INTERVIEW WITH RAASHI THAKRAN: PART 2

ADITI KUMAR SPEAKS TO RAASHI THAKRAN WHO’S ACTIVISM LED TO THE CREATION OF INDIA’S FIRST NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH HELPLINE KIRAN 1800-599-0019

Content Warning: The article mentions Suicide

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1800-599-0019 to reach KIRAN, a 24/7 national helpline set by the ministry of social justice. You can also mail icall@tiss.edu or dial 022-25521111 (Monday-Saturday, 8am to 10pm) to reach iCall, a psychosocial helpline set up by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

We spoke to Raashi Thakran, a Mental Health activist who’s change.org petition “#StandAgainstSuicide: to Launch a National Helpline number for suicide prevention” with over 4 lakhs signatures became successful last month with the launch of KIRAN (1800-599-0019) a 24/7 toll free national mental health helpline for those in distress. 

Read Part 1 here.

EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW PART 2:

GATEKEEPER TRAINING

What policies can be implemented? 

Policymakers can help by making sure that Gatekeeper training is offered to people across the country. Gatekeeper training can be taken by anyone and everyone It’s a one hour long training. It helps you prepare and make sure that if someone in your vicinity is struggling with suicidal thoughts or with their mental health, you are able to respond. And you can yourself be the first responder. You can identify early warning signs and provide early intervention. 

Gatekeepers have played a very important role in suicide prevention and they are also able to then direct people they know to mental health services, to actual professionals. So now since we have this knowledge we can create an army of mental health warriors if nothing else. You don’t have to have a background or a degree. You can just be there and know the warning signs. This is the most basic thing we can equip ourselves with. 

QPR – Gatekeeper Training – Question, Persuade and Refer – Tells you how to question a person about suicide, how to persuade them and help them and how to refer them. It’s like CPR, people who know QPR are not doctors but they can save a life. People say it’s an American training that doesn’t apply to us. Fine, don’t go for QPR, create something for an Indian context and circulate that so it can reach the common people of the country and that’s how you spread awareness. 

This idea that everybody in the community also has a responsibility for those around them. So even if we don’t know that much about the technicalities of mental health the gatekeeper training or even a general idea that someone might be suffering can help us respond really fast. What would you suggest the community can develop to fight against the increasing mental health issues that people are having during Covid losing jobs, being isolated etc.?

Now more than ever we are realising the power of community. You need a support system to fall back on. Especially during such times. So, in terms of people losing jobs and unemployment, it comes back to the government and policymakers that it’s important for them to become more inclusive and have policies that help people. We are talking about Atma Nirbhar Bharat so actually go to the grassroots and create policies for migrant workers. The government needs to be looped in. 

As a community, it’s important for us to reach out. You don’t have to do something grand and change millions of lives but simply reach out to people in your circles who you think might be suffering. Check in with your friends and family, check in with the person who’s just lost their job. Check in with the person who’s at home but home is toxic for them. It’s a very difficult situation for a lot of us. Have gratitude for yourself and reach out to people who you know are struggling. That’s the least we can do. 

Right now more than ever it’s very important to understand that we’re on the same team and we have to work as a community and make sure you atleast are there for the people you care about. That’s what I’m trying to do. 

Since you’ve been conducting so many sessions. So, people must’ve come up to you with their own stories so can you share some stories of positivity and resilience? 

There’s so many. Every session I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say they want to share their stories. 

One incident that I always talk about and it’s very close to my heart. I had just finished giving the talk in IIT Delhi and I was waiting for my auto outside and this one lady approached me and said, “I was in the audience and I heard your story and I have myself been struggling with depression for a long time now and I haven’t had the courage to ask for help, I have even felt suicidal and now after listening to you I want to get better, I’ve booked an appointment already and I am going to see a counsellor this weekend.” She then started crying and we hugged and it was such a beautiful moment. Now she’s doing so well, she’s opened a restaurant and is nailing life. 

One of my friends reached out to me just yesterday and he said that last year he was going through a very difficult time and he used to self-harm and yesterday he messaged me and said it’s been a year since he had done that and just wanted to share that with me. It’s beautiful seeing how far people have come and how resilient they are. There’s so many stories. That’s why I love what I do and this is why I do what I’m doing because I get to meet such people and hear such amazing brilliant stories. 

That was really heart-warming. I have a final question, we have a lot of social activists writing for us. We understand that social activism can be stressful. How do you deal with the stress and pressure and what would you suggest to other activists who are trying to make a change in society? 

I’ve been doing this for a while, I am 22 years old and a lot of times what I face is the fact that I am too young to be doing this. There’s a lot of people who tell me that you’re 22 and we would like you to talk about certain things and not talk about certain things. That said, the response that I’ve received has been overwhelming and amazing. I know that my work also brings change as I am able to make sure that I’m able to help a couple of people. 

To activists who are driving change I think it’s very important to just keep doing what you’re doing. You will get comments and it will get very tough especially if you are sharing a part of yourself, like me, I have to share a very very personal story, a very tragic story and every time I talk about it, it’s difficult. But, it helps someone out there it helps people. So, I guess to anyone listening don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too young, too old or too qualified or not qualified enough, people always have something to say don’t let that get to you. Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’re amazing and awesome and you’re doing amazing work and I think that’s what matters. Even if you don’t see results right now you will see it in the long run you will see that you are driving change. All of us in fact, all our stories are so important and unique and they need to be heard and that’s what I’d like to say to anyone listening. 

This will really help our readers, if they are first time writers and this can really encourage them to write and share their stories. 

Stories are very powerful, they can inspire so many people. So, use that tool and own your story. I think that’s the most important thing. Kudos to you for being a platform that holds space for people. 

Aditi is a Law undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge, and recently completed a diploma in Conflict Transformation and Peace-building. Reading and painting in her spare time, she aspires to challenge the structural dimensions of injustice through her educationShe is a Deputy Editor of Bol Magazine.

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Interview with Raashi Thakran

Aditi Kumar speaks to Raashi Thakran who’s activism led to the creation of India’s first national mental health helpline KIRAN 1800-599-0019.

Content Warning: The article mentions Suicide

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1800-599-0019 to reach KIRAN, a 24/7 national helpline set by the ministry of social justice. You can also mail icall@tiss.edu or dial 022-25521111 (Monday-Saturday, 8am to 10pm) to reach iCall, a psychosocial helpline set up by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

We spoke to Raashi Thakran, a Mental Health activist who’s change.org petition “#StandAgainstSuicide: to Launch a National Helpline number for suicide prevention” with over 4 lakhs signatures became successful last month with the launch of KIRAN (1800-599-0019) a 24/7 toll free national mental health helpline for those in distress. 

Excerpts from the Interview: 

COPING WITH THE PANDEMIC

How have you been doing? How are you coping with Covid and everything (happening around it)?

I think now it has become like the norm for me, for most of us I feel. Now we are sort of getting used to that and I am working. I am working from home right now, I am not going to the office. It has been alright, it has been pretty chill. Just spending time with my family. 

So do you have some specific things you do to maintain your positivity and would you like to recommend something for other people who are also feeling very isolated at this time? 

One thing that I really try to do is sort of stay connected with my family and my friends. Since my mom is here and my dad is away, we catch up every night, we have our regular video call sessions and that really makes you feel like you are connected and you can talk about certain things. I try to regularly have sessions with friends and it’s a stress buster for me. 

For myself what I try to do is that I basically try to stick to a routine, I think that has really worked wonders for me. I make sure that even if it is work from home, it should not extend into your personal life. And since I have struggled with mental health issues- I take medicines and I struggle with anxiety and my sleep and so I have to maintain a routine, I have to sleep on time I have to wake up on time, otherwise my whole system just goes haywire and I don’t want to go back there. So I always try to do that and I’m eating healthier home-cooked food. 

I think people have started to increase home cooked meals and the whole experience has come up now when the family comes together and cooks something.

I am also trying to learn how to cook because I’m the worst cook. I don’t know anything so my mom is also taking this time, because she has found me stuck at home so she is like ‘I’m going to teach you how to cook and how to prepare meals and just eat better’. I think that has really helped. And at the end of the day I make it a point that at least once a day I go out, even if it is within my society, because getting that fresh air is so important, with precautions obviously. Getting that sense of connection with nature is really important. So that is how I am trying to cope with this time. And I know it is going to be a while before things even begin to get back. I don’t think it will ever get back to how it was, but some normalcy starts to set in, so it will be a while before that happens. 

You have actually given us some great points- maintain a routine, social distancing is not emotional distancing, keep in contact, make your own meals and make sure you spend some outdoor time. 

Do the things you love or things you have been pushing for a while. I’m trying to read more, I had piles of books in my house but I would never get around to reading them. So I was like a hoarder without ever getting around to reading. So many of us are guilty of that. But I have tried to utilise this time to do something new like cook and read. So yes, that is something that people can try. 

Have you been playing your guitar?

I’ve been playing my guitar as well. But I do it during the weekends, weekdays are a little packed with work. Even when it is work from home it is a little packed. But yes, I have been getting back to singing, playing, and writing a little bit. I had been away from my blog for a really long time. I hadn’t had time to even think of writing something but now I am getting around to it. 

HOW HAS WRITING HELPED YOU

Since you are mentioning writing, I wanted to ask you how it has helped you in your journey. And what would you like to say to other people so that if they are suffering they can find fellows in their experience?

Honestly, writing has been therapeutic for me in a way, because sometimes it is very difficult for me to talk about what I am feeling. Which is also why therapy sessions are a little difficult for me because you have to talk about what you are feeling. I am trying to work on that but at the same time there is something that my therapist also recommended – that when you are not able to speak to someone, when you are not able to say the words or find the words, you write it down, whatever it is you are feeling. That way those emotions and that negativity will get out of your system. 

A lot of times I am also very self critical, so that is another technique that my doctor told me that – you tend to criticise yourself a lot especially when you think it, so thoughts are really fast, they just come to you, in minutes you would have pointed out ten different things you hate about yourself. But when you write it down, that slows down the process. And at the same time she also said to try to write down things that you love about yourself and the qualities that you love about yourself. So that is how I think I got into journaling, writing and I started my blog and then it became all about whatever I know, whatever little knowledge I have I try to put it out in the world and whoever needs it can read it. That became my safe haven and so many people reached out. Also in terms of sharing my story online and writing that down I think it really helped me cope with my loss and my grief as well. So writing has played, again, a very very important role in me coming to terms with whatever has happened since the past year. 

FINDING SUPPORT GROUPS 

You talk about coping with an experience. I read that you were looking out for support groups for families that have suffered from a loss of some kind, especially of a family member. Have you been able to find that support in India? Is it coming up now like on social media websites? 

Coming to support groups, last year onwards, as soon as this happened to us, we were in a very difficult position because as survivors of suicide loss we were looking for a community. We were looking for people who understood and it was very difficult for us – at that point at least – to find a support group or find people with similar experiences. Because come what may when you find people who have been through something that you have as well, you feel like you are not alone and that helps you cope with the loss. I think for the longest time we were just looking for that support system. 

But I was in Pune at that time and we did not find many support groups in Pune, although now I think a lot of online support groups have come up in India – there is one support group by Wildflower Mental Health which is amazing. They have a session almost every week. Similarly there is one support group for survivors of suicide loss which happens every week and it is organised by Sisters Living Works. Now they are coming up, but at that point it was very difficult for us to find those support groups in Pune, and that too in-person support groups. Because we were looking for groups where we could just go, sit, meet people, and share whatever it is we were going through. 

At the end of the day we found an online support group on Facebook, but again it was not an Indian support group/not India based, it was an international one. It was for families who were dealing with suicide. I think that really helped us, we are still part of it, knowing it doesn’t matter where you are around the world. People are from different countries and continents, but grief looks very similar for all of them. Everyone can relate to what you have been through and they can empathise. That was something really beautiful that we established in that group. It has been a place where we found a lot of peace. All three of us. 

ON INTERGENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES IN UNDERSTANDING MENTAL HEALTH

When you are saying that initially it was difficult to find support groups, it just makes me think if it is something to do with the differences in generations. For example the previous generation’s understanding of mental health and now the (conversations that) are emerging. People are more open to talk about their experiences, they are more open in crying out for help. Would you like to say something about that? 

Mental health has evolved drastically over the past couple of years as we know and now this generation, like you said, is more aware, more informed in terms of mental health and also because it has more exposure and definitely because of the internet and social media because previously our parents did not have these resources. They did not have access to all of these means of information. To some extent I think that could also be the cause of why our generation is struggling with more mental health issues and so much anxiety because studies have shown that it has led to a rise in mental health issues, anxiety, depression, so that could definitely be one of the reasons. 

At the same time our parents are not as exposed to it as we are. So we are not on the same page. And I think that leads to that communication gap and generation gap. I believe that if we want to come on the same page we have to make sure that we are the ones who bring our parents up to speed. And the key to that is communication and having a conversation with them. Trust me your parents will never not want to help you. They want to understand. They want to see what is happening. But they are just not able to understand because they have not been exposed like we are. 

So maybe if we try to meet midway and we bring them up to speed, make sure that they read more articles about mental health, they are more sensitised, they read and they watch news channels and they watch movies which talk about these issues so they get our perspective and they are able to see things from our lens. So I think that would help get us on the same page, and decrease that communication gap especially when it comes to mental health. Not just mental health, for a lot of different issues as well. If we are able to bring them up to speed with that, we can feel more comfortable reaching out to them, for help, if needed. 

ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES FOR WOMXN AND LGBTQIA COMMUNITY

That we should be precursors of change and that we should bring everybody to at least the same level of understanding. For example all the social prejudices and stereotypes there are about women and they have so many social pressures, (and) that affects their mental health. For example if you see historically, ‘hysteria’ has been related specifically with women. Even pressures that non binary and LGBTQIA communities face in society. How can we bring everyone together to address these issues and the impact they have on our mental health? 

For LGBTQIA community, women, there has been research (that suggests) that they  are more susceptible to having mental health issues like depression, anxiety and other disorders compared to other people, which is why it is very important for mental health to be intersectional. Just like we look at intersectionality in feminism and other issues, it is important to look at that in mental health as well. 

There needs to be diversity, there needs to be inclusion. There has been research that they (LGBTQIA community) are also more likely to go for mental health support services, compared to other communities (social groups). Again, they are the people who reach out to mental health services more than we (other groups) reach out to them. 

It is very important for these services to be non discriminating, because a lot of times these services have their own biases and they come into the picture. In fact there is one study where it is quoted that people from minority groups are more likely to drop out of treatment because they feel that they are not understood by the practitioner, by mental health professionals. So they are more likely to not get that medical help, even if they get it they are more likely to drop out.

From our end we can make sure that these services are accessible, affordable, non discriminating, unbiased, inclusive. As outsiders to the community, we can be better allies in reaching out to them, understanding their perspectives, having conversations and not fearing the unknown, so that we can have more positive and empathetic safe spaces. 

THE KIRAN HELPLINE 

About the Kiran Helpline, can you tell us how it works so that we can explain it to the readers? 

They have done a good job when it comes to availability, they are available in 13 languages. They are working with 26 different institutions that are spread out all across the country. They have also taken into account the north-east region as well as the Jammu region. They have 600+ volunteers and these volunteers are all mental health professionals and experts. They know what they are doing and they are empathetic. I spoke to a couple of psychologists (whom I called) and they have been really understanding and I think they are in it for all the right reasons. 

When you call up the helpline number there is a welcome message, and then they tell you to choose the language, once you choose the language they ask you to choose the region (from) southern region, western, northeastern, Jammu and finally the state. The procedure is long, we have to think how we can shorten it. Since it has only started I’m sure there are going to be a lot of modifications, they will incorporate all those suggestions and feedback. I feel it is a very important and a great step in the right direction. 

What do you think the next step should be and how responsible do you think the state should be? Because this helpline puts a responsibility on the state- that you (state) are the first responder, you have to make sure that you connect the person to the service. What is the next thing the state can do in improving mental health problems, and crisis and responding fast, well in time?

Talking about the helpline number, a lot needs to be done. Just because it has been launched does not mean the job is done. First we need to check how the helpline number is working. So I think the next step for the state and for the ministry should be (to) conduct a survey, once they have completed a month/ two months, as to how many calls you got, what sort of calls you got, how many people were you able to direct to more concrete help in their area. I’m sure the ministry will do it, they might even be chalking out the plan as to how to do it but it is something that needs to be done and that data needs to be put out. I think that could be the next step now. Keep incorporating and auditing this helpline number, it is very important to make sure that this helpline number stays and functions properly. Because what happens a lot of times with the helpline numbers is that they just fizzle out. We don’t want that to happen, I’m sure the government and state don’t want that to happen. 

In terms of long term goals, what I feel is that they can and should work on the Mental Health care Act 2017 and implement that properly. It is something that they should definitely look at. Also we have suicide prevention policies, its not been implemented in India. Lot of countries have implemented proper suicide prevention policies and that has shown results, the numbers of deaths have gone down. I think that is again something the government can look at and should look at – why not have a policy in place?

Another thing that might be farfetched right now but countries have done it- the UK has a Minister for suicide prevention, so why cant we have a minister with a cabinet rank if not for suicide prevention, for mental health and mental wellbeing. 

Continued in Part 2…

Aditi is a Law undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge, and recently completed a diploma in Conflict Transformation and Peace-building. Reading and painting in her spare time, she aspires to challenge the structural dimensions of injustice through her education. She is a Deputy Editor of Bol Magazine.

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Busting Myths about Menstruation

Siddhi Shah

Discussing the myths relating to menstruation, why they persist and how we can challenge them

The word “menstruation” is often associated with adjectives such as anxiety, embarrassment, and fear. Despite being a natural bodily function, it is synonymous with myths and secrecy. In India, while we have progressed in creating awareness around it, menstruation is still a taboo. Myths around menstruation have contributed to serious consequences and misinformation in all peripheries, especially for those who lack access to basic resources like menstrual hygiene products and access to toilets. 

“Those who menstruate are prohibited from performing everyday chores. They are often asked to  purify themselves before resuming their everyday life.”

In India to date, menstruation is seen as something impure and dirty. Those who menstruate are prohibited from performing everyday chores. They are often asked to purify themselves before resuming their daily life. In many households, they are not allowed to do puja (prayer) or even enter a temple when they are menstruating. They are not allowed to touch and offer their prayers to holy books. Menstruating women are not allowed to touch anyone or enter the kitchen. They are excluded from activities and kept away from the rest of society. These practices exist and persist because of the backward cultural and religious beliefs that are propagated by society and passed on through generations. 

Menstruation is also linked to unaccepted cultural norms and traditions. It is said that it is associated with evil spirits, embarrassment and shame around sexual reproduction. In some areas, women are made to bury their clothes after they complete their cycle. The retrograde myth personifies that blood can be used as black magic and it can be used to assert the woman’s will on a man. The same blood from which a baby is created is considered impure. Studies show that about 71% of adolescent girls remain unaware of menstruation until they experience their first menstrual cycle. 

“Myths are nothing but sacred tales that have been passed on through generations as a means of making sense of the world and people’s experiences. It is an anachronism that myths continue to oppress a gender due to past experiences and thoughts.”

Myths are nothing but sacred tales that have been passed on through generations as a means of making sense of the world and people’s experiences. It is an anachronism that myths continue to oppress a gender due to past experiences and thoughts. Instead, they should foster a sense of equality especially when menstruation is biological and natural. Instead of women being empowered and feeling supported they are made to feel inferior, weak and abnormal. To name a few countries and their regressive superstitions around menstruation:

CountrySuperstition about menstruation 
The USA and the UK You cannot have a shower 
If you touch any vegetable when menstruating, it will rot  
NepalYou cannot be in your house or come in contact with anybody
Romania You cannot touch flowers, they will die quicker 
BrazilYou can’t wash your hair when you are on your period 
Philippines When you first get your period you need to wash your face with the first menstrual blood to have clear skin

“In Nepal, 14 million girls and women face challenges due to the restrictions imposed by their families. “Chauppadi”, is a practice which prevails in twenty-one districts. “Chau” means impure and “padi” means shed. It requires women to live in a cowshed or in a separate hut outside the house for five-seven days while they menstruate.” 

In Nepal, 14 million girls and women face challenges due to the restrictions imposed by their families. “Chauppadi”, is a practice which prevails in twenty-one districts. “Chau” means impure and “padi” means shed. It requires women to live in a cowshed or a separate hut outside the house for five-seven days while they menstruate. Girls and women are made to sleep on wooden planks without any basic necessities. This results in some of them being bitten by snakes and some of them are raped, harassed or murdered. In 2019 two girls aged 14 and 19 died because of a snake bite when they were residing in the cowsheds. 

These existing societal myths and taboos around menstruation have impacted the self-esteem of women. In less developed countries a lot of girls have to drop out of school when they start menstruating. This is because a large percentage of women face stomach pain or cramps during their periods and only 20% of girls are able to get medicine for cramps. 

“According to  NFHS (National Family Health Survey), 42% of women of the ages 15-24 use sanitary napkins, whilst 62% continue to use cloth.”

According to  NFHS (National Family Health Survey),  42% of women of the ages 15-24 use sanitary napkins, whilst 62% continue to use cloth. Moreover, lack of menstrual hygiene such as access to just 5-6 sanitary napkins for each woman for a whole month, lack of water or proper toilets in the house, and not being allowed to bathe during menstruation has led to serious health consequences like reproductive tract infections. Poor access to menstrual products continues to be a barrier to achieve complete coverage of menstrual hygiene. 88% of women in India have been recorded as using homemade alternatives such as rags, hay, ash and cloth. The question that arises is how we can put an end and take the first step for all girls and women to have access to menstrual hygiene?

“FullStopp is a student-led initiative that works to improve awareness, access and advocacy in the menstrual space aiming on achieving a more equal world.”

FullStopp is a student-led initiative that works to improve awareness, access and advocacy in the menstrual space aiming on achieving a more equal world. Anjali at the age of 16, founded this non-profit organisation. They conduct menstrual hygiene management sessions that outline certain do’s and don’ts, Biology behind periods and busting prevalent myths and superstitions to the underprivileged menstruators. In addition to this, they also provide biodegradable or reusable cloth pads as a more eco-friendly alternative to disposable plastic pads. So far, they have conducted sessions with thousands of underprivileged women at schools, slums, orphanages, sex-trafficking rescue homes, and NGOs across the country, and been able to provide menstrual products to cover over 75, 000 periods. Alongside running campaigns on social media, they have also been able to set up operational chapters in the UK, Algeria and Malawi.

Here are more suggestions on how we can overcome and combat these barriers:

1. The government must play an integral role in bringing a change in the system. Policies to promote menstrual hygiene by inculcating it in school curriculums is urgently needed so young children are aware and don’t blindly follow cultural myths. Menstrual hygiene education should be a priority. For example, the government of Goa introduced an educational module to encourage menstrual education and inculcate it in the curriculum. Low-cost sanitary pads should be locally made and distributed especially in rural and slum areas. In 2010, India launched a campaign called National Rural Health Mission to improve menstrual hygiene for 15 million adolescent girls and provide them with low-cost sanitary pads. 

2. Corporations and the media have the medium to change and mould perspectives in society. They should voice their opinions on gender equality and help break social taboos that still exist today in society. An exceptional campaign on menstruation was conducted by P&G. In 2014, it was one of the first campaigns in which any brand or institution in India talked about periods and it’s associated taboos on a large scale. It not only helped people talk about periods openly but also stirred a conversation as well as acceptance between men and women. 

3. NGOs and social organisations also could contribute largely to promoting menstrual hygiene in their communities. As mentioned above FullStopp is looking for volunteers to help them. You can also donate to such organisations to provide sanitary napkins to the underprivileged menstruators. 

4. The entertainment industry has also played as a catalyst in reaching out and educating people about menstrual hygiene. The film industry should create more movies like Padman and The period to make the conversation much stronger. Indian actor Akshay Kumar is a part of Niinemovement that has been conceived by social entrepreneur Tulsiyan in the ray of hope to inspire women, break taboos about menstrual hygiene and bridge the gap between sanitary napkin users. The documentary “Period. End of a Sentence” gained attention worldwide when it was recognised and awarded the Academy Award for best documentary in 2019.

All in all, these stakeholders should work together with their very own strengths to break the societal myths and secrecy associated with menstruation. Dealing with menstruation is difficult as it is and societal stigma makes it even harder. It is time for societies to come together to combat these beliefs. It is time for the colour red to become a symbol of purity and shatter centuries of myths about menstruation. 

Siddhi is currently pursuing Media and Communication from the University of Arts London. She strongly believes in bridging the gap in all societal aspects and cultures. She believes in gender equality and empowerment of the youth. She is also a music junkie who loves to travel and has her own fashion blog called Maisonsash.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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School Ki Ghanti – Listen, Learn, Imagine

Team of School Ki Ghanti

 Using digital storytelling to create access to education possible for children during the Covid pandemic

On the 24 March 2020, with the announcement of a lockdown in India as the nation stepped into their homes, thousands of children stepped out of formal education. Schools have now been shut for the past six months, leaving children at home with no access to education because of lack of resources and infrastructure. Statistics show that the education sector has been hit particularly hard with 1.3 billion learners out of school and school closures in 195 countries.

The question is simple – How would children access education without gadgets, smartphones, and internet connection?

“School Ki Ghanti aims to make education and learning practices more inclusive and accessible even for those who have no access to the internet.”

School Ki Ghanti aims to make education and learning practices more inclusive and accessible even for those who have no access to the internet. The founder of School Ki Ghanti, Vedika Lall, is an information designer. She has always shown a keen interest in system design, interventions and activism. With inclusivity and equity being the central lens, she aimed to look beyond the world of e-learning, online platforms and digital accessibility. It’s the 21st century and education is still based on privilege, accessibility and availability of resources. One needs to take informed and unbiased measures to find alternate and complementary solutions for children from vulnerable communities/ toxic households and backgrounds. The need of the hour is to leverage technology to build enabling ecosystems that bridge this digital gap in India. Lall realized that this crisis brought an urgent need to reimagine the teaching and learning landscape. That is when the seed of School Ki Ghanti was sown, with an attempt to create a new resilient narrative by responding to such a situation both mindfully and empathetically. It shows how simple technology can carve learning paths to engage students and encourage adaptive learning. 

At School Ki Ghanti, the next lesson is only a phone call away. They are trying to reimagine learning through the age-old practice of storytelling to design inclusive and accessible learning systems so that every child gets an equal opportunity to learn.

At School Ki Ghanti, the next lesson is only a phone call away. They are trying to reimagine learning through the age-old practice of storytelling to design inclusive and accessible learning systems so that every child gets an equal opportunity to learn. School Ki Ghanti is run by a passionate group of people who have come together to radically reimagine learning as the world grapples with a pandemic and its aftermath. The multi-talented team ensures a story 5 days a week, every day at 4 pm without any delays or excuses. Even a five-minute-long narrative involves multiple people responsible for  – scheduling, researching, writing, communication and impact analysis.

“The aspiration is to reach children currently deprived of any kind of learning opportunity. School Ki Ghanti that started with phone calls reaching thirty children in May now has more than four-hundred children listening and diligently completing the activities as instructed at the end of each story.”

The aspiration is to reach children currently deprived of any kind of learning opportunity. School Ki Ghanti that started with phone calls reaching thirty children in May now has more than four-hundred children listening and diligently completing the activities as instructed at the end of each story. Many even maintain a notebook where they record the stories they heard, the lessons learned, and also the ensuing activities they undertook. Medha Kapoor, a sound designer of the modules, believes that sound can evoke imagination and memory and thus each narration is carefully edited and bejeweled with appropriate sound effects to keep the listener engaged. 

“This one-of-a-kind school bell rings Monday to Friday, sharp at 4 as an important reminder of love, hope and the little joys of finding a friend over the phone. It is for anyone who wants to embrace a call of cheer and play. We want to engage kids with little or no access and introduce a fun learning tool in their lives.”

Storytelling is one of the oldest, traditional technologies which has the innate power to penetrate and affect the mind. When paired with an engaging audio experience these stories are rewired to life to bring out increased engagement and retention. This one-of-a-kind school bell rings Monday to Friday, sharp at 4 as an important reminder of love, hope and the little joys of finding a friend over the phone. It is for anyone who wants to embrace a call of cheer and play. They want to engage kids with little or no access and introduce a fun learning tool in their lives. With the powerful skill of listening, it allows them to visualize the plot and characters and opens an arena to curate new and age-old stories integrated with basic primary school knowledge. 

“The story-based pedagogy incubates the oral tradition, revisits folktales, drives new ideas and also tries to decolonise the rote method of learning.”

School Ki Ghanti aims to reach out to children with stories based in local contexts and allow them to think of solutions to the day to day challenges faced in their local community. Pankhuri Sinha, a Design Researcher and Product/lifestyle designer heads the content team and understands the complexities of writing for children. Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. It allows children the freedom to choose what they want to learn and develop their insights through art. The story-based pedagogy incubates the oral tradition, revisits folktales, drives new ideas and also tries to decolonise the rote method of learning. 

As a pedagogical tool, one can use storytelling to explore cultural diversity, to discover a variety of ways to create stories, to integrate the curriculum, to foster imagination, and to investigate the power of narrative. Stories can simplify a complex subject. They can be used effectively to teach lessons in a way that allows children to retain information and stay interested.

Story-based learning helps to reach novices in ways they cannot with other dry, rote, deductive strategies. School Ki Ghanti’s module is as follows:
1) The module consists of an introduction of the new chapter or story with an engaging sound of a school bell.
2) The story starts with the narrator performing it with different voice modulation to keep the children engaged and excited. To increase the element of fun, they also intersperse the narration with sound effects and tunes.
3) The story will then be followed with a small exercise, which the child can act upon and choose to send it to their facilitators.

Art and drawing-based activities allow children to let their imaginations unfold. When they draw they access their imagination and make physical representations of what’s in their mind. It makes children more expressive and enhances their motor skills. With a lot of stories-based in their local context, such exercises also allow them to think of creative problem-solving methods, for instance, poster making exercises to create awareness in their community. Their passion and energy is reflected through these activities. Here, phones act as a perfect tool to interact, engage, inform, and effectively educate listeners in their mother tongue. It is the most accessible medium for both urban and rural citizens and can facilitate remote learning effectively.

“It costs just INR 110 ($1.5) to make education accessible for a child for one month. Crowdfunding campaigns/ strategies helped raise funds and to gather community support.”

It costs just INR 110 ($1.5) to make education accessible for a child for one month. Crowdfunding campaigns/ strategies helped raise funds and to gather community support. Currently, more than 400 children are benefitting from the system and to maintain the call and content creation costs as well as reach out to more children who do not have access to the internet right now. Uurja Bothra, the co-founder and the business strategist realised that to make School Ki Ghanti effective, they need to be able to assess the impact School Ki Ghanti was creating and how well children were receiving their content. For that, they then developed a system that tracks engagement levels of children across groups through parameters like how often they pick up the call and whether they hear the entire story. This helped gauge the response their content got as well as identify and focus on different cohorts. 

Today, covering around 5 cities including Patna, Delhi, Raipur, Ranchi, Jaipur, and many districts, School Ki Ghanti’s impact analysis show that 91% of their listeners eagerly wait for the calls, 92% of them diligently do the exercise recommended with each story and 94% say that they can understand the stories that are being narrated. Their maximum audience falls in the age group of 6 to 10 years old. Their most popular stories are that of animals, nature, scientific facts as well as Motivational stories. Drawing and colouring activities keep the kids engaged. Sometimes when children are unable to listen to the calls, they ask their parents to listen and narrate it to them later or even record it.

Since the inception of this initiative, conversations and collaborations with NGOs and individuals have provided great insight and channelled growth. The collaborations aim at welcoming participatory efforts in order to drive change and reach diverse communities, partnering with new networks. Vandana, a teacher associated with Samarpan Foundation quoted: “kids are interested in the story and listen to the story and they are also learning a lot from the story. Overall they enjoy the story,”

“Deekshashree, one of the listeners quotes: ‘I love to listen to the story based lessons and do the activities as well. My favourite stories are Ek Jadaui Subah and Laddoo Party. My sister and I listen to them over the speaker together and are very fond of them. We eagerly wait for the calls.'”

At present, the aim is to grow this initiative along with mentors and supporters. School Ki Ghanti along with their outreach partners have impacted many lives. The model has been used for children from several communities, where the teacher makes the phone available to them in groups of ten. They follow social distancing and listen to the call on speakerphone, after which the teacher facilitates discussion and the exercise.

Deekshashree, one of the listeners quotes: “I love to listen to the story based lessons and do the activities as well. My favourite stories are Ek Jadaui Subah and Laddoo Party. My sister and I listen to them over the speaker together and are very fond of them. We eagerly wait for the calls.” 

“It’s been a delight to hear these children listen and understand what is being conveyed through stories. They enjoy the characters and due to no internet, this storytelling learning has given them new ways to learn and enjoy new things.” says Kusumlata, Principal of GPSS Pathankot. 

“While private schools take over digital space and provide experiential learning through zoom calls and Google hangouts, the underprivileged are suffering because of the digital divide. It is important to design empathy-driven systems that promise equal access and optimize reach to all sections of the society.”

While private schools take over digital space and provide experiential learning through zoom calls and Google hangouts, the underprivileged are suffering because of the digital divide. It is important to design empathy-driven systems that promise equal access and optimize reach to all sections of the society. For a better future, young designers, teachers, creative practitioners must come together and ensure that remote learning becomes more inclusive, accessible and empathy-driven. They are bringing lost schooldays to children from underprivileged and marginalised groups via phone calls, one story-lesson at a time.

We are trying to reimagine learning through the age old practice of storytelling to design inclusive and accessible learning systems so that every child gets equal opportunity. It cost just INR 110 to make learning/education accessible for a child for 1 month. To learn more, visit our website at – www.schoolkighanti.org

Design by School Ki Ghanti

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The Revelation of the Unspoken

Siddhi Shah

An insight into the UN Women Ad Campaign “the Autocomplete Truth” which exposed the stark gender inequality and discrimination that exists today.

Over the past decade, the way in which women are presented in the media has come a long way. With women-centric films and increased focus on gender equality by the government and corporates alike we have seen greater acceptance of feminism. However, there exists a deeply entrenched assumption and stereotype of a “woman”, as a mother, daughter, homemaker, or caregiver, who is responsible for the household.  

“The assumption of women as the one responsible for the household is further emphasised when advertisements related to cooking, cleaning, washing products predominantly feature women.”

This is because we live in a world that is surrounded by prejudiced visuals, imagery, and other representations that help us perceive our surroundings. A factor that contributes to the human lens and the representation of the worldly domain is advertising. It forms a vast superstructure within our human existence and has a major influence on our day to day lives.  The assumption of women as the one responsible for the household is further emphasised when advertisements related to cooking, cleaning, washing products predominantly feature women. In today’s time, it is important to curate advertisements that bring a positive change in society by addressing the issue of gender inequality. 

The United Nations organisation for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women or UN Women works for women empowerment by raising awareness of biases that exist against women and highlighting the long term imbalance of inequality. To address the issue with advertising,  it created a campaign called “The Autocomplete Truth” in 2013. 

“Google searches starting with “women should” depicted in the advertisement showed regressive attitudes about women and how they should be in order to be accepted in society.”

The Autocomplete truth was an exemplary campaign that provided insight into the discrimination that women face across the world. What made it unique was the fact that the campaign collated stereotypes that exist against women and responded to them. Google searches starting with “women should” depicted in the advertisement showed regressive attitudes about women and how they should be in order to be accepted in society. The search gave autocomplete results like “women should be in the kitchen”, “women should be slaves”, and “women should not have rights”. 

With the campaign, UN Women tried to highlight the sexism that exists even today. It challenged the higher social, political, and legal rights that men have enjoyed over women. Gender equality in terms of all peripheries is the major message that was emanated to the audience. 

“What stood out for me was the curation of the google search bar showing auto-completed results on the mouths of the four women, depicting how women have been silenced over the years”

I believe the UN campaign gave a voice and strength to women. What stood out for me was the curation of the google search bar showing auto-completed results on the mouths of the four women, depicting how women have been silenced over the years. It evoked the viewers to look at the grim reality of the prejudice and discrimination against women that continues even after decades of global progress on gender equality. It also showed how women are perceived on a global platform. Are women only supposed to be in the kitchen? Are they only supposed to serve men? Don’t they deserve the same rights economically and socially as men? 

“The Autocomplete truth had visibility of 755 million people globally and was tweeted by accounts of official authorities of more than 50 countries”

The campaign in the digital age created its trend with hashtags and left impressions online. It emerged victorious with 1 billion and 224 million impressions on Twitter. It also created #womenshould hashtag empowering women and acknowledging their achievements. The Autocomplete truth had visibility of 755 million people globally and was tweeted by accounts of official authorities of more than 50 countries. It became the most shared promotion of 2013 on Adweek.

The campaign got a lot of positive feedback. It had a profound impact that was reflected in headlines across the globe in leading news and media companies like CNBC, The Guardian, Times of India, Buzzfeed, and Cosmopolitan. The campaign also served as a helpful educational campaign for women empowerment. Companies such as Bajaj Allianz made a campaign after the hashtag to support UN women and it’s global equality purpose. This campaign served as an important medium to make consumers of internet media see that women are more than just being responsible for the household.

“The campaign made viewers question the culture of oppression that has persisted through generations”

The Autocomplete Truth campaign made viewers question the culture of oppression that has persisted through generations. It was positioned to provoke a widespread reaction from the new-age audience, to personify the positives of globalisation in society. It asked the audience what they were doing to make a change to the sexist perceptions of women that have been prevailing for years. In 2020, this campaign is still relevant as we see women across the globe bearing the burden of housework, along with working from home and being the primary caregivers. With Covid lockdowns, there is evidence of drastic increases in reports of domestic violence against women. It is important, now more than ever to look back at the Autocomplete Truth campaign from 2013 and challenge and question the inequality that persists today.   

“It’s time for each one of us to call out sexism at our workplace, educational institutions, and our homes”

I believe that the Autocomplete Truth Campaign revealed the patriarchal bigotry that has been encrypted in our society for generations. It has been a powerful attempt to challenge the power dynamics that exist even today. We need to build a  society in which women are equal to men in all situations and at all times. It’s time for each one of us to call out sexism at our workplace, educational institutions, and our homes. That is when the Autocomplete Campaign campaign will succeed.

Siddhi is currently pursuing Media and Communication from the University of Arts London. She strongly believes in bridging the gap in all societal aspects and cultures. She believes in gender equality and empowerment of the youth. She is also a music junkie who loves to travel and has her own fashion blog called Maisonsash.

Images from Ad series for UN Women by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai

Kong, The Women of Tyrshang

Hemashri Dhavala

An insight into the matrilineal society of Meghalaya

“It’s an iron rule of history that every imagined hierarchy disavows its fictional origins and claims to be natural and inevitable.” – Yuval Noah Harari

In prehistoric times, humans lived in small societies as hunter-gatherers. To survive, men and women would together hunt down animals, gather plants, berries and nuts. Nurturing for the young was a communal activity and parenting was a group effort. Studies have shown that more than three-fourth of the handprints found in the caves in Spain were made by women. Even in early agriculture settlements the men, women and children worked equally in fields. It’s rather absurd to think that in such labour-intensive activities one group would sit idle while the other worked day and night.

Bobbing its head a chicken walks carefully, laying its feet one by one on a clay road, leaving its footprints on the road, damp from the rain. There is a faint noise of women giggling and thumping mud from a nearby shanty. A few more chickens cluck about and the strong smell of freshly cut pine wood engulfs the entire village. It’s all very surreal.

In ancient times, it is said that the Khasi and Jaintia men were fierce warriors who protected their land from invaders and spent most of their lives away from their homeland. The uncertainty of whether the warriors would come back and the consequent fear of their sacred land falling into the hands of the invaders gave birth to the idea of female inheritance of land. And so this tradition became a part of their religion and from then on the woman is the owner of the house. According to Khasi culture, the youngest daughter of the family inherits all of the property passed down from her mother and before that her grandmother.

A one and a half-hour taxi ride from the city of Shillong brings you to the village of Tyrshang. Located in the Jaintia Hills in the northeastern state of Meghalaya. It is home to some Khasi and Jaintia communities. As a part of a craft-based subject to study and understand more about the unique craft of making handmade pots from black clay and greenstone acquired from the Sung valley, I was lucky to witness the beauty and simplicity of this village and peek into the lives of the people and witness their culture. Working alongside highly skilled artisans observing and absorbing their splendour. 

Kong Ibahun’s sister showing us a freshly made pot.

The title Kong meaning sister in Khasi is commonly used in the region to respectfully address a woman. Kong Ibahun is one of the many women of the village who make pots out of black clay. She is my guide and mentor in learning more about the community. 

A typical day starts at around five in the morning with children running to school and women gathering in Kong Ibahun’s courtyard to start pounding the clay for a day’s worth of pots. Gathered around with muddy hands they shape pots and discuss their day. The majority of the households here make a living by making and selling ceremonial hand-made black clay pots. This craft, known as Khiew Ranei, is said to have originated by a family in a neighbouring village, their kin settled in Tyrshang and continued practicing the craft. The fresh produce of the week along with local delicacies and handlooms are sold in a weekly market. 

A shop selling assorted dried fish
A woman selling Potha Ru

Every Saturday, the women prepare to go to the market. As I walk into the market I am transported into a whole new world with vendors selling everyday utilities from dry fish, poultry, silkworms, Koi, paan leaves, local vegetable, berries, spices, tea leaves, duma (local smoking tobacco), smoking wood pipes, clothes, jainsem (a traditional garment), baskets, pots to Bangladeshi boots, fishing nets, and potions. The market is dominated by women.

People from nearby villages flock to the market to replenish their weekly supplies and it gives the sellers a good place to display the variety of their products and skill. There is a woman selling Potha Ru (traditional rice cakes) to a woman who then hands it over to her baby tied on her back. The woman with the baby then picks up her sack full of amenities and walks away. A woman selling paan leaves and koi calls me to her stall and asks me to take a good picture of her, in return she offers me a paan leaf with some choona and half a koi nut. I accept her gift with gratitude.

A mother with child on her back buying Potha Ru
Women selling Paan leaves and Koi

Typically after marriage, the husband acquires the wife’s name and moves into her family home. Their children take the mother’s last name. They say that the man is the head of the family and the woman is the neck, where the neck turns the head follows.

Next to the market is a tea stall, offering red tea or sha with a selection of garlic chicken, smoked pork, boiled spinach gravy with a side of red rice and fermented fish chutney for lunch. The woman who owns the tea stall gets busy feeding her son after serving her customers. She has a few friends sitting and drinking tea and talking when suddenly lightning strikes and everybody goes quiet. The awkward silence makes everyone in the little shop burst into laughter.

Walking back I hear somebody calling me from behind, it’s Kong Ibahun. I spotted her earlier in the market selling her pots. She is now on her way back with a bag full of groceries and a big bunch of local bananas. I give her a hand as she escorts me back to her home. 

As we reach home her younger son and elder daughter come and take her bag from her and start unpacking the groceries, Kong gets started on making lunch after feeding her four-month-old daughter. Sitting with Kong Ibahun in her sultry kitchen as she makes smoked pork curry we drink some sha. She has freshly made pots stacked on the side of her herth. Rows of corn hang on the ceiling of the kitchen most probably left to smoke.

Smoking Corn
Kong Ibahun’s children helping her out

Kong Ibahun’s eldest son

While in Tryshang, Kong Ibahun and the other women of the village are in a position of power that is granted to them through inheritance of property, in many societies across the world, women are not so lucky. Today, even when women do pursue their careers in professions previously dominated by men, they bear the bulk of the household work and are assumed to be the primary caregivers. The distribution of labour is skewed drastically with no added gains for women. 

A village elder

Passing down all the ancestral property to the daughter may not be the best way to create an equal society. That said, piling all the housework on a woman or  presuming a bulldozer operator, a CEO of a Fortune 100 company, a stockbroker in wall street to be a man isn’t equal either. 

“Does the handle of a jhadu (broom) come printed with the words: ‘to be operated by women only’?” asks a petition started by Subarna Ghosh, co-founder of an NGO called ReRight Foundation. It asks Prime Minister Modi to ask Indian men to do house chores as well. In the hope that if the Prime Minister asks them, they might listen. The time I spent in the village of Tyrshang will stay with me forever as a time when I witnessed a society that not only encouraged women but also placed them in a position of power through inheritance. Their involvement in important decisions related to the household and the village allowed them to live a life of their choice and in their own terms. 

Hemashri is a Graphic designer from the National Institute of Fashion Technology and the Creative Director of Bol Magazine.

Photos by Hemashri Dhavala

Graduating during a Pandemic

Pitambara Somani

how do you say goodbye to the best years of your life 

Letting go of a relationship, object, or phase of life which was once important is extremely difficult. Closure or a final goodbye becomes crucial to this process. It provides an opportunity to come to terms with the entirety of the experience with satisfaction and understanding. When a pandemic abruptly ended the university experience for final year students, they began a new search for closure. 

Everyone has a complicated relationship with education and the space provided by its institutions. Throughout the four years there are moments where you wonder, is it worth all the sacrifice, time, and energy? From leaving your home for the first time, flying to a new city or continent, taking on debt, being thrown into the deep end to find a new ‘life’, or learning how to truly be responsible for yourself for the first time. In the beginning, the idea of a clean slate and the buzz of new opportunities, of finding community, learning, and honing interests counters the fears. 

The newness of life is scary, but also exciting. While crossing this threshold as an 18-year-old, you cannot predict the person who will leave at the end of four years. In that span, you understand diversity: of people, of thought, of culture, and your being. You learn more about who you are through this process. How can you then give this time its due? What kind of goodbye would be appropriate? How do you get closure?

“A final coffee at your favourite coffee shop, a picture of your final dissertation to post on Instagram, and a final goodbye to your college lover”

It’s true, the chapter was coming to a close anyway for final year students this year (if all goes well). Goodbyes to friends and professors would have been said. Cars loaded with memories and stuffed suitcases would have driven away from student residences for the last time. A final sentence would have been written during the last exam in cold musty halls. A final session of lying on college grounds with pints in hand, reminiscing days filled with laughter, love, (and tears) would take place for the last time as a student. A final coffee at your favourite coffee shop, a picture of your final dissertation to post on Instagram, and a final goodbye to your college lover, the list goes on.

“uncertain and rushed goodbyes were made to friends whom you could not hug”

Each of these presented a valiant attempt at closure. For generations, students used this as a way to signal to the mind and heart that it was time for the next chapter. 

But this year, uncertain and rushed goodbyes were made to friends whom you could not hug. Cars were hurriedly packed, and airplanes carried students wearing masks and gloves to places of origin with no promise of return. The final sentence on the last exam was written in a room alone and submitted unceremoniously online. The final session with friends over zoom left you wondering what you would be doing if you were together.

“Although the joy of ‘making it’  was undeniable, there was no time to process the end, as you needed to focus on ‘making it’ through a much bigger challenge, the pandemic”

Although the joy of ‘making it’  was undeniable, there was no time to process the end, as you needed to focus on ‘making it’ through a much bigger challenge, the pandemic. Scattered all over the globe, away from the physical space where all those years were spent, away from the community that formed the ‘experience’, the feeling of graduating to the next phase felt grossly incomplete. 

The fact that no one is to blame makes this loss more severe. No one is responsible for universities closing, for classes moving online, for graduations taking place over zoom. We all lost out. This makes it feel ‘wrong’ to consider this a loss. It makes it harder to direct feelings and understand them. The gravity of the situation makes graduation seem trivial. And it is, especially when the wider situation is about survival. However, it is okay to feel and acknowledge this pain. More importantly, it should not take away from the pride that graduating students feel on completing their degrees over the gruelling years. 

“Even though the end was not ceremonious, your greatest asset is your lived years at university and who you have become today”

These are some raw ramblings of a final goodbye. An attempt to process the end; and to honor it within its current context. Even though the end was not ceremonious, your greatest asset is your lived years at university and who you have become today. So you honour this progress. You already have the next challenge ahead. So again, you jump into the deep end to settle into a new ‘normal’. You insert yourselves into spaces where you can be useful to your community and you create. There is no need to put a full stop. The legacy of who you are today and what you create going forward will be your greatest closure. 

Pitambara is a History and Politics graduate from Trinity College Dublin, she is a climate activist and is working on new ways to serve and create.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

Self-Love in the time of COVID

Spandana Datta

Why it’s A good IDEA to say no to pandemic pressures 

The first four months of 2020 have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. With the outbreak of a highly contagious virus, life has come to a standstill. An extensive lockdown, social distancing, and self-isolation has changed our perception of normalcy and has compelled us to rethink our lifestyle. 

COVID-19, widely known as “coronavirus”, has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). COVID-19 has affected people from all walks of life. These months in an exhausting, intercontinental lockdown have proven to be a challenging period for many and have affected people deeply, especially impacting those who struggle with mental health issues like depression, dementia, and eating disorders.

“A state of complete lockdown has left people unemployed, working from home, homeschooling their children or appearing for examinations, all within the four walls of their home”

The purpose of the lockdown is to isolate oneself from society to prevent the spread of this life-threatening disease. A state of complete lockdown has left people unemployed, working from home, homeschooling, appearing for examinations, all within the four walls of their home. Consequently, according to the WHO, this isolation could be a major trigger for people facing various mental health issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc. Staying at home has disrupted our daily lives and for some of us, it has resulted in a severe lack of exercise and bad food choices. This has caused people to fixate on their bodies and hence, body image issues have come to the forefront. 

Humans have struggled with body image issues for the longest time. Even before the onset of social media, advertisements in newspapers and magazines established “ideal body standards” that are influenced by patriarchal norms, for both men and women. Today television and social media play a pivotal role in brainwashing young minds about perfect bodies and trigger body image issues, in the process. Although body positivity activism is at an all-time high, fat-shaming memes, jokes, and workout videos are triggers for people affected by body image disorders and cause small yet impactful setbacks in their healing process.

Actions reflecting sizeism, fatphobia, and body shaming are never pardonable, but society preaches otherwise. Even as children, humans are pressurized by society to look a certain way. Young minds are influenced by doltish notions. They’re led to believe that with a perfect body, flawless skin, and a pearly white smile, one can thrive.

“Diet culture is dominant in today’s society, and unabashedly promotes a lifestyle of fad diets and extreme exercising”

Diet culture is dominant in today’s society, and unabashedly promotes a lifestyle of fad diets and extreme exercising. Diet culture follows a school of thought that one can live a happy life only if they look a certain way. This leads to the belief that physical well being can lead to the fulfillment of emotional needs, a mindset that fails to address the complexity of underlying unresolved traumas.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep up a healthy lifestyle to flourish. Working out every day can have brain changing effects. Exercise is a powerful tool that helps people manage mental health issues by relieving stress, improving memory, boosting your self-esteem, and your overall mood.

According to a study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it was found that running for fifteen minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. One does not have to become a fitness freak to reap the benefits of exercise. A recent study in the UK found that people who workout once or twice during the weekend, experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often.

We often tend to generalise our perception of body image as simply loving or hating our bodies. Body image can be influenced by bouts of low self-esteem which can vary in severity that influences our perception of our bodies. Body image issues stem from childhood and the environment one has grown up in.  

“Eating disorders, just like body image issues, stem in individuals who were regularly subjected to extreme scrutiny and considered unworthy as they did not fit into an ideal body type, promulgated by society, primarily patriarchy”

Research shows that people raised in a healthy home environment are less receptive to body image issues than people who were bullied by peers and family members. Body image issues and eating disorders tend to coincide. Eating disorders, just like body image issues, stem in individuals who were regularly subjected to extreme scrutiny and considered unworthy as they did not fit into an ideal body type, promulgated by society, primarily patriarchy.

Eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder affect both men and women, widely across the globe. It has also been found that people who are high achievers and have personality traits like perfectionism and self-criticism are highly susceptible to body image issues. Still, many psychologists have seen a development of body image issues in those individuals who have never had them, during the lockdown. 

Dr. Heather Widdows, PhD., talks about peaking body image issues during the global lockdown. Self-isolation makes one fixate on unresolved traumas which cause negative thoughts, hence manifesting into such mentally exhausting situations. How can one tell if they are struggling with a body image issue? Some signs include extreme self-scrutiny, comparing one’s body (e.g. waist measurements) with peers or family members and extreme envy while comparing or seeing someone with a better body than yours.

Celebrities, just like us, are doing their bit to flatten the curve. Many have used this time to create awareness and talk about mental health issues that people are battling, across the globe. Recently, famous pop singers, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato used social media as a platform to talk about their struggles with body image issues and how to deal with them during the lockdown. The duo hosted a live session for their followers on Instagram, discussing how social isolation may cause the return of such negative thoughts and how one can deal with them. The “Sorry Not Sorry” singer believes that anyone who has dealt with body image issues and is alone at home with mirrors, must not get consumed in any kind of negative self-talk. 

Pop sensation and body positivity activist, Lizzo preaches self-love fiercely. She recently shared a post on Instagram talking about how self-hatred and negative thoughts can creep up on anyone during the quarantine period and how celebrities are no exception. But the “Good as Hell” singer bossed up and told herself that she’s “110% that bitch”!  

Social isolation may disturb your mental and emotional equilibrium but practicing self-compassion and inculcating new hobbies are some ways to help you combat negative thoughts about yourself. Though challenging, strive to embrace the uncertainty and make the best of these unpredictable times. 

Spandana is an English literature graduate who loves writing, whiskey and aspires to rebel against prevailing conventions, one day at a time.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala