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“Both My Parents Were Admitted In The ICU With Covid. I Still Had To Conduct Classes”

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

Trigger Warning: Mention of Covid trauma, death.

“I myself am recovering from Covid at the moment. My lungs are still weak and I’m struggling to take classes. I don’t know how I would have managed without my neighbours and the community. Close colleagues, young ad hoc professors, succumbing to this deadly virus- there is definitely a sense of hopelessness and helplessness we experience every day,” says Abha Dev Habib, DUTA Treasurer and professor at Miranda House, Delhi University.

Representational image.

Over the past few weeks, India has been gasping for oxygen owing to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Bolstered by new mutant variants, ill-equipped medical infrastructure, political rallies and blame games, this wave has proved to be more fatal than the first, is expected to long laster as well.

With India reporting more than 3,00,000 cases every day, the inadequacies of our social infrastructure and our politician’s priorities have been made amply clear. Amongst the severely neglected communities is the teaching community across public educational institutions in India. Along with side inadequate pay and administrative negligence- teachers are struggling to conduct classes amongst a mental, physical and financial crisis.

Source: Twitter

“We have a family to feed at home, family in the hospital and family struggling in the classroom- our students. This whole year has been emotionally exhausting- having to protest, scream, beg the Delhi Government for our salaries that have been caught in political cross-fire and appropriation- salaries that many of us did not receive for over a period of 6 months.

Turning up for classes- amidst a pandemic, never knowing whether your labour would bear fruit or not.  Shame on the government and authorities for such criminal mishandling of educators,” said a professor from a college in Delhi, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Of Classes, Commercialisation And Crippling Mental Health

To make matters worse, teachers of several public institutions have been left stranded without any form of social security. The increasing trend in the employment of guest lectures and ad-hoc professors makes it clear that university administration and governments do not want to be liable for any form of social security towards non-permanent teaching staff. This creates a situation of huge financial insecurity, felt more heavily amidst the pandemic.

Our education system believes we exist in a bubble. Source: Twitter

In academia, grieving the critical state of the country’s affairs and loss of loved ones is not limited to students. Teachers also have been suffering from extreme anxiety and crippling mental health, as their repeated pleas for leaves, concessions and allowances are neglected by university authorities.

Both my parents were admitted to the ICU for Covid, I still had to conduct classes. My 15 and 17-year-old children were pulling shifts and watching over their grandparents because I could not manage to get a leave,” said Jayanti Selvaraj*, a professor at Madras University.”

Several professors have also expressed their disdain towards conducting examinations amidst a growing death toll, including the DUTA, who have called upon the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University to postpone the semester examinations scheduled to be conducted in May.

“I don’t think there should be examinations at this time. At a country level, we need to reprioritise things. Exams in general induce a huge amount of stress in students, during a pandemic you need to be extremely cautious about how you approach that,” said Mehul Jha*, a professor at a media institute in Delhi.

Often, students feel pressurised and complain about the insensitivity and general apathy displayed by some professors in terms of assignment deadlines, research work and projects. Responding to that, Jha* said, “There are structural problems with regards to caste, gender, other factors that contribute to the general apathy that exists amongst Indian academia. I don’t think the insensitivity is limited to the covid period, it goes even beyond that.”

However, many professors are in consensus that mental and physical health must be at the forefront, especially in the current semester,

“We have been extremely liberal and lenient in our marking. Even when students have sent copied assignments, or work after multiple deadlines- we are taking them into consideration. The idea here is to not be obsessed with deadlines and be as kind as possible from our end,” they added further.

Both professors and students are victims of the same vicious capitalistic education system that does not value our labour or life. Representational image.

Teachers And Students Victims Of The Same Education System- One That Does Not Care

It is true that by virtue of hierarchies in educational institutions, the power dynamics between stakeholders are different. Many professors shared how often due to administrative reasons, it may seem as though the situation is different for professors. The truth is- it is not.

It is essential that we realise that we are people first before we are professors and students, and victims to the same vicious capitalistic education system that does not value our labour or life.

With most of the relief work happening on social media right now, students and professors are also dividing time between volunteer work and their examination deadlines, adding to their mental health woes.

Speaking of how professors feel when they see their students play an active role in civil society, professor Jha* said,” In the larger scheme of things, the course is not that important. Learning matters and any teacher would be proud if their students cared for the society. When students start initiatives for relief work and send me a link, I feel really proud that their priorities are what you would want them to be, and not the general ones that the world ‘expects’ them to have.”

When asked about a message that they would like to give to students, Professor Abha Dev Habib said, “It is almost impossible to live a strictly routine life in the current scenario. Educational institutions are living breathing spaces, and they must respond in such a manner, remember to be humanitarian, empathetic and kind. We prevent this from happening again and be better equipped for the future, we need to prioritise public health and public education.”

To make classrooms inclusive in the given context, it is imperative that teachers and students work together. While we hold on to help and hope, we must remember to extend empathy in online spaces as well. Classrooms are for learning and constantly improvising, so if this year all we learn is to have courage and be kind- so be it.

*Names have been changed to ensure anonymity.

The featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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, 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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