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Schools Teach Us How To Conform To Mediocrity, Not How To Form Our Own Opinions

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In June of last year, I tutored a Class 5 kid in English and Social Science for about eight weeks (If the first thought in your mind is why does a Class 5 kid need tutoring, then I am relieved that there is some sanity left in the world). Anyway, she was a  smart kid and eager to learn. I wasn’t complaining, I was getting paid after all.

I did what came to me most organically. I taught her how I wished I was taught when I was her age. I gave her books to read from my bookshelf — Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and an occasional Tinkle. We would discuss these books incessantly and gush over their characters. I would narrate to her simplified versions of world wars and the feudal system and give her little facts on world politics. We even played hot-cold on world maps for lessons in geography.

Two months later, when my contract ended, it did not get renewed. I got to know later that I was fired because that kid’s mother wanted someone who would scold her daughter for talking too much in class instead of answering her silly questions.

The idea of education in our country is seriously ill. It’s supposed to be a machine churning out identical boxes of information instead of students with knowledge and opinions.

The Board results for Class 10 and 12 came out a few weeks ago and I have been feeling nostalgic ever since. I, too, was a clown in that circus once. Yesterday, I dug up the daily to-do lists from my school days that I had written in a tiny spiral-bound notebook. It was carefully tucked inside the drawer of my study table — “Memorise Chapter 8 till Zamindari system” dated 25th January, “Revise Vector NCERT examples” ticked off two days before the exam and “Solve 2017 question paper for English” left unticked.

Representational image.

What an accomplishment it was, having an entire paragraph memorised by heart. I knew which countries the world wars were fought between and how many lives were lost. I knew the name of the cavalries and what instigated the revolts. But what did I think about it? Did I get to pick sides? Well, it didn’t really matter because no one asked for my opinion.

I barely passed in Math in my first term and pre-board exams. I did pretty well in Boards because by then, I had fallen in line and done exactly what I was supposed to.

I used to come home after an exam or a class test and easily solve the paper with a little extra time. All I needed was some time to think over the sum, try out the formulas by trial and error and see which one fit. To apply my brain and reach the answer. But the number of questions and the time allotted in the exam are measured to perfection.

You need 20 minutes for section A, 30 for section B, an hour each for sections C and D and 10 minutes for revision. You better know the trick to each sum from beforehand, you are already losing if you spend more than the allotted time on a particular sum, “Start answering from section D”, “If you can’t solve a sum, then move to the next, don’t waste your time.” They don’t want to see your aptitude, they are testing to see how well you oil their machinery. 

We had an English teacher who dictated the answers to important questions from each chapter. We had over two long registers filled with dictations to study from before our Board exam. It was incredible to see Silas Marner’s character described the same way in every answer script. Not so surprising to hear that people scored 99 in English literature.

Why did my opinion have to be identical to that of the invigilators? 

Yes, I know a lot more about the world now. I know what comes from where and how things were discovered. But what do I do with this information?

After 12 years of hoarding information, one fine day, I am suddenly supposed to go and practically implement it? How? I was never taught to use my head.

My whys are seen as disrespectful and there is no place for my what ifs. My college applications are supposed to exhibit my unique point of view and in my interviews, I am supposed to be me. Who the fuck is that?

It’s been two years since I graduated from school. I will not lie and say that Board marks don’t matter, because they do. After all, they decide which college you go to. But it certainly doesn’t decide your future. Nor is it a reflection of you. If you didn’t hit that century in your Boards, then congratulations, you failed. You failed to conform to mediocrity.

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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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