. The need to feel a social consciousness, a feeling of belonging to your community, accommodates all classes and strata of people. So, what will happen if there are barriers to our need to socialise? Will it strangle and suffocate the human spirit?

Crowded train station India - Flickr
Representational image.

On another front than emotional, the practicalities of social distancing look grim. Work-life will see a massive inequality of opportunities due to lack of accessibility to resources. While the unprivileged will not be able to live in isolated spaces due to the nature of their work, even the privilege won’t be unaffected.

Our tolerance will be tested, and our social media will continue to influence us more than normal and concepts like cancel culture will creep in our discourse. Additionally, the systemic biases through the agencies of caste and gender will deepen, causing the cracks to widen more.

Mental Health: The New Pandemic?

4 pm and 9 pm primetime announcements notifications; the sheer apathy towards migrants and minorities; changing guidelines every two days; massive infrastructure lag in public healthcare; career anxiety; being away from home; financial constraints; longing for the comfort of friends and partners; not having the time and mental health to be productive and then being anxious about not being productive; being forced to rethink your new immediate future; working and worrying alone and repeat. A lot of our coping mechanisms and temporary excursions from our troubled lives are materialistic. Even that will have to be regulated now onwards.

If there has been a time when, collectively, mental health has been in a jeopardy, it is this- the present time. How do you come out of it? Can you come out of it?

If there has been a time when, collectively, mental health has been in a jeopardy, it is this- the present time. Representational image.

Take for instance: If I am feeling bad; I increase my nicotine consumption. It’s problematic not just because of the health factor, but because of the finance involved as everyone suddenly wants to sell cigarettes at three times its original price.

Then, I fret about spending so much money and smoking more. Mental health is a vicious, cruel cycle of dealing with bad things by indulging in worse things, sometimes.

Take another instance: We’ve always lamented over not having enough time to indulge in our hobbies or just pausing to take a break. This time off was given to us but coupled with anxiety and uncertainty, thereby rendering us unable to make use of it or be productive and efficient. The much sought after work-from-home is causing major work-life disbalances.

The triggers are endless, the situation is delicate and we are vulnerable. Having had multiple breakdowns over a sheer diversity of things has made me reach a mental and emotional space wherein I’m really left with no option but to embrace uncertainty and make my peace with it.

So, What Next? More Importantly, How To Navigate The ‘Next’?

Will love and companionship become an archaic social concept? What does the future look like for the world’s most social animal? It might be time to accept that the ‘new normal’ might not have a place for the actions and emotions that come so naturally to us.

Celebration and weddings, and mourning someone’s loss might just have to happen in the intimacy of our homes.

In an article, Christopher Suzanne, an American teaching English in China, shares: “In the very beginning of the lockdown you start thinking, Oh, this is just a quick thing; it’s just like a hurricane; it’ll be done in a couple of days,” Suzanne continued. “And then a couple of weeks into it, you start reading into conspiracy theories and rabbit holes, and then you get past that point, and you’re talking with your group-chat buddies and they’re sharing their cooking videos, and how they’re using beer and ketchup to cook food, just to make jokes. And then it gets to this point like, okay, this is getting old … when is it going to go back” to normal?

The future looks foggy, but I am choosing to embrace hope. Yes, we will long to meet our loved ones, but the random acts of strangers will fill the void and give us enough courage and hope to take the next step. We will learn the art of maintaining relationships all over again because the effort will be worth the people who matter to us.

We’ve all suffered immensely, in different ways, where we’ve tried to make up for companionship in real-time but resorting to Zoom calls and e-chilling sessions. Representational image.

We will learn to love deeply; our love will be infused with courage for being able to love someone through a phone screen. We will learn to accept the limits of technology and embrace them by rewiring our relationships and making newer rules. We will learn to love differently but love will remain. The physical separation will make us closer. We will appreciate the gift of nature more. All one can do is hope.

That we will continue on, that “we will”, has always been the norm not only of humanity but of all life, as French philosopher Henri Bergson pondered in the early 20th century.”

Featured image for representation only.
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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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