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“If I Was Given A Choice To Be In Any Other Batch, I Would Say No”

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“Am I audible”, “Is this clear”, apparently these are the only sounds that reverberate through my ears when someone enquires about my college life. That’s not solely my story though. In fact, that’s exactly the experience of approximately a few lakh students who have entered college without actually stepping within the threshold of the campus.

Honestly, I don’t know what to put forth to my fellow batchmates who have undergone this unimaginable paradigm shift without moving a single step physically from our cocooned atmospheres at home.

College Fest
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Independent self-driven lives, vibrant college fests, crazy discussions over movies and politics and a diversified environment to expose ourselves and build our skills for the professional sphere, that’s exactly what we are conditioned to fantasize college life about. And that’s exactly how we, the batch of 2020, had expected to enter the new phase of our academic career too.

I know how it feels to do the unimaginable, to be haunted by the unexpected when you least expect it to unfold, to enter college but not the campus.

The complete distortion of the academic calendar and the admission process for various colleges with some of the boards getting cancelled, entrance tests being conducted online or alternative mechanisms adopted for it drained us completely of our mental sanity and kept us on tenterhooks throughout the entire process.

After almost 3 months of enduring the stress and sheer mental agony of the uncertainty in the admission process, I know what it feels like to be able to secure a seat in your dream colleges, yet, not experiencing its coveted campus life.

To Those Who Took A Gap Year

It’s okay to take a break for yourself to figure out what lies ahead. It’s okay not to rush yourself under the burdening clamour of your expecting families. You deserve the time to recuperate from what all seems not to be seeping in so easily and deliberate on your own choices in retrospection.

The pandemic has had its own share of repercussions on all of our lives. I know it’s been far more difficult for you at this juncture to stand apart and take the leap of faith of holding on. What if you fail to get through in your coveted streams this year? What if the entrance examinations are put back on hold again? How will your relatives respond to your “incongruity”?

Well, honestly, it doesn’t matter as long as you have made peace with what you are doing and pride yourself in where you are right now. All of us need time to decipher the uncharted course of the future and you are among the few who had the courage to take up time for this crucial decision amidst the ripples of the pandemic and I am so proud that you did. Things will fall into place sooner or later. Just hang on.

To Those Who “Made It”

woman
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A toast to all those who slogged and endured, fell and rose, shattered yet struggled harder to get into what they had aspired for. The journey has been far too undulating, challenging and enervating to say the least. It parched your soul to its breath, it mutilated and clamped down on your self-worth stripping it down in pieces that no longer fit themselves in, yet you held yourself together.

The world seemed to be falling apart but you persevered amidst the wailing cries of your near kin, amidst the threat of job losses and financial insecurity, amidst the very claustrophobic atmosphere that you were living through. Yet, you made it.

I feel you because I too have been through all this. It now appears all too hollow and unfulfilling to sit behind the 14-inch screen for 15 hours a day, to be so very mindful of being “muted” all through the time, to press the end call button instead of rambling down the college corridors with our full-throated voices.

I know it’s inhuman, undeserving, unsettling, but it’ll pass, someday soon. All of us deserve a little better days, a little kinder tomorrows that’ll be within our reach soon.

To The “Virtual” That Turned Real

empty classroom
Representative Image.

It’s been 8 months into my “college life” and the only remembrances that I have makes me obliterate the boundaries between the virtual and the real. The innumerable voice calls and random video meets, the unaccounted WhatsApp groups representing our membership in societies, the “futile” chats and the unique stickers that all of us treasure and flaunt. That’s all we have of our “college life”.

Is it intimidating? Yes. Is it fatiguing? Yes. Is it replicating the real? No.

The virtual space, indeed, can never replicate the real orchestration and exuberance of a campus, the quirky jokes that we might have cracked on the green lawns of the college, the uncountable times we would have rushed into a metro for our first class after the whistle had blown and all these tiny, puny, moments, neither captured nor concealed, but just adding on little pieces effortlessly to the plethora of “college life”.

I know now, it’s but a lost game to amplify the urge to open campuses, but still, our hearts weave the utopia of being on campus soon. Maybe till then we can embrace “virtuality” as some messenger of a long-lost love, delve into it with a little more empathy and a lot more life. But surely, the batch of 2020 will bequeath slender marks on the pages of the history of “entering college life beyond campus”.

Here’s To The Future

Oblivion. That’s the least I can say at present. If I am really compelled to put it in words as one among the batch of 2020 who has changed cities, yet not places, swapped languages, yet not miles, all with the click of a button within the past one year, I would put it as more ominous than my unseen comprehension passage, more ephemeral than the last streak of light that flashed across my face last night from a crevice near my window, more vague and enigmatic than the last word of a crossword puzzle.

Still, it would be beyond my capacity to put in quantifiable numbers and qualitative adjectives. But presently, if I am given to make a choice to be a batch of any other, I would unambiguously say no, because somewhere, deep within, beneath the strata of fatigue, it makes me feel that we are a generation, scripting history in our own stupor.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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