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“Can Only Hope Right Now”: What Has COVID Done To Our Favourite College Hangouts?

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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.

At the centre of a college campus’ heart are a bunch of people that bring colour and character to its cold bricks and wet cement.  The students, professors, administrators- yes. But also, all the small business and workers in and around the campus that becomes as much a trademark to the college as its placements, clubs and faculty.

The little tea stall at the juncture, the gardeners who maintain the lawns for your social media, the caterers at the canteen with their signature rajma chawal, the photocopier without whom you would barely pass your examinations, the chaat shop at the back of your college, that also happens to be the sweetest spot for a bunk.

These College Canteens Are the Prime Reason Why You Should Be In DU
College caterers and other food stalls that have been part of college culture face a threat of permanent closure. Representative image only.

Every single one of these small businesses in and around your college contributes to the sense of nostalgia you experience during the pandemic, due to the closure of our universities. So, while you hold warm memories of good days in your head- memories that they contributed to, it would be a good time to ask yourself: How are they faring now? Are they able to feed their families? Sustain their medical bills, if required? Would they ever be able to continue their business-as-usual post the pandemic?

Severe Fall In Income

“My parents started the canteen business about 16 years ago, we’ve catered to multiple schools and colleges across Delhi University. Since the lockdown, our canteen has been closed. So, for over a year, we had no source of income. The only way we could make it through the year, which was very, very difficult- was by means of some funds that were already due to my parents, along with the money that I brought in through my internships,” says a student at Delhi University, whose parents run a catering business.

The digital divide we so commonly speak of is not just limited to stakeholders in the education sector, but also small businesses that depend on it. All of these businesses that could not afford digital transformation and transition into an online service provider have been wiped out by the deadly pandemic, leaving those dependent on them with debt and financial insecurity, while also threatening college heritage and culture.

Jab 2020 mein pehli baar lockdown hua tha, tabhi humara dhanda accha chal raha tha. Toh college ke bacchon ke sath milkar humne kaafi paisa social work ki taraf dia tha, langar organise kare the aur tabhi madad karna humein humara farz laga. Lekin thode samay baad humari aarthik sthithi bohot hi zyaada bigad gayi thi, college khulne ka koi naam nahi tha

(Before the first lockdown in 2020, my business was doing well. I collaborated with many students from college and donated and raised money for social work, organized langars, and I felt then that it was my social responsibility to help. But after a while, my financial situation had worsened a lot, and there seemed to be no signs of the colleges reopening),” says Rinku Ji, a photocopier at Lady Shri Ram College, who has worked at the institution for almost a decade.

For many daily wage workers and owners of small businesses around campus, college students and people from the university space were their primary or often- the only source of income.

Businesses at an all time low at Delhi University's one-stop market Patel Chest | Hindustan Times
Businesses hit an all-time low at Delhi University’s Patel Chest market, owing to the pandemic. Representative image only.

“Humara koi aur dhandha nahi, hum jo bhi kamaate hain college mein dukaan chalakar hi kamaate the, par abhi hum sabhi ki aarthik awastha buri aur samay mushkil. Par yeh mushkil samay mein college ki bacchiyon ne humara bohot saath dia, aur bacchon ki goodwill se hi humara abhi guzaara chal raha hai.” (I do not have any other business, whatever I used to earn is by running my photocopy business at college, but now our economic condition is bad and times are tough. However, the college students have been extremely supportive, and it’s through their goodwill that my business is again up and running,) he adds.

Lack Of Help From Administration

While the students have been doing whatever they can to help these business owners, the question of help from the administration looms. To this, the owner of a college canteen business in Delhi University says, “No, the college has not provided any financial aid, in fact, they have made it even more difficult by demanding rent.”

Unlike salaried staff, administrators and other workers who are in contractual obligation with the colleges, these private-run businesses do not have any form of social security and have received little or no aid by college authorities, despite several of them being within college campus for many years. With little or no avenue to earn an income, many of these small enterprises turned to the student community for aid. Since, the student community has been actively involved in organising fund-raisers, along with engaging with their business in their best capacity.

“Jab humari sthithi bohot hi kharab thi, tabhi hamare college ki ek student ne humari madad kari, aur humne saari notes ki copy courier karna chalu kara. Fir bhi, jitna hum abhi kama rahe hain, who college ke samay ke 10% se bhi kam hain. Kabhi kabar bacchein paise dena bhool jaate hain, ya kisi kaaran nahi de paatein hain. Magar hum kuch nahi bolte kyunki hum chahte hain ki yeh notes har ek bacchi ko pohchein

(When my condition was very poor, one of the college students helped me by facilitating an online courier service of notes and readings. Yet, what I make now is less than 10% of what I used to make. Many times, students forget to pay for the material or are unable to pay for it due to some reason. But I never bring it up, because I want these notes to reach every student),” added Rinku Ji.

Some businesses such as small book shops within the college are worried about the long term impact of digital learning on their business. Will students ever purchase physical copies of textbooks and readings since it is all widely available in the form of pdfs? Will they continue to buy stationery from local stores or completely shift to online mediums such as Amazon and Flipkart?

“Jab see yeh Corona chaalu hua hai, sabhi students apne mobile ya tablet mein hi apni reading aur books rakh letein hai. Abhi itna samay hogya hai toh aadat bhi lag gayi hogi, to abhi wapas kitab pakadkar padhenge ya nahi humko nahi maaalum. Aasha kartein hein ki asli kitabon ka mehtva na bhul jaaein bacchein

(Since the pandemic has started, all the students have started keeping their books and readings on their mobile or tablet. Now they must be accustomed to it too, so now we don’t know if they’ll ever read from physical copies again. I hope they never forget the value of reading from real books),” says Shyam Ji, an owner of a bookshop in the Delhi University campus.

The canteen space has never been just about food. It is a safe space for students to assemble, unwind, indulge in childlike banter. Since the virus and its mutants are here to stay for a bit longer, assembling is dangerous and thereby any economic activity that relies on people connecting and collecting is bound to feel threatened.

Citing their apprehension regarding the future of their catering business, Eric, 19, says, “After the pandemic, I don’t know if students will come to the canteen like before, there is still a lot of uncertainty. However when colleges reopen, it will help us get back on our feet, it will make things a lot better. We’re really hoping that it will be as it was before, or get better. We can only hope right now…”

Calling Out Momo Lovers - Where to Get Best Ones in Delhi - Tripoto
Representative image only.

Owing to the uncertainty induced by the pandemic, many small businessmen such as owners of momo shops, xerox stores as well as iconic book stores- that have been historically been a part of university culture, have returned to their native towns and villages. Whether they will be able to return to the bustling campus post covid is something that we find hard to predict.

In these difficult times, where the dent in the economic conditions of the enterprises is distinct, it is imperative that we do as much as we can collectively to aid hard-hit communities.  Reach out to the tea stall owner whose store you frequented more than your classes. Ask if they need help, ask what you can do. It is more important than ever that we engage with our community to ensure that we all tide through this, keeping the differences in access and privilege in mind.

They were always there with a glass of cutting chai and a plate of hot Momos after an exhausting day of coursework. Well- it’s been an exhausting year for these small businesses. – it’s time we are there for them too!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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