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#ReleaseUGCJRF: The Govt Has Money For Poll Promises, But Not For Its Scholars

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Many times I’ve booked a flight to New Delhi, not for sightseeing, not to meet my friends and family, but to visit the almighty University Grants Commission (UGC). This is my routine, at least once a year, since I started my PhD, funded by the government of India fellowship.

I still remember the day when I got my CSIR-UGC JRF examination result. It was one of the happiest days of my life, not because I can add this achievement to my resume, but that I would be paid to pursue my PhD. It was important to me. I was already in my late twenties, struggling with my first PhD then. At that point, I was thinking about quitting because for the past two years I was doing nothing but paperwork. Paperwork for changing my co-guide, paperwork for changing my place of research and what not! So, when I cracked JRF, it was like I got a second chance. I finally decided to leave my first PhD and start afresh. This time with my own fellowship.

But it has never been an easy task with fellowships. Activating my fellowship made me go places, from one Canara bank branch to another, when finally I landed where the staff had more experience with handling the UGC fellowship paperwork. I thought this is it.

However, it took a while to finally begin receiving my fellowship from the UGC. That was fine by me because I heard it takes time. As long as I receive my fellowship regularly that’s fine, I thought. Oh God, how wrong I was! Every quarter or so I would receive my fellowship, but I could never be sure. So, getting an EMI (Equated monthly instalment) was out of reach because I wouldn’t know which month would be dry as a desert. I had to buy a scooter because getting an Uber every time was so expensive, and so, I got into the EMI trap. It was still manageable as I learnt the art of saving in fixed deposits, and prematurely liquidating it!

Anyways, it was going on fine for a while, and then the UGC decided to revamp its fellowship disbursal system and went totally online, with multiple IDs to log in and approve the payment. The officials in our fellowship department were confused, we were too, as only a few of us had fellowships at that time. And that’s how the many journeys to New Delhi began. Sometimes my fellowship would get delayed beyond the limit where my liquidated fixed deposits could not sustain me anymore. Sometimes some other details wouldn’t get changed from our side. The system was meant to be perfect, but the execution was very confusing.

I am not saying it was always grey. I saw some brighter days as well when I started receiving my fellowships almost every month. Those were the days when I could actually plan my financials like a professional. However, a few months after the lockdown due to the pandemic, my fellowship stopped coming.

I joined Facebook and Twitter groups and found that I was not alone. Thousands of scholars like me were trying to make ends meet. The funny thing is my family, as such, is not financially broke, but I am. What I mean is that my family is well to do, and they get their salaries on time, but I am on the verge of using up the last of my savings. Not that I will die of hunger or lack of shelter, because thanks to my near and dears, I can be totally dependent on them.

But, as a twenty-first-century woman, trying to be independent and all, this sort of setback is hard to accept. I am ashamed of asking for money. But here I am, on Twitter and Facebook, begging the UGC and the government to release our fellowship (#releaseUGCJRF).

Now, there is no official notification regarding the lack of funds on the UGC website, but recently, a letter by Shashi Tharoor surfaced online which clearly indicates that the government has deferred our fellowship due to lack of funds during the pandemic.

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Ironically, the government seems to have enough funds to disburse “Rs 10000 special festival advance” to its employees and has promised free coronavirus vaccines to everyone in Bihar before the elections.

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Meanwhile, scholars have been calling UGC, writing to them about their grievances but who is there to listen? 

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As if this pandemic was not enough, the lack of empathy by the government has pushed things to a point where scholars find it impossible to continue with their research. A lifetime of education and hardwork, all gone in vain!

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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.

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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 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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