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The Pandemic Reminds Us Of The Importance Of Friendships More Than Ever

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“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”― Helen Keller

During this pandemic, we have become physically distant from people, friends online or over the phone has made living slightly easier. The physical distance is not necessarily a hindrance to closeness or emotional bonds which friendships offered. Friendships transcended physical boundaries – in fact, the usual capitalist ventures of meeting over a cup of coffee or mall hopping ceased to exist – we were back to the solace of words over online or telephonic medium.

Human Contact And Presence Go A Long Way In Uplifting Our Mood

It’s important to realize the importance of friends who understand us due to shared life experiences, time spent together or friends with whom intimacy developed as we trod through life. They do not need a few sessions to understand the path that our life has taken. They do not need to do wonders to uplift our mood, their mere presence is enough. A specific funny incident of the past may light us up immediately or even a sombre chat is calming. 

In these times of political distress, everyone has major anxiety pangs and who better than friends to realize those woes. A few things are as reassuring as an empathetic friend who knows exactly what one is going through. Let me clarify this is not to underestimate the need for therapy but to have a supportive base of reliable friends who understand. Human contact and presence go a long way in uplifting our mood. If each of us had a set of friends who were hell-bent on not letting the other slip into a bout of a bad mood, it would be easier for many of us coping with the ordeals of life. 

The power of close friendships. Representative image.

Mutual Understandings In Friendships Is Required For Self Realization And Growth

Don’t tell me that as a friend, it doesn’t perturb you that a close friend goes through unbelievable downs all the time. It’s time that friendship start meaning other things than hanging out over a cup of coffee or likes over social media posts– to understanding the meaning of life along with friends who may be on different boats but share the same journey down the river of life. This process of mutual understanding is required for self-realization and growth. The word friend needs to be taken as a responsibility rather than as a tag of acquaintance. 

Various philosophers have pondered about friendships. According to Aristotle, for a person to be friends with another ‘it is necessary that [they] bear goodwill to each other and wish good things for each other, without this escaping their notice’. One cannot but believe the Aristotelian perspective: what but goodwill cures?

“It Is Not A Lack Of Love, But A Lack Of Friendship That Makes Unhappy Marriages.”

 Nietzche says, “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” Anyone who has seen the breakdown of marriages would know that it is a lack of friendship that makes it unbearable. One is reminded of Richard Bach who says, “Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.”

The power of right words coming with the right intent can do wonders in curing – especially if you have faith in friendship which took time to develop – there are faith and goodwill which lies behind those words. 

The care that comes with friends should not be limited to words: small acts of kindness go a long way in making an unhappy person feel better and wanted. In the end, everyone wants to feel validated. In fact, if we see the concept of social networking sites: it thrives on the notion of social validation from friends, all of us want to be liked, loved and most importantly noticed.

If a bunch of friends took the task on themselves to make sure that a friend’s well-being is partially their responsibility as well, there are two things which could happen, the diminishing importance of social media and less of its addiction and reviving the importance of real-life friendships. 

Every Time I Have Delved Into Anxiety, I Have Had Friends Devoting Hours To Hear Me Vent

They have made me overcome self-blaming. There are aspects of life where family fails to understand: it is that those junctures that friends gain importance – of being the nonjudgmental punching bag that one resorts to in times of despair.

Zoom After Dark- How College Students Are Using Zoom to Keep Up with Their Friends At Home | by Amanda Roberts | Medium
Representative image only.

Even Rumi points out the importance of looking beyond the vision of rights and wrongs when he says, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” At times one is really not looking for a cure – but simply to be heard and understood. 

However, non-judgmentalism is a rare trait and often we all have the tendency to be judgmental based on our practical experiences and theoretical underpinnings. I am reminded of one of the chief clauses of symbolic interactionism where theorists like Mead and Cooley have suggested that in order to understand someone, we need to place ourselves in their shoes. The inability to be understanding at all times is a human trait but as friends, we try, nonetheless. 

It’s interesting how many shayars (poets) have emphasized the disasters that friendships turn out to be:

Suhail Azeemabadi writes “patthar to hazāroñ ne maare the mujhe lekin, jo dil pe lagā aa kar ik dost ne maarā hai”. Habib Jalib attacks the very notion of friendship when he says, “Dushmanoñ ne jo dushmanī kī hai, dostoñ ne bhī kyā kamī kī hai.”

Ghalib is however more hopeful of friends, he says “ye kahāñ kī dostī hai ki bane haiñ dost nāseh koī chārasāz hotā koī ġham-gusār hotā”. Probably if one understands Ghalib here one would think in such times, one needs a friend who is more empathetic rather than mere preachers as friends. People willing to place themselves in your shoes and know exactly what it is to feel the kind of pain that you are feeling. 

When Friends Are Not Available We Need To Also Focus On Self-Healing!

The only woe is they might not be perpetually available. However, it is at that point in time that we also need to understand the need for self-healing which can happen through music, learning a new instrument or language, random conversation with strangers or mere self-introspection. I also believe in the importance of staying in silence. And in times that self-help fails, we hang on to a close circle of friends who do wonders for us. After all, man is a social animal, as our class 5 essays used to read.  

Author Sujata Jha is a PhD scholar in the Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia. She has taught in Miranda House, Kamla Nehru College and Jamia Millia Islamia and various schools. 

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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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