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“Can You See Me?”: Questions We Need To Ask Of Online Classes

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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.

Online mode of education, which was initially incorporated as a temporary alternative to deal with social distancing, is here to stay. We’re privileged to have it in our lives, it has helped us function for months now, helped us continue with our studies, our work and kept us connected at large but now, it has been more than 12 months of living with it, will perhaps stay longer and it is high time we delve deeper into the nuances of it.

The disparity of access to resources is, unfortunately, an age-old conversation in India. The online mode of education reflected the facade of a digital India.

Digital Education And A Spiral Of Silence

A silent peril seems to have crept up into our conscience so seamlessly that it now is an internalized conception, affecting only the ones on the other side of the track.

A physical classroom would have provided for an amiable environment of communication, where students would be exposed physically, getting to know each other better, interacting and expressing themselves more fruitfully.

This social distance might have worked brilliantly for the ones who enjoy staying socially aloof, comfortable being on mute, almost like they don’t even exist. But the question is, how do the people who are forced to feel left out perceive this entire situation?

Mariya Tudu, a postgraduate student in the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, belongs to the Santhal community and is based in Bihar. She felt painfully left out not just because she lacked technological resources but because of the lack of confidence that her institution and classmates could provide, to make her feel more at home.

Mariya Tudu

Education is meant to enrich our souls, ignite the fire of knowledge within us but if that same education becomes a tug of war, between representation and consciousness, participation and cognizance, it becomes grossly suffocating for students to continue with their studies.

Mariya states “My father never heard of IIMC, studying here is a huge milestone for me but I think I had much more to give, much for to take had this been in an offline mode especially in terms of practical education.” When asked if she ever felt conscious of her background or language, or feared judgements from peers, she said, “Of course I fear judgements. In online classes, you are just a voice and what you say, nobody knows what lies beyond- your backstory or baggage. Students don’t see each other.

Her statement, “Students don’t see each other” stayed back with me.

The online form of communication indeed allows people from across the country to come together and become a part of something collectively but that togetherness, that participation per se, is mostly restricted to people who are confident, comfortable and with the best resources available at their disposal. As much as students who actively participate should feel good about themselves for doing so, students who ‘cannot’ must be embraced and seen.

It is a cardinal responsibility for every institution to institutionally promote an atmosphere that promises students equality in recognition of their identities, strengths, and talents.

One might fairly argue that how can such active participation be expected from all students virtually? Maybe that is technically impossible, but it is possible to advocate for an inclusive space that embraces every student to feel like they belong.

Nandini Pandit, another student at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, hails from Jharkhand and is aware of her strengths and weaknesses. As much as she is confident interacting in class, she feels her language becomes a barrier when she tries to participate in longer conversations. Nandini adds, “I wish I had met more people earlier, during my undergrad days who would speak English so fluently so that I could have worked on myself better.” A person’s past experiences, cultural background, holistically form them as one personality and it is so important to acknowledge individuals for their little growths and intimate battles that no one knows about.

Mariya’s words are universal; every individual from minority communities don’t just enrol themselves to institutions but become a beacon of hope to their entire community that looks forward to her success, which will amplify their daily struggles.

What Maria experiences, is an example of an acute digital divide. The digital divide refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and technology and those that don’t or have limited access.

The digital divide is backed by socio-economic inequality and is a grave reality of our country.

Students from remote areas have constantly faced network issues, got disconnected from not just their classes but from an unforgivingly ruthless rat race. Presently, with board exams getting postponed and online exams becoming a funny joke, students might be occasionally having a good laugh but a couple of years down the line, the incompetence to produce certain skills that are being taught presently, like usage of integrated software or internet-based websites, will have a direct impact on their careers.

A Times Of India report dated January 6, 2021, says, “The lockdown will lead to an increase in dropout rates amongst students residing in the rural and semi-urban areas. Despite the rise in wireless users in recent years, semi-urban and predominantly rural India are miles apart in their online presence (27 subscribers to 100 people in rural areas, according to the 75th National Sample Survey of India).

Making Education Accessible Should Be The Primal Intention Of Every Institution In Charge

In a time of technological advancements, more and more corporations should join hands to establish machinery in remote areas that will increase connectivity.

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In the current situation in India, online classes are only possible for a privileged few.

Digital literacy needs subsequent attention. It is evaluated by an individual’s grammar, composition, typing skills and ability to produce text, images, audio and designs using technology.

Digital literacy is also hugely impacted by a person’s societal cognizance, cultural exposure, and accessibility of resources. Inability and technical trouble to seamlessly connect with peers, companions, students, colleagues via digital methods can cause huge digital anxiety. This anxiety cannot be overlooked especially now that young students and aged professionals are using it. They can easily find it baffling which will, in turn, cause huge mental stress.

It can be simply tackled if institutions and organizations conducted a plethora of preparatory sessions to intimate the people associated with them about the functionality of applications that would be in regular use.

When different national or regional institutes began their online classes, very few, almost countable organizations took the effort to educate the faculty and students collectively about how to use technology conveniently and easily. The pandemic did throw us into a pool of unusual situations but by simply helping each other, educating each other without an ounce of condescension in our tone, we could have created a much better and kinder environment. As people, who are a part of the system, it is our responsibility to unlearn our arrogance and begin active advocacy for more inclusive spaces especially amidst the pandemic that has caused so much distress to individuals already. Everyone who unlearns exclusiveness and learns compassion, kindness contributes to making the world an empathetic place to live in.

The resolutions are many, the solutions are also available. The question however is, how many more Mariya(s) will have to struggle before institutions can finally see us?

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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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