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‘Under Capitalism, The Only Way To Survive Is To Compete’

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I will carry on for as long as my body allows, after that, it is all up to God.” These were the words of 71-year-old Krishna Majhi, a domestic worker. She further added, “what can I do, I need to feed myself. I cannot read or write like you.”

Like numerous others, Krishna Majhi does not have the luxury of a #MentalHealthBreak to fall back upon.

In an increasingly globalized world, everything around us is a product waiting to be packaged and sold. Education, our emotional and physical wellbeing; Krishna Majhi’s chance at a decent life. The writer and translator Yogesh Maitreya writes, “Have you seen a factory worker? In lunch, he eats iron and drinks tears; unlike academicians, he doesn’t have the time to commit suicide.”

What we are seeing today is an increasingly prominent tussle for power, between productivity and a sense of sanity.

Hustle Culture glorifies the insensitivity of overworking yourself in the hopes of climbing the corporate ladder, or even just of having an identity. Under Capitalism, what you sell is what you are- a domestic worker selling their labour, a professor selling their knowledge, or an entrepreneur selling their ideas.

On one hand, social media is flooded with #SelfCareSunday and bubble baths and quick weekend getaways, and then there is the other side of media that uses dark humor and self-deprecating jokes to disguise what is very likely a cry for help. Existing in the duality of extremes, sometimes it feels like an impossible Herculean task to just moving from one day to the next.

Under capitalism’s rigid fist, you will be sold elaborate self-care packages and weekend trips as a means to rejuvenate. But take an actual break from work, don’t reply to that work email promptly and you are treading on thin ice, and asking for trouble.

A data scientist with Tata AIA Life Insurance, Shounak Ghosh shares his experience of navigating the workplace. He says, under the pandemic situation, “work from home is a rough myth”. There are no office hours when at home, and he was constantly at the beck and call of his superiors.

Even his weekends were completely devoted to office work and his work with IIT Bombay as an analyst speaker. There is no concept of personal space or time, he adds; a situation that has aggravated since March 2020. “They think you have all the time in the world, just because you are at home,” he laments.

Representational Image. Hustle Culture has glorified overwork as necessary for “success”.

Research findings from psychologists at Staffordshire University (June 2020) found that there was a growing feeling of guilt associated with taking breaks from work. Dr. Mike Oliver, the paper’s lead author, said that the psychological and social barriers which prevent people from taking a break from work need looking into.

The pandemic worsened the sense of guilt; the feeling seems to be that as the pandemic felt like an extended unwanted vacation, breaking away for even just a moment felt like unnecessary liberty. Indifferent to all of this, advertising agencies have been ruthlessly using every opportunity to sell themselves in appealing packages.

Capitalism has colonized our emotions. Self-care is used as a marketing ploy specifically targeting the female audience. The victims of other gender identities are therefore continuously denied any semblance of respite. Moreover, today the very concept of self-care is tied up with the extent of your spending power, where self-care is equated with extravagance. It is almost as if, if you are not filling the pockets of Capitalism while taking care of yourself, you don’t deserve to be doing it.

It does not end here. Most of the (deeply flawed) coping techniques for mental health which are widely spoken of today are appropriated for a very neurotypical consumer. Simply put, a neurotypical person is somebody who has typical intellectual or cognitive development, as opposed to a neurodivergent person who has different patterns of neurological functions.

There is only so much binge-eating and reckless spending which one can resort to, before realizing the futility of it. These “substitutes” will have an incredibly adverse effect on persons with an actual eating disorder, or a person with a bipolar disorder when they are in an extravagant manic phase.

It isn’t just our emotions, but even education and culture itself, which is a commodity now. Anwesha Dey, a student of Presidency University, explains this in terms of the relationship between mental health, leisure time, and cultural pursuits.

Every year we hear gut-wrenching stories about students who brave unimaginable odds to answer examinations, hoping to receive their passport to a better life. Anwesha Dey takes the example of a first-generation learner from a family of labourers. This student may need to help his own family financially, while also managing time to study. If his family has struggled to make ends meet so that he may have an education, he will feel the need to make the most of his education all the more; while also battling a sense of guilt for being an added expense to his family.

It is indeed a do-or-die situation. Given such circumstances, where does one have the time for any kind of higher creative or intellectual pursuits? And so once again, cultural growth too will become what one particular class defines it to be the class that has both the time and the money for it.

When forced to compete against the power of wealth, or the ambitions of a whole country, do the aspirations of young minds stand a chance at all? The commodification of cultures, aspirations, and identity creates a space where the only way to survive is to compete. And the winner takes all.

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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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