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Education In The Himalayas: Questions Of Accessibility And Privilege

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Rubina didi is 22 years old. She’s the same age as me but her experience with life instigates a deep sense of respect in me. It’s 5.30 in the evening and we’re one hour away from closing the shop. She looks at me with enthusiasm and asks if we can study now.

Rubina Didi at House of Umang

Didi is one of the few women employed on a retainer system at Mahila Umang Producers Company. She manages the showroom of House of Umang in village Naini, Uttarakhand. She has finished her intermediate (pre-university) course in finance, but can barely spell the word itself. Understanding the language of urbane customers from the plains often becomes an embarrassing task.

Hailing from Delhi myself, I hadn’t until this experience realized how naturally the English language is woven into our mental and emotional development – it is a part of daily shenanigans and borders social propriety. But here I met didi, who would talk with a glint in her eye, wondering what it would be like to not have to guess the customers’ needs solely on her expertise in sales operations.

Education In Our Hills

The main reason why she and others like her fall behind in communication skills are because the educational system in hill communities is lax. Didi is a resident of Majkhali, a small village near Ranikhet. She has a younger sister who has been promoted to 8th grade this year. This means looking for a new school that offers secondary-level education. Most government schools in this area are irregular; non-governmental schools offer education only up till the primary level, and private schools with quality secondary and senior secondary education are way out of the budget and reach of the Kumaoni locals.

Things are better now, but as a child, Rubina didi‘s mornings often started by climbing the hilltop to gather wood with her father. The bundles were heavy; the path was steep. But if mother was down there collecting water from the naula 6 km away, the least she could do was help her father arrange warmth and fire for food. Today, the number of earning members in the family has increased. Employment opportunity, however, remains volatile. The youngest daughter of the house has been facilitated with education so she can read, write, speak and study other subjects well. But till when can she retain that if the educational structure is taken away?

Didi settles for Beershiva School in Majkhali. Of the 5000 rupees she earns as salary, 3000 is going to go in her sister’s monthly tuition now (until the pandemic hits again and paying even that becomes impossible). Quality is not even a matter of conversation, as consistent teaching and equipped campuses are something did has never witnessed herself in her 22 years of existence. At least the school is accessible. With all members of the house being adults with full-time jobs, there is no one available to pick and drop the sister to and from a farther off school. Classes are currently running online. If you were to witness one, the incompetence of otherwise sheer-willed teachers would become immediately apparent.

Education in mountainous regions like the Himalayas presents a unique set of challenges.

Me And Rubina Didi

During my internship at House of Umang, I spent the last one hour with Rubina didi reading 4 pages of an English novel every day. We would study grammar, expand vocabulary, and converse in English. She is much more confident now, and the customers are much more satisfied with the service. She is even considering looking for a better-paying job, as she believes she is capable of at least can be. All she hopes for now is that her sister does not have to go through the break-in studying this important tool. Who would help her catch up then?

Most of the well/formally educated youth resort to the plains for higher standards of living and better income opportunities. Hence, the manpower left in the mountains is the complacent lot that believes in juicing out the terrain for sustenance overusing education to further the development of posterity.

The need of the hour is to make consistent quality education accessible to the minute villages of such mountain communities. The youth of these areas need to be exposed to not just livelihood skills, but also tools like communication skills to sustain a quality of living and professional interaction in the real world. Projects like the Uttarakhand State Rural Livelihoods Mission (USRLM) need to involve skills of dynamic teaching and sustainable learning for the youth.

While governmental and non-governmental forces have brought about immense development in the educational scenario of populated hill stations like Ranikhet, it is the remoter and poorer villages that are in more dire need of such benefits. Quality of education is not up to the mark and terrain-specific responsibilities loom large. There is immense potential and sheer determination in the people here, but not the means to invest, attract, or demand.

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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.”

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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.

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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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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.

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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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