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How The Pandemic Has Shattered The Idea Of Trust

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A stereotypical Bengali wedding like mine is nothing less than a game of trust. We got married in 2015. It was a clear starry night. The pheras were about to begin. The bride was precariously carried to the mandap by her brothers on top of a wooden cot or peeri.

She was made to sit with her legs folded inside the heaviest of red Banarasi saree, her face camouflaged with betel leaves as she kept swaying dangerously from one side to the other, challenging all forms of near-normal gravity. Burdened with her blind faith (she can hardly see from behind that green foliage) and her double-top weight, her brothers, had to take seven rounds of her husband before the shubho dhristi (a ceremony, which is my grandmother’s times meant seeing her husband for the first time ever) can take place.

In my case, as they carried me in circles, completely ignoring the excruciating pain in their knuckles, my cousins decided to push it a little further. After the rounds were over, they instructed me to jump, from the cot, directly into my husband’s arms, like taking a blind leap of faith.

He had to be ready, not let me fall off, hug me tight till I landed on my two feet. An ultimate test of trust, a shot in the dark, the stunt seemed impossible at first. But then, I heard the golden words being whispered in my ear, “Trust me“. At that very moment, without thinking twice, I held his hand, closed my eyes and voila! I jumped!

This story holds so much relevance today because it reminds me of a time when I knew trust differently. Its language being effortless, it was easy to understand. Conveyed through a tight warm hug, it was a muted dialogue of faith and security, translated perpetually through a simple physical touch. Impulsive yet fulfilling.

But now, for the past year, things have been quite different. Though the hugs have been quotidian, warmer, but I have felt colder, fearful and disquieted. Not of him can never be; we are connected more than before.

But of the appetite of this invisible pandemic, pacing outside my threshold, in full stride and glory, waiting for that one mistake, one slip-up, when it can easily devour me into its perpetually escalating hunger.

Similar to this, I see millions of people across the world today combating the same dilemma. Feeling touch-deprived, seldom guilty of having doubted our very own loved ones, anxious and confused about how the virus is shifting the very roots of human relationships. Hugging, kissing, shaking hands, fondling nothing seems to be normal anymore.

Especially when we are in the confines of our safe home with our family stepping out into the frontlines, unwittingly touching surfaces and objects shared between dozens, it’s a futile battle each day. With an enemy, we can’t see. A war that doesn’t leave scars on the outside but hurts deep inside, silently choking up our lungs and our minds. Leaving us paranoid, withdrawn and fearful of the person we had once trusted for life.

With this playing in my mind, every time my husband comes home from work, his sanitation routine feels like a fine tease to my trust, always making me wonder, “can I hug him today?“, “what if it came home this time?“, “when do I get to know?” In my mind, I am constantly quarantining each day for the next fifteen days. Hoping not to have let it in, hoping it’s missed me this one time, just one more time.

man looking out window

While we are loathing all forms of physical interaction, on one side, we are increasingly finding comfort in the virtual ones. The other day, I hosted my parents’ anniversary party on Zoom. Friends and family joined from different parts of the country. The first few minutes felt odd and tactical, as it was a first for many.

There were these long pauses in which people had forgotten to mute their microphones and could be heard shouting at their children. It was awkward in the beginning. However, as hours passed, everyone started feeling comfortable. It just became warmer and much easier.

We ended up playing Tambola, gossiping about what Mita aunty wore at last year’s party and also made some family travel plans for next year. Not only did everyone feel happy, but most importantly, they felt close and safe, both at the same time. If not for these apps, how else today would we have trusted each other enough so as to celebrate those special days?

Some things in life cannot be put off to another time, can they? This shows that, in spite of being paradoxical, the truth is that human relationships in times like today are at the mercy and behest of this invisible force- the internet.

I shudder thinking of epidemics before the era of digitization, for example, the Spanish Flu, imagine not only not being able to feel humans but also not knowing they still exist. It’s almost like being trapped on a deserted island, with no knowledge of what and when to expect rescue.

You keep drawing SOS on the sand but to no avail. You can’t decide what’s a better thought – the world has ended, and you are the only survivor, or your folks have just given up on you. The demons of loneliness end up eating us faster than the raging contagion!

This brings me to our life in the past decade about how we had been getting accustomed to living online. Now, looking back, it seems like science had always been preparing us for a catastrophe of this size. Shared workplace platforms, news consumption, vital health information, app-based grocery delivery, online payments, Skype calls with friends; we were doing it all.

Glued on to the words smart and convenient, we were slowly starting to build our trust in this parallel universe, weren’t we? It was not until now that we realized how this intangible force had become our only medium of trusting humans without being physically close to them. That’s what they are calling the new normal.

When countries across the world declared a lockdown and people shut themselves up, with little to do and more to think, we all connected over this fresh normal like never before. I remember going crazy about that perfect Dalgona coffee post just like my friend from the States, the hilarious quarantine travel challenge which all of us from five countries managed to take up together and of course ‘pass the brush’ challenge where my brush almost slipped ten times before I could master the right toss-pass. And it wasn’t only Instagram.

The internet had used its Midas touch on my relationships from all over. The WhatsApp group which I had muted for a year, the Facebook messages that I had never found time to respond to and that Snapchat account that I had promised my mother I would help her create one day, it all magically started seeing the light of the day. We started bonding over the same things, the new cuisines on our plates, the old guitars on our laps.

It was once again simple. Easy, and slowly getting impulsive. Having said that, while I am slowly getting used to this new life, at times, I still do feel nostalgic about the old ways. Things as basic as holding hands or a quick hi-five, going out for movies and fancy dinner dates, I miss all of them. More so spending time with my best friend who stays in the same town.

Sometimes, I tell my husband about how badly I miss her lipsy-lopsy bear hug. Without looking up, toying with his mask just like he previously did with his controller, he says, “There is an app; why don’t you download that? It sends virtual hugs to whoever you want.” I look at him irked, annoyed at his indifference.

Are you serious? She is my best friend,” I protest.

Oh, but can you trust her?” he asks slyly. I keep quiet. He looks up and smiles. I look away. In my own insensitivity, therefore, lies my answer.

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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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