This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ritwik Khurana. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Education And Disruption: A COVID-19 Case Study

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Covid-19 was a looming crisis that started taking shape in December 2019 and has disturbed almost every household on earth by June 2020. We have always fantasized about what would happen if the world ends, and now there is a consensus that we do not want more. Covid-19, or better known as coronavirus, is an infectious disease transmitted primarily by close contact between people, most often by small droplets produced by coughing, sneezing, and talking.

To understand more about this disease, here is Covid-19 explained by WHO: “The droplets usually fall to the ground or onto surfaces rather than travelling through air over long distances. Less commonly, people may become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their face. It is most contagious during the first three days after the onset of symptoms, although the spread is possible before symptoms appear, and from people who do not show symptoms.”

Online education/Representational image.

Understanding the pandemic is very important for our wellbeing, but there is an area of contention. A topic which, if our country India does not focus on, could lead to the destruction of the livelihood of many families and the future of the development. We are talking about the current educational crisis in India. The pandemic has put the country’s activities to a halt, understandably measures taken to contain the pandemic, but it has raised more questions than giving answers.

The National Commission for Protection of Children Rights (NCPCR), the primary monitoring agency of the RTE Act 2009, has seen a considerable swell in the number of complaints it has redressed before the lockdown. The NCPCR addressed around 5,000 complaints; post-outbreak (beginning March 2020), this has increased about 8-fold.

School teachers have also been impacted immensely. India’s school education system includes 10,93,166 contractual teachers at the elementary level. Delhi alone has approximately 29,000 such contractual teachers. In many states like Bihar and Delhi, these teachers were not receiving their salary for several months even before the pandemic broke out. Unfortunately, the most affected population of the education crisis are the students, the structure of schooling and learning, including teaching and assessment methodologies, was the first to be affected by the lockdown.

Only a handful of private schools could adopt online teaching methods. Their low-income private and government school counterparts, on the other hand, have completely shut down for not having access to e-learning solutions. In addition to the missed opportunities for learning, the students no longer have access to healthy meals during this time and are subject to economic and social stress.

To us, privileged folks, it may seem like nothing or just free reign, but we have to understand the long-term consequences of such events. It is a straightforward rejection from society for children from lower economic backgrounds to provide them with a quality education. It should also be considered that it is extremely difficult for impoverished students and their families to realize the pandemic’s true extent, and it is incredibly essential to educate them about the situation they are facing. We don’t even know the extent of challenges faced by them daily regarding school, admissions, understanding culture, and the current scenario. 

The following is a transcript (translated from Hindi) from a conversation with a youth leader of a community in Lucknow, who has just completed her class 12th and will help us understand the situation on the ground:

Author: Hello, I am Ritwik Khurana. I came to know about you from the YES foundation, I’m working in association with them, how are you doing these days and can you please state your name and age.

ShantiHello, my name is Shanti Sugamau. I am 22 years old. I am fine right now, doing better than before, getting used to the pandemic. I have worked as a youth leader with the YES foundation previously.

Author: I’m happy that you are well. I have come to know that you have just passed your board exams for class 12th, how has your experience been. What were your favourite subjects, have you started applying for your undergraduate studies?

Shanti: Yes, I passed my board exams of class 12th in march of this year. It was an average experience, but I feel I have a very low percentage, and no college will accept me at this point. I have a back paper in economics and have to give a re-exam. My favourite subjects are history and Hindi, but I fail to understand the subjects math and economics, as there is nobody to teach them properly.

I have been sick continuously from October 2019 to March 2020, from 2019, I had dengue for 2-3 months and intermittently suffered from jaundice and liver infections. My sickness had severely hampered my ability to study and function. The doctor diagnosed me, and 1.5 lakh rupees were spent from home for my treatment, and those 4-8 bottles of glucose. I had weakness in my body and kept vomiting; I had a lot of liquids to improve my health. The doctor said that eating medicines can be risky and can lead to death. Right now, all the colleges are closed, so I have not applied.

Author: Shanti I truly understand your position, it has been a difficult journey for you, I wanted to know if you were tested for Covid-19, during and after the length of your sickness. If you don’t mind, can you please tell me what the occupation of your family is and how many members are there?

Shanti: Yes, I have been tested before for Covid-19 and also have been tested recently by a doctor, thankfully I’m healthy now. My father works as an electric worker, people call him home, as he goes and fixes ACs and other home appliances for them. But in the few months, between work has been slow, but in June he has started working as people can’t live without their home appliances. I have distributed rations at schools for the pandemic, in association with the YES Foundation.

Currently, I’m holding up a job, and I can earn up to Rs. 2,000, money is few and far between, as one has to feed their family who is sitting at home. My family consists of 6 people, my mother and father, my three brothers (from ages 18,12,10), and me, respectively.

Author: Thank you so much, Shanti, for sharing your perspective. I am extremely grateful that you took the time to explain your experience to me, so I can share the current ground reality with others. I wish you all the best and hope you achieve all your goals in the future.

Shanti: Thank you for listening to me.

( Note: The following interview was done with the consent of the youth worker. Also, keeping in mind the pandemic, the interview was conducted over a phone call.)

There is not one, but many Shantis in India who work extremely hard to sustain and earn a living. From the above case study, we can conclude that our country’s perceived economic divide is blurred. The best example is the estimates of the commission for people Below Poverty Line that lives with the assumption that people with the daily consumption of more than Rs 28.65 in cities and Rs 22.42 in rural areas are not poor.

These numbers are absurd for a sensible person and do not match the cost of living in the 21st century. In conclusion, the message this article should convey to readers is about our role in society. The positive difference in the environment is caused by the people who reside in it. If our youth raises their voice for change, we can collectively raise awareness on the living conditions of a major population below the poverty line, loss of jobs, and poor living conditions of many.

This can be done without violence, unnecessary commotions, through our biggest weapon, social media. Never underestimate its power, we don’t need a martyr similar to George Floyd Jr. So let’s become proactive and not be oblivious to this harsh reality.

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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.

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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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