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COVID-19 Is Not Modi’s Biggest Test, It Is NEET/JEE Exams

The surgical strike, implementation of GST, Pulwama attack and Covid-19 were not Modi Government’s real tests. The real test of their governance is in September, when more than 22 Lakh students will sit for NEET/JEE exams during this pandemic.

Let this editorial not misguide you by saying that the government’s decision to hold National Eligibility cum Entrance Exams (NEET) and Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) even during this pandemic is a welcoming step. This clearly manifests the seriousness with which the Indian government take these exams. It also shows the government’s concern towards the students’ academic year. But the concern and and outrageously audacious decision to hold exams are not enough. A blueprint must be given, with a promise of minimum damage and maximum safety.

The decision on NEET/JEE is PM Modi’s mantra of ‘Jaan Bhi, Jahan Bhi’. It is, we presume, to teach students the vicissitudes of life and that, despite all challenges, the life must go on. The rationale behind the decision is a dilemma that every stakeholder in these exams is faced with: what will be the state of student’s career if the exam is postponed or cancelled due to Coronavirus? Another reason, cited by the government, is to not allow the academic year to go waste.

Even 150 academicians who wrote a letter to PM Modi favouring exams, cited the same reason and further went on to say that “any further delay in conducting exams will result in a waste of a precious year of students. The dreams and future of our youth cannot be compromised at any cost.” The signatories of the letter include academicians from Delhi University, IGNOU, Lucknow University, JNU, BHU, IIT Delhi etc.

Thus, the bar is tilted towards the execution of examination. Education Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ recently reiterated that even students want to give the exam, thus the decision is fixed. However, this decision is analogous to a lion’s cave, and no matter how much one tries to justify that the lion is fast asleep, entry into the cave would still be calamitous.

It is severely putting millions of lives in peril, careers at stake, families on the brink of collapse, and the decision has, inevitably, favoured one class over another; a class that has resources to shield their ward from all dangers, or to even afford a year off.

Has The Government Done Enough To Ensure Safety Of The Students?

In this case, the government must come out with a concrete blueprint on how they are aspiring to hold an exam so large in size. Since we cannot afford a crisis like migrant worker’s exodus on foot, a blueprint with clear, concrete and creative ways to safeguard the lives of millions of students should be the first priority of the Education and Home Minister.

Though National Testing Agency (NTA) has come out with standard protocols, making masks, gloves and sanitizers mandatory, thermal testing at the entrance and has also increased the number of exam centres for both JEE and NEET, the protocols are far from being satisfactory. Such protocols can easily be averted in large gatherings, putting every life in jeopardy.

Another way government can hold exams is in phases. Just as our general elections are held in phases, conducted state-wise and are held for over a month; JEE/NEET can also be held in phases, or state wise. This will give the central and state government a better chance in keeping the protocols at the check and in providing better safety measures to students.

This will also give the government a chance to keep a watch of what worked and did not work in the first few states, thereby rectifying the errors and correcting the mistakes in other subsequent states.

A nationwide exam of more than 22 lakh students is a recipe for chaos, failure and a gamble of human life.

Not only that, the government, which does not want to compromise the students’ careers must also give every student equal opportunity. They must provide bus and transportation services to students coming from remotest areas of our country, and a special passage for students living in flood-hit areas such as Bihar, Gujarat and Assam or rain-hit districts of Kerala.

A lot many areas have been hit by floods even with the ongoing pandemic.

The Modi government has unleashed upon itself a Himalayan task. In a pandemic-hit country, where flood and torrential rain have obstructed the daily life in several states, where railways and bus services are not in operation and where economic activity is in doldrums; a nationwide exam of millions of students is an audaciously dangerous task which the government cannot afford to fail at.

Citizens have silently suffered the dictatorial demonetization and inept implementation of GST, but this time it will be hard for them to forget another blunder.

Thus, the surgical strike, implementation of GST, Pulwama attack and Covid19 are not the real tests of PM Modi. The real test of Modi’s governance will be in September when students from all across the country will put their lives in danger to safeguard their future.

It is then when PM Modi’s most advertised expertise in governance will be scrutinized. It can be a turning point for BJP. A game-changer for Congress.

In the words of Subramanian Swamy, “Indian voters may suffer silently but have a long memory.”

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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.

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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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