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“2020 Was The Gap Year I Didn’t Ask For, But The Break I Definitely Needed”

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

2020 has been a ride. There is no denying that. In the era of Gen-Z, 2020 has its place deserved in the seventh circle of hell, or so the memes have me convinced. At the risk of the spiral of silence, here’s my story to present why 2020 was actually a good scratch that great year for me. Yes, you read that right.

For all the curses that have fallen in your lap, some of which you rightly deserve, 2020, here’s a lonesome happy narrative for the year that was.

2020 Gave Me The Break I Desperately Needed

College in 2019 was tough for me. Right from ‘did I even make a correct career decision’ to ‘damn I miss home a bit too much’, coming halfway across the country to enter a completely new culture, field of study, language: a completely new life so to say was tough. I don’t think Bollywood has done enough to highlight how tough college can be. In fact, Student of the Year should give you an idea of what all college exactly isn’t. The year-long college break was good for me for a variety of reasons.

The continuous internal assessments and the hectic schedule of college rarely gave me enough time to pursue the particular activities I really liked. The novels I had started, the films I had always wanted to make, the reason I entered media school, all that was somewhere lost in the blur that first year was. It took me a pandemic and subsequent lockdown to return to Agent024, my first venture into the world of storytelling. I set a target of writing at least a thousand words per day and actually managed the first part of my novel series, something I couldn’t have achieved after being drained out after college each day.

It took me a pandemic and subsequent lockdown to return to Agent024, my first venture into the world of storytelling. Image provided by the author.

I grew up listening to references of FRIENDS, Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn 99 and saw my friends go crazy while describing their favourite character and how they could relate so much to it. And I simply couldn’t understand why someone could get so attached to a fictional character. Quite ironic, now that I think of it. With practically nothing to do, I started Brooklyn 99, more out of peer pressure “to be perfectly candid,” and now I will defend that show and Detective Rosa Diaz with my last breath.

The months-long holidays gave me the opportunity to intern at various places and help me figure out what I wanted to do and, even more importantly, what I didn’t want to do. Working at various media organizations, right from content writing to marketing to campaign organizing roles, I experimented with various aspects of my course and figured out what resonated with me and what didn’t.

The most important part was learning to say no. There is an accepted norm in some organizations to treat interns with a complete absence of respect. Right from not respecting their work-life balance to allotment of work that would defy any and all labour laws, I was shocked to see the kind of work hours demanded from interns at some big organizations.

Hostile Behaviour With Interns Is Problematic And Should Be Called Out

As interns, we often try to see it through whatever hell we’re given. I wanted the names of those companies on my resume, but a month into the internship, I realized it was simply not worth it. Demanding more work from an unpaid intern than what was agreed upon was problematic especially since it wasn’t a rare occurrence but an accepted norm.

In retrospect, I’m glad I said no to continuing to work at an organization that I would have dreamt of working at a year ago. To be honest, I was surprised I had the courage to do that. I run away from confrontations like a plague. Be it with friends, family, or a professional space, I’d rather be right and still told off than, god forbid, enter into an argument. So when an intern handed in her resignation, clearly stating a lack of professionalism at the organization as her reason for leaving, it surprised, perhaps angered, a lot of people.

Interns have by far been treated without the level of respect they deserve when they add value to the venture without any monetary incentives. Representational Image.

And though I regret the way things went down, I don’t for a second regret the step that I took. Interns have by far been treated without the level of respect they deserve when they add value to the venture without any monetary incentives. Yes, we’re here to learn, but that’s what we pay the college for. At the workplace, we implement that learning with little guidance. This hostile culture towards interns is something more people should be calling out. Overworking interns and expecting them to do more work than your full-time employees is not just illogical, it’s outright cruel.

2020 was honestly a game of playing criss-cross for me.

I joined and left places that weren’t good for me, I stayed back at ones that were meaningful to me. I needed this time to experiment and introspect, the freedom to spend a month doing work only to realize by the end of it, that it was exactly the kind of space I didn’t want to imagine myself 10 years down the line. And being at college full time would neither have given me the time nor the security to take these risks.

Life in 2020 got tough. But if I had to bear a pandemic, I’d rather do it with my family. The sense of safety, security, and love was necessary for me to make it through the emotional turmoil that 2020 was. The uncertainty and the anxiety were made bearable thanks to the comforting shoulder of my family throughout, which made it all the easier. Honestly, 2020 wasn’t the bouncer for me because I had the best people to ride the storm through.

I Got Back To The Things I Loved During The Pandemic

After 13 years of school and directly jumping into college life, I felt 2020 was the perfect time to take a step back and just be, something I hadn’t done for a long time. The joy of just spending an entire day reading a novel had become a distant memory for me. And I was glad to return to my reading spree this lockdown. I took up cycling during the lockdown and saw parts of my city I had only ever heard of before.

For a long time, my mornings began with yoga on the river bank till the seasonal rivers dried up, and now it’s just yoga on the bank of a dried-up river, but the sunrise from behind the mountains compensates for the lost beauty.

I’ve been learning guitar for 4 months now.

I’ve been learning guitar for 4 months now, and if anything, my respect for all guitarists has immensely agreed because trust me, the guitar is a really tough instrument to master. This breather allowed me to peacefully think about where I actually saw myself in the future. I found interest in courses I didn’t know existed before the pandemic. I even learnt about psychology, law, programming on Coursera, and rekindled my love for coding.

2020 was the gap year I didn’t ask for, but the break I definitely needed. I won’t have discovered a lot of interests, and the rat races I’ve consciously and willingly entered myself into won’t have allowed me to either.

2020 was, however, not all flowers and meadows for me. There were weeks when I could find no reasons to get out of bed, days that I had to drag myself through to complete the assigned work for the day, hours I didn’t feel like talking at all. I burnt myself out after taking up inhumane amounts of work, and it was only after a burnout that I realized I needed to introspect and back out of a lot of work to be able to do some work effectively.

Da Vinci Code Shook My Protective Walls Around Faith

Da Vinci Code challenged my unflinching faith in religion. The existence of a divine entity was the one truth that had remained constant in my life since the first day I came into being. But Dan Brown, without once mentioning my religion in his book, completely shattered the safe protective walls I had created around my faith in religion, walls so strong that no powerful argument from friends or philosophers could ever penetrate them. Coming out of this bubble was hard, especially to undergo this transition in the uncertain time of corona.

And that’s what I, as an atheist, dealt with. Realizing that there is no bigger force looking after you and you are on your own leaves you vulnerable, especially when decades of your existence have been sheltered in the belief that every wrong decision is supposed to make sense one day because it is a part of God’s massive plan.

But realizing that’s not true is like throwing yourself out into the storm and realizing that your protective cottage was nothing but a mirage bound to be overthrown by a storm. I realize now why faith is so important to people, why believing in the concept of God is so essential for many, believe me, I know. My faith in God has taken me through some tough times, and if that faith makes people want to become a better version of themselves and never give up, I respect the power of that faith.

I had more breakdowns in a month into the lockdown than I had in a year, the Corona numbers played with my mental health, and being in the same city and yet not being able to meet my friends might sound like a privileged thing to say now, but it bothered me to stay practically locked with the same people in a limited space. For a long time, evenings had meant taking a stroll into the late evening with friends, and the complete lack of a social life bothers even the introverts after a while.

And though I took active measures to cut off people and things that affected my mental health, I realized I’m still at a damage control approach towards mental health and not a solution-based approach. Learning the art of saying no is something I need a lot more practice in. I also realize that 2020 was tough for a lot of people. People lost employment, loved ones, a sense of security and safety, and 2020 was a tough time for many.

You Got This, Trust Me

But hey, at the end of the tunnel, there’s always a light. I agree 2020 has been a long year, but you made it, and I want you to be proud of that. It’s no small deal to come out of the worst pandemic the world has seen in a while.

To all the college graduates who were thrown into the workforce when the employability was the lowest in decades, to all the school pass-outs who faced a much tougher version of the college admission process, to those of you who had plans you were really looking forward to, you all will make it through a struggle you didn’t ask for, a struggle you didn’t deserve. But it is this struggle that made you stronger than you realize. It is this struggle that will make you look at the problems in the future and tell yourself, I made it through 2020, I can handle this.

2020 made you a stronger version than you could even dream of. My failures taught me more than my victories ever did. And trust me, 2020 will be the rock-bottom you’ll build your masterpiece on. Don’t let those dreams, those plans fade away. 2021 and the rest of the duration of the earth’s existence are going to be our time, and if we’ve learnt anything from 2020, it is not to take the little things of life for granted.

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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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