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Having To Choose Between Health And Education, COVID Has Shattered Students’ Aspirations

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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.

*Trigger Warning: Covid*

Elizabeth Warren opines, “Balancing your money is the key to having enough.”

Balance has a very precarious existence in our lives — the balance between dos and don’ts, possessions and deprivations, normative and positive, what is and what ought to have been. Balance, that coveted yet indefinable stage of equilibrium where the starkest forces are brought to rest.

The onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted even its fine semblance in our lives, tumulting its very course in all aspects, one of the most significant being the financial bottlenecks endured in these trying times, due to an absolutely disparate situation in the availability and the need for funds.

Migrant workers carrying their belongings walk along a
Representative Image. (Photo by Amarjeet Kumar Singh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The global pandemic has wreaked havoc in the employment market, with an exponential increase in layoffs and job losses in the informal sector due to a sliding recessionist trend in the economy. This, in turn, has been amplified in the lives of the students and the youth of the country.

The financial stringency that has plagued almost the majority of the population, especially the students, has not evaded creating newer hurdles for them in the already polarised allocations of the restricted funds available at hand.

The very first instance that highlights the misery of the discriminatory education sector is the stark digital divide, accentuated especially among the lower economic classes, that deprives students of merit in continuing their academics in their “virtual classrooms”.

Being already strained by financial exigencies, the urgency and the drive for acquiring digital devices fade into the background, leading to many students dropping out of their formal courses, and hence, being increasingly pitted against the highly competitive labour market with most being trapped in the vicious cycle of underpaid labour or disguised unemployment.

Sahejneet Kaur, a first-year history student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University, confesses, “We shall simply admit that online is something affordable to limited strata of society. Unfortunately, Indian society (rural and urban both) goes through hard times during such cases.”

Moreover, the periodic imposition of lockdowns and curfews to contain the spread of the virus has severely affected the daily wage labourers and their families have become extremely volatile and dependent on governmental or private aid. However, the government too is not in a position to augment this disparity by extensive provisioning of digital devices.

Sahejneet continues saying, “Personally experienced, students despite getting into government universities haven’t gotten any ease as the system fails to provide any plausible solutions to their students and faculties, thus, resulting in augmentation of dropouts and suicide cases.”

Oxygen Covid
Representative Image. Source: flickr

Secondly, this economic distress has a deplorable effect on the psychology of the students. The constant sense of friction between familial and personal costs coupled with their financial dependence on the family, often oppressive in nature, mostly reduces them as isolated victims who do not retain the same sanity and mental acumen to rise to such challenges.

Jaisika, a first-year history student of LSR, says, “Financial burden is something which brings more havoc as it holds the student back and represses them to freely voice their opinion.”

It also hinders the access to academic opportunities of the student. Jaisika poignantly brings this out, saying, “For example, if someone wants to pursue a premium newspaper application or take up a course on soft skills, they possibly cannot do it as their financial sources would limit them which would ultimately lead to despair, disheartening and disappointment, again harming ones mental space so it is a kind of vicious cycle really hard to escape.”

The second wave of the pandemic has almost left all households crippling with its ramifications. With the family members getting affected and the huge expense required to be incurred in their treatment, amidst the acute scarcity of oxygen cylinders and other medical pieces of equipment.

The students have been facing a double-edged sword of raising funds for their kin as well as bearing academic costs at the same time, especially during the period of college admissions when a lumpsum amount is required failing which the seat might get cancelled.

Desperate appeals through social media handles of fellow students for funds to save their close ones have been raging for the past few months. However, this is not only uncertain but involves the possibility of the funds not being collected at the right time.

Rubaie, a first-year student, holds the view, “On one side, they have to deal with the stress of online education, which is frustrating for a lot of people since it is a direct shift from classroom education. On the other side, they become a mute spectator to the woes of their families as they can’t help them and have to live in an environment of uncertainty.”

India 100 rupee note
Representative Image. (by pics_pd on Pixnio)

Further, the debt trap into which one succumbs to recover from these financial exigencies will lead to a greater burden in the future for repayment with interest, leading to more psychological torment and financial bottlenecks.

Ayantika Pal, a first-year student of JIS School of engineering, West Bengal, opines, “The pandemic situation is leading to increased personal debts in the form of credit card debts, educational loans, auto loans, etc. which have huge interest rates, and therefore, over the years it becomes more difficult to pay them. Moreover, it can make people fall prey to legal actions intended for debt recovery.”

Lastly, there has been a bourgeoning rate of suicides because of the failure of the people to deal with such stress caused due to financial duress.

Swastika Ghatak, a first-year student pursuing English honours from Bhawanipore Education Society, West Bengal, recalls with grief, “This financial stress has made people take their own lives. One of my father’s friends was missing, and a few days later, his body was found in the river. He lost his job. I don’t know if there were other reasons, but everyone thinks this is the main reason he took his life.”

Thus, that the financial duress that has been wreaking havoc among students across myriad backgrounds is undeniable. The antagonism between maintaining academic costs as well as fending for health expenditure has had severe repercussions on the young minds, putting their future and aspirations at stake. The helpless cries for help and the woes still echo in all our hearts.

In this scenario, a centralised and well-planned approach is needed in every university to address the issue of financial distress which can be aided by the government. Only then can we move towards a more holistic and inclusive balance between both paradigms.

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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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