The Clownselors

Spandana Datta

Talking to the founder of Clownselors, Sheetal Agarwal, on the impact of medical clowning and challenges of working during the Covid-19 pandemic.

May is recognised as Mental Health Awareness month. The concept of a Mental Health Awareness month came into being in 1949 in the US. It was initiated by an organisation called the Mental Health America, previously known as National Association for Mental Health. The idea is to raise awareness and educate the masses about mental illnesses and to reduce the social stigma around mental health every year in May. It aims to initiate an active dialogue about suicide and its prevention, an issue that is seldom discussed. As Glenn Close says, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation about illnesses that affect not only individuals, but their families as well.” The theme for Mental Health Awareness Month, this May is “Tools 2 Thrive”. “Tools 2 Thrive” lays out practical tools so one may effectively manage one’s mental health and increase their adaptability, irrespective of the circumstances. 

“Clownselors are a volunteer-based group that practice medical clowning. To get an insight into their work of medical clowning, what it entails and the inspiration behind it, we reached out to Sheetal Agarwal, a sociologist, a social anthropologist by training, lecturer by profession and the Founder of Clownselors.”

In India, organisations are endeavouring to not only create awareness around mental health but also actively improve people’s mental health conditions. Clownselors is one such organisation. They are a volunteer-based group that practice medical clowning. While medical clowning is a common practice in the west, it is steadily gaining popularity in India. To get an insight into their work of medical clowning, what it entails and the inspiration behind it, we reached out to Sheetal Agarwal, a sociologist, a social anthropologist by training, lecturer by profession and the Founder of Clownselors.

“Medical clowning is a therapy to aid in the healing process of patients at hospitals using dance, music, magic, drama, etc to reduce pain and anxiety.”

“Medical clowning is a therapy to aid in the healing process of patients at hospitals using dance, music, magic, drama, etc to reduce pain and anxiety”, says Agarwal. Speaking about the importance of mental health in hospitals, she explains: “The focus of hospital care is usually on improving the physical condition of the patients while overall well being is normally neglected. Mental health goes hand-in-hand with physical health, but is rarely considered. Medical clowning focuses on the overall well being of a patient. It is a distraction therapy that demystifies and humanizes the whole hospital environment for children & adults. The concept of medical clowning is that no hospital bed should deny a person his/her right to be happy. Clown doctors create an enabling and supportive environment through interactive play and humour that facilitates a patient’s adaptation to the hospital setting and improves their acceptance of medical procedures and staff. Medical clowning also helps reduce stress and fear in guardians and hospital staff.”

“It involves hospital ward visits from ‘clown doctors’ who are specially trained clowns.” 

Medical clowning aka clown care is a healthcare facility. It involves hospital ward visits from “clown doctors” who are specially trained clowns. Medical clowning is the brainchild of Patch Adams, a doctor and a clown! As a social activist, Adams believed that creativity, laughter and joy served as a catalyst in one’s healing process. He devoted forty years of his life to ameliorate the American healthcare system as he brought medical clowning into being.

Referring to its establishment as a “beautiful accident”, Agarwal talks about the inspiration behind Clownselors: “Clownselors came into being by itself, a beautiful accident. I was at a Moved By Love retreat in Ahmedabad in January 2016, where a woman named Dhara introduced herself as a medical clown. I grew up fascinated by circus clowns but heard the term ‘medical clown’ for the first time. I was intrigued so I looked it up on the Internet. I loved the concept of medical clowning and loved the idea of sharing smiles and reducing the pain of those who are suffering at hospitals. I wanted to try it myself. I contacted Dhara enquiring about medical clowning groups in Delhi but unfortunately, there were none. I was keenly interested and so, I would enquire constantly until one day, she suggested that I start medical clowning in Delhi. I said no way… I have no background in theatre and I have always been an introvert. How could I possibly start something like this?”, initially hesitant, Agarwal decided to go ahead with it.  

On how it started, Agarwal says: “Days passed but the thought of clowning stayed. One night I posted a random status update on Facebook, asking how many people would like to share smiles and give a purpose to a simple smile? I got 33 responses. I needed 15 volunteers and hospital permission to start clowning. I wrote to the Health Ministry of Delhi seeking permission to clown at a government hospital. They liked the idea and a meeting was fixed with the director, Dr Anup Mohta of Chacha Nehru Baal Chikitsalaya. He loved the idea and gave us permission. We were supposed to have a workshop that could not happen. On 9th July 2016, 5 volunteers dressed as clowns entered the hospital singing and dancing, the whole atmosphere changed. We started with OPD and covered the entire hospital spread over five floors. When we came out I could not stop smiling. I was smile hungover and so were the volunteers. Clownselors was born!”.

“Clownselors comprised merely five volunteers in the beginning. But today, the scenario looks different with Clownselors spreading smiles almost everywhere: ‘We have had 200 plus people volunteer at different clowning sessions and there are about 16-18 regular volunteers. We not only clown at hospitals but all kinds of vulnerable spaces like old age homes, orphanages, slums, refugee camps and the like. We also organize awareness campaigns using clowning as a medium. We conduct Free Hugs Campaigns, clowning workshops and sessions on stress management and team building’.”

Clownselors comprised merely five volunteers in the beginning. But today, the scenario looks different with Clownselors spreading smiles almost everywhere: “We have had 200 plus people volunteer at different clowning sessions and there are about 16-18 regular volunteers. We not only clown at hospitals but all kinds of vulnerable spaces like old age homes, orphanages, slums, refugee camps and the like. We also organize awareness campaigns using clowning as a medium. We conduct Free Hugs Campaigns, clowning workshops and sessions on stress management and team building.” 

“Although an effective practice, medical clowning can be intimidating for some, especially for those with coulrophobia. Furthermore, a ghastly portrayal of clowns in movies and books has led to a negative perception of them. Agarwal explains: ‘We respect each individual and their experiences and engage with them according to their needs.’”

Although an effective practice, medical clowning can be intimidating for some, especially for those with coulrophobia. Furthermore, a ghastly portrayal of clowns in movies and books has led to a negative perception of them. Agarwal explains: “We respect each individual and their experiences and engage with them according to their needs. If a person is scared of clowns, we try not to bother him/her but engage with people around them, which makes them comfortable, eventually.” A challenge like this can be tough to handle but the volunteers at Clownselors have managed to navigate their way around it. “When parents see their child engaged and happy after days, it immediately changes the perception of a clown in their head. We have had so many experiences where parents were initially suspicious and slightly uncomfortable too. But when their child smiled, they thanked us with tears rolling down their cheeks.” 

With the onset of a global pandemic, medical clowning groups, worldwide, were affected deeply. Like everyone else, Clownselors was hit hard. “Coronavirus disrupted all our clowning sessions”, Agarwal expresses with grief. “Since March 2020, we have hardly been able to visit hospitals as hospitals are allowing doctors and staff and not medical clowns. We have lost our projects at hospitals like Apollo.” 

“COVID-19 also gave us opportunities to spread our wings and reach every part of India through virtual sessions. We conducted sessions on mental health at universities, stress management sessions for corporate sectors, clowning workshops for children and adults and clowning sessions for children at different shelter homes.”

Though the impact was rough, her team has managed to make the most out of the situation with their virtual sessions. “COVID-19 also gave us opportunities to spread our wings and reach every part of India through virtual sessions. We conducted sessions on mental health at universities, stress management sessions for corporate sectors, clowning workshops for children and adults and clowning sessions for children at different shelter homes. We made videos and sent them to COVID-19 patients to cheer them up and their families. We also made videos on the importance of self-love and self hugs and making mundane tasks fun during the lockdown. We also conducted clowning sessions at migrant shelters during the last lockdown. This April, we were invited by the government of Meghalaya to conduct clowning at various hospitals in Shillong. We even clowned at a Covid ward at NEIGRIHMS Hospital, Shillong.” 

“People are quite receptive to mental health awareness especially once they experience a shift. When a simple act of smiling or laughing reduces the anxiety levels or when a child is not eating and starts eating after engaging with a clown, it changes the perception of the guardians.” 

Globally, it is the youth who have taken an initiative to create and engage in a dialogue about mental health awareness. But are most people receptive to their ideas? “People are quite receptive to mental health awareness especially once they experience a shift. When a simple act of smiling or laughing reduces the anxiety levels or when a child is not eating and starts eating after engaging with a clown, it changes the perception of the guardians.” But are the elderly equally receptive? Agarwal confirms, “At old age homes, the receptivity is higher as they crave human interaction and feel so much better after playing with the clowns. After a clowning session at an old age home, an old lady told us that it was the first time in her life that she had laughed so much and felt absolutely elated!”. 

“Even in 2021, the stigma around mental health is massive. It is this social stigma that prevents people with mental health issues from getting help, which in turn, makes their issues even worse. As individuals, we can grasp and discuss the gravity of good mental health. But as a society, do we practice what we preach? ‘Unfortunately, people are not aware of mental health. The stigma attached with mental health is real’, says Agarwal.”

Even in 2021, the stigma around mental health is massive. It is this social stigma that prevents people with mental health issues from getting help, which in turn, makes their issues even worse. As individuals, we can grasp and discuss the gravity of good mental health. But as a society, do we practice what we preach? “Unfortunately, people are not aware of mental health. The stigma attached with mental health is real”, says Agarwal. However, there is a shift in perception when patients respond positively to medical clowning. “We have heard doctors, patients, guardians say there is no point of this therapy, and medicines will do the work. But when they see the impact they believe in the power of such therapies and also how physical and mental health are interrelated.”

No endeavour comes without its challenges and for Sheetal Agarwal, a couple of challenges are inevitable, even today: “Since Clownselors is a volunteer-based group, one of the challenges we face is the availability of volunteers. Secondly, hospitals like the idea but are not willing to pay so sustainability is always a challenge.” 

Although Clownselors is a fairly recent initiative, they believe they possess the “zeal to heal” people. With their mission to improve the overall well-being of people, Agarwal says anyone can volunteer with them. “People can volunteer with us by registering on our website. People can help spread awareness about our work through social media and help us get connected with hospital authorities. People may also contribute and donate to our organisation.”

Although Clownselors is a fairly recent initiative, they believe they possess the “zeal to heal” people. With their mission to improve the overall well-being of people, Agarwal says anyone can volunteer with them. “People can volunteer with us by registering on our website. People can help spread awareness about our work through social media and help us get connected with hospital authorities. People may also contribute and donate to our organisation.”

With medical clowning causing ripples of positive change worldwide, more and more countries globally are considering it as a complementary approach, along with medical treatment. Clown doctors have infused hospital corridors with laughter and positivity, leading to an improvement in the health of most terminally – ill patients. Maybe laughter, truly, is the best medicine. 

Spandana is an English Literature graduate who loves writing and aspires to rebel against prevailing conventions, one day at a time. She is a Staff writer at Bol Magazine.

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Speaking to Frontline Mental Health Workers

Vinay Agrawal

Two mental health practitioners explain their experience of working in the frontlines during the Covid-19 pandemiC

Mental health is an essential component of wholesome health and yet it is rarely talked about. Rendered invisible and used sparsely in the conversations, its moorings with stigma, shame, misconceptions and an arsenal of such connotations, frequently pose a hindrance in acceptance. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the state of mental health affairs at various levels – micro and macro, individual and  collective.

“The strict lock-down, curb on mobility, a multitude of restrictions, never-ending stream of work, uncertainties among a host of other factors have contributed to a shift in emotions and have led to mental discomfiture.”  

The strict lock-down, curb on mobility, a multitude of restrictions, never-ending stream of work, uncertainties among a host of other factors have contributed to a shift in emotions and have led to mental discomfiture. With the caseload touching an average of 80,000 every day, a news cycle that can be fittingly described as negative and toxic, and our tendencies to doom scroll on social media, has resulted in our mental health taking a toll like never before. 

This shift is increasing our susceptibility towards a variety of emotions like panic, anger and gloom. As helplines continue to ring off the hook, and emotions run on the edge and extremes, the mental health experts (who are also Covid-19 front-line workers) continue to battle issues and emotions of their own. 

“The parallel pandemic of mental health is very much real and occurring as we speak, on a minute by minute basis, and it cuts much deeper than our understanding.”

The parallel pandemic of mental health is very much real and occurring as we speak, on a minute by minute basis, and it cuts much deeper than our understanding. Speaking to Bol Magazine, two experts share their insights on learnings, unlearnings and explain what it takes and means to be a mental health expert during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Dr Rajesh Kumar: Founder & Director UDGAM (a mental healthcare & rehabilitation centre) and Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist at MAX Super-specialty Hospital, Delhi, says: “This pandemic has affected all professions and age groups, including psychiatrists. In our profession, we have detailed discussions with the patient so covering the mouth and the nose is a must. An increasing number of patients were seen in private OPD rather than in a hospital set-up. On the one hand, patients were increasing, at the same time psychiatrists were at the risk of exposure.” 

“Negative thoughts, anxiety symptoms and depression were more prevalent among patients and these symptoms were affecting the practitioners as well. Mental health cases have been on the rise, and psychiatrists and psychologists have been visiting hospitals despite the risks involved.”

“Negative thoughts, anxiety symptoms and depression were more prevalent among patients and these symptoms were affecting the practitioners as well. Mental health cases have been on the rise, and psychiatrists and psychologists have been visiting hospitals despite the risks involved. Although they attend counseling sessions in Covid wards, psychiatric patients remain very uncooperative and very vocal, increasing the risk of disease spread through droplets. Many do not follow protocol medicine intake and other methods to prevent infection. Such behavior increases the risk of getting infected from them. Uncertainty, anxiety, negative thoughts of patients related to job loss, financial loss, death, health-related issues have also been affecting mental health professionals.” 

“Covid patients at isolation wards in indoor set-ups have been frequently seeking face-to-face counseling or consultation by psychiatrists. As Covid patients were seen more in government hospitals, health professionals there were experiencing more burn-out than those in privately-run hospitals. Many patients are worried about infection, job loss, financial loss, and staying away from the family. Several have suffered from panic attacks and depression. Fear, sadness and irritation were common, varying from mild to severe.”

“Online psychiatric consultation, a new model in mental health care, is helping lots of people suffering from emotional illnesses and has also reached the rural population apart from serving the urban. Patients who shun visits to the psychiatrist are also benefiting from this new normal line of treatment.”

“Online psychiatric consultation, a new model in mental health care, is helping lots of people suffering from emotional illnesses and has also reached the rural population apart from serving the urban. Patients who shun visits to the psychiatrist are also benefiting from this new normal line of treatment. Online audio or video calls, zoom meetings are some of the methods that are helping large sections of the population in identifying, treating and preventing mental illnesses. Keeping updated on knowledge about the infection and following proper preventive guidelines are the first step in making the health professional calm. Sound sleep, following a proper daily routine, spending time with family, exploring hobbies, book reading, mindfulness practice are some of the healthy ways to keep calm during the time of the Covid pandemic.”

Dr Anju Sharma: Doctor, International Speaker, Wellness-Holistic Coach and Founder of Musical Healing Band, “Sound of Infinity” explains: Pandemic has impacted the mental health of mental health experts very badly. Nowadays, people are acknowledging every single emotion. When the pandemic started, it was easy to make people understand to wear the mask and follow the precautionary measures. But due to economic reasons, people must work and step out of their house. This makes it difficult to ensure safety and the frustration level is overtaking the stress.” 

“The mental health of both mental health care as well as a physical health care expert has been impacted more than the normal citizen. Above all these, the main issue is we are not getting time to express or heal ourselves. As health experts, we are more worried about others and the worrying part is the ratio of a doctor and patients, which is- 1:3000. So, the condition is not good.”

“As a health care expert, we visit the hospital when many cases come. When we come back home, people maintain distance. The mental health of both mental health care as well as a physical health care expert has been impacted more than the normal citizen. Above all these, the main issue is we are not getting time to express or heal ourselves. As health experts, we are more worried about others and the worrying part is the ratio of a doctor and patients, which is- 1:3000. So, the condition is not good.” 

“Initially, I used to come across stories of domestic violence, suppression. When the pandemic started affecting the jobs and businesses, the cases regarding work and money related issues were more. These days, people are so stressed and are least bothered about relationships and virus. The only thing they are worried about is how their life will go forward. All these have made frustration as a predominant emotion.”

“if you see the health care professionals, they are spending the entire day in their PPE kit to keep the virus at bay. In our job, we have to meet new patients every day, and we must treat them while being unaware of their Covid-19 status.”

“A lot of awareness camps and seminars regarding mental health support are going on. People are talking about it on different platforms and are acknowledging their mental issues as well. It has its negative side also, that is, people are being more scared about diseases that did not exist earlier but prevails now. As health experts, we don’t have time to express our emotions and feelings and can’t even take a day off to rest. The lockdown was considered as a vacation time by the people. Even after the unlock phases, people are stepping out to visit restaurants and shopping, and the worst part is some of them are avoiding wearing masks stating the difficulty in breathing as a reason. But if you see the health care professionals, they are spending the entire day in their PPE kit to keep the virus at bay. In our job, we have to meet new patients every day, and we must treat them while being unaware of their Covid-19 status.” 

“After all the day’s work, we go back to our family and expose them to the risk of getting infected. Secondly, there is a lot of workload and because of the lack of resources, we are doing almost all the work with no family time. This impacts our family relationships. The other thing is if we get a normal sore throat, we must quarantine ourselves to protect the others around us. All these are making the doctors silent and aggressive at the same time. We too are on the same scale of emotions as any other human being. I believe sound therapy has had a wonderful impact on the mind, body, and emotion.  I keep myself calm through sound. Do not stress over thinking about the future. Try to make the best out of the present time and work on what makes you happy. I am following the same.”

“A 2017 survey by World Health Organization (WHO), points out staggering cases of depression and anxiety in India. A year before that, a global health study conducted by Lancet placed suicide as the prime cause of death among Indian population, in the ages, 15-39. The recent figures, too, are far from encouraging. According to a 2019 study by Mental Health Research UK, 42.5% of Indian corporate workforce suffers from depression and other mental health concerns.”

“The WHO pegs such economic losses at 1.3 trillion USD (exclusive of GDP shrinkage and rising cases due to pandemic) over a period of 2012-2030. In a recent interaction, a WHO official was quoted saying, ‘We think that mental health is a forgotten aspect of Covid-19’.”

The concerns of such nature further translate to economic loss. The WHO pegs such economic losses at 1.3 trillion USD (exclusive of GDP shrinkage and rising cases due to pandemic) over a period of 2012-2030. In a recent interaction, a WHO official was quoted saying, “We think that mental health is a forgotten aspect of Covid-19.” In a nutshell, the conversations around mental health continue to remain invisible, and its access limited. But, mental health is very real, and it’s time we start normalizing it. 

Vinay is a reader who also happens to be a writer. Passionate about arts, and culture; his binge list somehow continues to grow on a daily basis. He also aspires to be a plant-parent and a Bach-flower practitioner, someday. 

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Migrant Deaths: “No such data is available”

Sukanya Maity

Speaking to Bhunia, a migrant worker who shares his experience during Covid pandemic, as the government claims to have no data/record of the deaths of migrant workers.

The constitutional strongholds of India were shaken up when the Ministry of Labour and Employment claimed “No such data is available” in response to a question about the deaths of migrant workers during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

On March 24, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced a nationwide lockdown. The entire country was panic-stricken. While those of us reading this worried ourselves about groceries, medicines and purchasing disinfectants, 40 million people who account for more than half the population living below the poverty line, had just one question in their mind – “How to go home?” In India, where inter-state migration is common, hundreds of thousands of people from rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal migrate to the cities in search of jobs and better living conditions. Migrants usually end up working in informal sectors and as daily-wage labourers. They live in substandard living conditions or slums in the margins of cities.

“They marched from one city to another, walked miles after miles barefoot, carrying their aged parents and young children in trolleys, bicycles and mostly on their shoulders.”

Shutting down factories and mining centres rendered these daily-wage workers jobless overnight. With no alternative forms of employment and very little savings, they had to bear the prospects of starvation, homelessness and even death. Hence, started the great exodus! They marched from one city to another, walked miles after miles barefoot, carrying their aged parents and young children in trolleys, bicycles and mostly on their shoulders. The pandemic, undoubtedly, brought to light the plight of the most vulnerable, ignored and exploited section of the society – the migrant labourers. 

Migrant workers photo by Sukanya Maity

While most of them, fortunately, made it to their homes, some of them had succumbed to the journey. Reportedly, sixteen migrant workers were crushed to death by a goods train in Aurangabad, in Madhya Pradesh, five of them were killed in a truck accident and eight people died in a road accident in Karnataka. As many as 378 people lost their lives, out of which 69 people died in road and rail accidents and others succumbed to starvation and exhaustion.  In the Shramik Special trains deployed to rescue stranded migrant workers in the middle of a heat wave, 97 people have died before 9th September. Those who made it to their hometowns faced stigma and new forms of untouchability. 

“Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sourav Bhunia, a resident of a small village in West Bengal who had migrated to the Khammam district of Telangana to work as a labourer in a granite factory, shared his heart-wrenching experience”

Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sourav Bhunia, a resident of a small village in West Bengal who had migrated to the Khammam district of Telangana to work as a labourer in a granite factory, shared his heart-wrenching experience: “For the last two months from the start of the lockdown, the contractor allowed us only one meal a day….one chappati (bread) and sometimes a spoonful serving of rice”. 

Bhunia, 25, along with eight other people, originally from Madhakhali, a small village in East Midnapore district of West Bengal, had left for their destination in 2019, sometime around September. After nine months, spending their maximum earnings, impoverished and jaded, they returned to their home state in the first week of May 2020. Following is Bhunia’s account of the lockdown. 

Sourav Bhunia photo by Sukanya Maity

How did you get through the initial days of lockdown? Did you save up?

Whatever little we had earned in the past few months, we transferred the amount to our families back at home and kept with ourselves, not more than what we would need to buy groceries or pay the rent. The contractor, Bera, under whom a group of eight people worked, promised me a sum of twelve-thousand rupees by the end of March. Because of the countrywide lockdown, the granite factory had to be shut down and the contractor always found an excuse to not talk about our wages. We waited for weeks until we confronted him. He seemed helpless and ignorant about the entire situation when we came to know that the factory owner had not paid him the sum that was due. I grew restless, without a penny in my pocket and an empty stomach, I would cry to sleep every night. We prayed for the lockdown to be lifted in no time so that we would get our due wages and return to our village. We did not want to die there, either of hunger or from the virus; we would rather die in our homeland. 

He broke down in the middle of our conversation.

Did the State Government or the local officials help in easing your condition? 

Mr Bera had recorded a video of us pleading with the West Bengal Government to arrange for our return. He had assured us that it would reach the Chief Minister of the state. We were betrayed again. It did not; why would the government think of us? 

The Central Government had arranged for Shramik Specials (special trains to carry the migrants to their hometowns). How has the initiative helped you?

When the Central Government passed an order to bring back the migrant workers to their villages, we were overjoyed; but we are labourers and why would anyone do us any good? The rail authority asked for our Adhar Cards so that we could get the free tickets to our home. I felt a sudden urge to kill myself when I realised that I did not have my Adhar card with me. How would I know that the only thing they care about even when we are in the midst of a pandemic, is a proof of citizenship? Back at home, my father contacted the local BJP cadres so that they might help in any possible way, but it did not work. I was not surprised at all. In the last election, I had voted for the Janata Party thinking that Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) coming from a family like ours, would work for the betterment of the majdoors (labourers and menial workers). I was only daydreaming.

How did you manage to return?

Thank heavens, I was not the only one without an Adhar card. Some of my co-workers, who could not board a train the following day, planned to go to the local police station in Khammam to seek help; I accompanied them too. The police personnel asked us to arrange a feasible means of transport for ourselves and made it clear that they would not be able to help us in any way. There were eight of us and we managed to get an ambassador car which charged each of us 5,000 INR. After continuous rounds of visits to the local police station and the district magistrate’s office, we were finally granted permission to leave for our home states.

Bhunia sighed after narrating his experience. As a sign of empathy and being at a loss of words, I exclaimed how the pandemic has affected the lives of people in the worst possible ways. What followed next, has kept me wondering about the situational reality and the world that we are living in. He said, “A pandemic becomes a pandemic when no one can escape from it, be it the rich people in the cities or people like us and when it affects them (referring to the privileged sections), it becomes a global issue. People like us anyway die of hunger. It has been ‘their’ (the privileged) government, ‘their’ problem, and now, ‘their’ disease. The only thing that we want is our wages. That will help.” 

“Not acknowledging the sufferings, hardships, humiliation and helplessness of the workers and erasing their reality by not keeping a record of their lives reflects how little the lives of people like Bhunia matter.”

Last week, the Home Ministry openly declared in the parliament that the panic created due to the migrants’ exodus has been solely stimulated by “fake news” about the duration of the pandemic. This negates the reality that the government did not specify the duration and for a daily-wage migrant worker the most rational action, like many other professionals, students, travellers was to go home. Not acknowledging the sufferings, hardships, humiliation and helplessness of the workers and erasing their reality by not keeping a record of their lives reflects how little the lives of people like Bhunia matter. Speaking to Bhunia and listening to his harrowing experience, I realise how we, as a nation, have failed to uphold our democratic ideals by choosing to be silent observers.

Sukanya is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a feminist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist and hopes to document the lives of remarkable women so that their stories don’t vanish into anonymity.

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ASHA Workers: The Unpaid, Unprotected Frontline Warriors of India

Sukanya Maity

Speaking to India’s neglected Frontline ASHA workers, why they’re striking and what they demand. 

The Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) is an all-women community of health workers launched in 2005 as a part of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Since then, it has been functioning under the Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) programme. In India, proper healthcare services remain largely inaccessible and the rural sectors are deprived of the basic necessities. ASHA workers, clad in pink sarees, have been instrumental in bridging the gap between the rural population and effective healthcare services. 

“Since 2005, ASHA workers have helped sensitize rural women by raising awareness and educating people on basic healthcare facilities, sanitation and hygiene”

Since 2005, ASHA workers have helped sensitize rural women by raising awareness and educating people on basic healthcare facilities, sanitation and hygiene. They have carefully taken note of the determinants of health such as proper nutrition, living conditions, sanitation, hygiene, number of family members, income and the working conditions of rural families. This, in turn, has tremendously helped the government in its implementation of family welfare and healthcare services. 

ASHA workers encourage and educate rural women on the importance of childbirth at hospitals, rather than at homes. They regularly distribute medicine kits to every rural household. They act as providers of direct observatory short-course treatment under the revised Tuberculosis Control Programme. They also accompany pregnant women to the nearest hospitals, even at odd hours. Most of these workers are women who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. In order to be an ASHA worker, they must have a formal education of up to the eighth standard and must be between the ages of 25 and 45. After being selected, they are trained through awareness sessions and health welfare programmes. 

The Frontline Workers Battling Covid-19

When the Covid-19 pandemic spread across India, ASHA workers were asked to work as contact tracers, collect data and identify patients who showed mild symptoms through door-to-door screening and report these to state authorities. They were expected to do this without any protective gear or PPE kits and with an added remuneration of 1,000 rupees (13 USD) a month to their regular salary of 4000 rupees a month. 

“Realising that it was a national emergency, they stepped up to the task with no complaints. In fact, all the accurate data that is televised, printed and reported, is a direct result of the commitment of these frontline warriors to their work and responsibilities”

Realising that it was a national emergency, they stepped up to the task with no complaints. In fact, all the accurate data that is televised, printed and reported, is a direct result of the commitment of these frontline warriors to their work and responsibilities. Speaking to Bol Magazine, Kamlesh Hindustani, an ASHA worker from Haryana who has been working since 2005, says: “Had we not been there, it would have been impossible to control the spread of coronavirus as well as keep a track on the number of confirmed cases each day.” 

“They were not paid for months and scores of ASHA workers suffered from high rates of infection of Covid due to the lack of protective gear and PPE kits.”

The situation worsened when they were asked to work for ten hours a day instead of the usual four hours. They were not paid for months and scores of ASHA workers suffered from high rates of infection of Covid due to the lack of protective gear and PPE kits. Hindustani says: “We have been working tirelessly since April. I, myself, have identified a lot of patients who were infected. We did all that we could, without a question but we do care for our lives and our families. Many of my colleagues got infected and lost their lives. Who is responsible for it?” 

Reportedly, 1 million ASHA workers in the country have been working as contact tracers. They have not been paid since March. The families of the workers who died due to the callousness and the ignorance of the governmental authorities have not received any compensation or insurance.

“On the 10th of July, the ASHA workers in Karnataka proposed to strike against the unjust nature and measures of the ruling party by boycotting their work.”

On the 10th of July, the ASHA workers in Karnataka proposed to strike against the unjust nature and measures of the ruling party by boycotting their work. The movement gained momentum as ASHA workers from other states such as Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh united to protest against the government’s inaction. These workers are being supported by organisations such as the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC).

Their Demands

“The ASHA workers are pressing for provision of protective gear, PPE kits and a legal status that ensures minimum wages with better and timely pay.”

The ASHA workers are pressing for provision of protective gear, PPE kits and a legal status that ensures minimum wages with better and timely pay. Hindustani says: “Before 2005, the condition of the health sectors was much worse than what it is now. People in the remotest areas had zero to no access to health facilities. For every thousand people in the villages, one ASHA worker was appointed. We have often functioned as midwives, escorting the pregnant women to nearest hospitals and taking care of them and their children for a prolonged period of 16 years by providing them with drug kits, vaccinations, nutritional supplements and so on. Look at how the government is treating us now! Is it the price that we pay for our humanitarian work?”

The authorities have also curtailed the due incentives of ASHA workers. On the 21st of July, they had placed their demands in front of the Haryana State Authority. Instead of paying their due remuneration, the state government curtailed 50% of the total incentives (provision of 1,000 INR for a door-to-door visit) that they were initially paid. Hindustani comments: “The ruling Janata Party’s national slogan and initiative of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (save the girl child and educate her) is an utter scam when in reality, it fails to recognise the contribution of all-women ASHA workers and exploit our unpaid labour!” 

“In India, prior to Covid, ASHA workers have been instrumental in mitigating the risks of diseases like Polio, Tuberculosis, AIDS and the like through regular sensitization, awareness sessions and distribution of medical kits and supplements.”

In India, prior to Covid, ASHA workers have been instrumental in mitigating the risks of diseases like Polio, Tuberculosis, AIDS and the like through regular sensitization, awareness sessions and distribution of medical kits and supplements. As a result of the government’s inability and failure to implement labour laws and their dilution through repeated amendments the Trade Unions and Workers organisation that are solely driven towards alleviating the sufferings of these workers have been relegated to a secondary position.

Hindustani explains: “The ruling Janata Party’s fetish for privatising the government sectors will not work when it comes to privatising our labour. We feel ashamed to disclose our salaries to our relatives and families. When a saviour (referring to the government) turns into a monster, people do not see a ray of hope. But, we will keep fighting for our rights until we get what we deserve.”

“Hindustani’s husband is an auto-driver who was rendered jobless overnight due to the sudden declaration of the countrywide lockdown. She has a 21-year-old son who is pursuing his Bachelor’s in Engineering. She is also the only earning member in her family and hence, cannot afford to lose her job at any cost.”

Hindustani’s husband is an auto-driver who was rendered jobless overnight due to the sudden declaration of the countrywide lockdown. She has a 21-year-old son who is pursuing his Bachelor’s in Engineering. She is also the only earning member in her family and hence, cannot afford to lose her job at any cost. She says: “We do not care if the government labels us as ‘anti-national’ for pressing for our own rights. I’m the daughter of an Indian soldier and I would rather call myself ‘anti-national’ instead of succumbing to unemployment, poverty and hunger. They have also sent a legal notice and I might as well be arrested today, but no matter what, I will participate in the sit-in demonstration as I have been.” 

The Ongoing Strike

“Despite the threat of losing their jobs and getting arrested, 600,000 ASHA workers and scheme workers from 21 states, working under various central government programmes like National Health Mission (NHM), took to the streets.”

Image sourced by Kamlesh Hindustani

The protests first broke out in Karnataka on the 21st of July. ASHA workers from other states gradually joined the movement and 20,000 workers in Haryana have been on a strike since the 7th of August. CITU called for a countrywide strike on the 7th and 8th of August. Despite the threat of losing their jobs and getting arrested, 600,000 ASHA workers and scheme workers from 21 states, working under various central government programmes like National Health Mission (NHM), took to the streets. 

Meanwhile, in March, announcing a nationwide lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested people to recognise and validate the contribution of the frontline workers by lighting candles, banging utensils and clapping for them. People even went to the extent of bursting crackers and chanting spiritual hymns to end the pandemic. 

“Speaking to Bol Magazine, the Haryana State Secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), Savita says: ‘the show of gratitude that the PM had put up which included banging utensils, lighting candles and clapping for the frontline workers would neither satiate their hunger nor save their lives. The ASHA workers were not even provided with masks and sanitizers. Some of them used their dupattas (scarfs) and handkerchiefs to cover their mouth.’”

Speaking to Bol Magazine, the Haryana State Secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), Savita says: “The show of gratitude that the PM had put up which included banging utensils, lighting candles and clapping for the frontline workers would neither satiate their hunger nor save their lives. The ASHA workers were not even provided with masks and sanitizers. Some of them used their dupattas (scarfs) and handkerchiefs to cover their mouth. The workers do not need to be showered with flowers, instead, they want their monthly wages so that they can run their households. Flowers won’t fill their empty stomach. They are tired of the government’s caricatures and mockery.”

The Government Response

Since 2005, the ASHA workers have been functioning as volunteers and not as (formal) workers. They do not have legal backing, protective laws and government-funded insurance policies. Jay Bhagawan, Haryana State General Secretary of Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), explains: “The ASHA workers are sometimes paid 1,000 rupees, sometimes 3,000 and sometimes 4,000. They do not get a fixed salary. The workers who stay in the field for more than 8 hours a day face undue discrimination, harassment and abuse from the local people. One such worker was chased away by the villagers because they thought she would misinform the authority and all of them would be taken to the quarantine centres, despite not being infected with the virus.” 

“The ASHA workers are mostly women from marginalized caste and class. Many of them live in slums and congested areas. Their neighbours have boycotted them believing that they might be infected since they came in close contact with the patients and other local people.”

The ASHA workers are mostly women from marginalized caste and class. Many of them live in slums and congested areas. Their neighbours have boycotted them believing that they might be infected since they came in close contact with the patients and other local people. The Delhi Police has launched an FIR against 100 protesting workers on grounds of breaking rules related to physical distancing by gathering in large numbers at Jantar Mantar.

Bhagawan says: “The movement has not yet become widespread. Only 6,00,000 out of 10,00,000 workers have participated in the countrywide protest and some thousand of them in few states are on a strike. The government has no sympathy for the people living in the margins. The workers will not back off until and unless the government fulfils their demands. The government must realise that it can never tackle a pandemic without the cooperation of its ASHA workers. The strike has been extended till the 17th of August. If the government fails to take any necessary action, the strike will go on even after the 17th.”

“ASHA workers are essential in India’s fight against Covid. They are needed now more than ever.”

ASHA workers are essential in India’s fight against Covid. They are needed now more than ever. Without them, it will be impossible to contain the spread of the virus. Activities related to immunization and tuberculosis control will also be affected. While speaking to Kamlesh Hindustani, I felt the heaviness of the situation and the hardships and humiliation that these frontline workers have faced and continue to face every day. All they demand are regular wages so that they can fulfil their basic needs and ensure their safety on the job. If we fail the ASHA workers, we will not only lose the fight against Covid but also be remembered as a nation that failed to protect it’s frontline workers. 

Sukanya is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a feminist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist and hopes to document the lives of remarkable women so that their stories don’t vanish into anonymity.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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The Post-Covid World Order

Kavya Manocha

With the United States no longer funding the World Health Organisation, looking at how 2020 is changing the world power dynamics

The current Covid-19 pandemic has been truly “global” and adversely affected every country in the world. Its continuing longevity and profound effect has destabilized the world and shook the power dynamics of the emerging multilateral world we have seen in the last few decades. A possible trend in the post-Covid-19 world is the vacuum in global leadership and the inefficiencies of international institutions. It has brought attention to the various issues underlying this multilateral world and exposed problems in global governance and institutions. The institutions, like the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which were created post-World War II, aimed to ensure peace and stability, are currently highly politicised. Lack of timely response by these organizations has eroded their importance at solving issues of the real world. 

“The US-led world order propagated capitalism, collective defence, trade legalisation, and democracy as ways to uphold its ideals and norms”

The United States has been the world’s leading superpower, or rather, the world’s hegemon, since the last century. This is because of the glorious victory of the allied block in the Second World War and later, due to the US defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Moreover, its unmatched economic and military capacity, supposedly developed society, along with the support of its western allies has helped to cement this position. The US-led world order propagated capitalism, collective defence, trade legalisation, and democracy as ways to uphold its ideals and norms. Its allies would grant the US access to their countries’ resources and support in international institutions and the US provided them with funding and security. They were critical in upholding such a system through material and ideological support, which favoured American supremacy. However, the Trump administration has time and again questioned these alliances and viewed them as unnecessary burdens. 

“The US’s response to Covid-19 has put major doubts on its capability of handling a crisis and brought devastation to human lives and the economy”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the US tried to hold on to its position in the world order. Moreover, rightly so, a collective response along with its allies would have been the standard response. However, the pandemic threw the country into a frenzy where it was unable to lead or care for its citizens, forcing it to look inwards, and threaten allies for medical supplies. The US’s response to Covid-19 has put major doubts on its capability of handling a crisis and brought devastation to human lives and the economy. Another big blow came from the Trump administration withdrawing from the World Health Organization, an international institution that depended on the US for $893 million in funds in the two-year budget cycle 2018 and 2019, that’s nearly 15 percent of its budget. The pandemic has shown how dependent international institutions were on their de facto leader, the United States. In addition, the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw troops from Germany could affect the US’s ability to operate in the Middle East and Africa, while handing over a strategic advantage to Russia. This leads us into a time when the international community is going through one of its biggest vacuums in global leadership. 

“The termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO is a complete disaster for public health research and life-saving work administered by the WHO in treating Ebola, HIV, and polio in many poor and low-income nations, where the US public health researchers and policymakers are a huge guiding force.”

The termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO is a complete disaster for public health research and life-saving work administered by the WHO in treating Ebola, HIV, and polio in many poor and low-income nations, where the US public health researchers and policymakers are a huge guiding force. International institutions like the WTO and the United Nations were established to ease the response to global threats, and they are global resources, which the world cannot do without. These institutions have in the past, aimed to act as an agency working for the greater good, to provide scientific information, peace, and assistance to both, developed and underdeveloped nations. Most importantly, being accountable to all countries. Hence, in such uncertain times, the US could have aided the world, rather than divide it. 

What withdrawing financial support amid a global pandemic showcases is a lack of global understanding by the United States and gives way to a possible domino effect leading to the crumbling of international institutions. Losing financial and organizational backing from the world’s leading superpower puts doubt on their acceptance, applicability, and importance by many of United States allies in the post Covid world. Imre Hollo, director of strategic planning for the WHO, said it is already hampering their financial plans and budget for 2021 and might cause many employee cuts.This move by the US could make these institutions obsolete. It has only led the international community to believe that the United States is no longer upholding the world order and can not be relied upon. It could force allies to doubt collective action measures and the possibility of a collective response to the pandemic. 

“This power vacuum might have an upside: it brings the possibility of a world order which is much more decentralized than being controlled by a hegemon. This cooperation can be different from the previous one, which only benefitted a few elite nations.”

This power vacuum might have an upside: it brings the possibility of a world order which is much more decentralized than being controlled by a hegemon. This cooperation can be different from the previous one, which only benefitted a few elite nations. It could lead to a world order containing groups of nations, which support ideals of global governance, progress, and issues that the United States and its allies have failed to act upon. Such groups could still support multilateralism and harness its benefits in the globalised world. They need not pursue the norms of capitalism, trade liberalization, or collective security guided by the Western World, rather, propagate a new set of norms and ideals. 

The economic boom and the rise of emerging powers like Japan, Australia, South Korea, India, and Brazil in the last few decades have made their presence felt in the post Covid-19 international order. These states have the capacity and ability to influence global leaders. They have already begun safeguarding and assisting their neighbourhood nations to leverage support and reduce dependence on either the US or China. Hence, partnerships between these states could restructure ideals and guide material resources and capacity. These partnerships could be more productive since a collective approach encourages states to leverage capacities by providing information, collaboration, and medical expertise. 

“the lack of responsibility by the United States has thrown major doubts on its ability to expand its power, while the collapse of its hegemony seems inevitable.”

At present, the world is going through one of its biggest economic and health crises and such unprecedented circumstances make it impossible to correctly shape the post-Covid-19 world order. At the centre of all this, is the manner in which the WHO handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Their failure to make responsible decisions and timely action in declaring it a pandemic made it impossible for nations to be prepared for the wreckage which was soon to come. This has resulted in a lack of trust forcing them to reduce their reliance on such organisations. In addition, the lack of responsibility by the United States has thrown major doubts on its ability to expand its power, while the collapse of its hegemony seems inevitable. This brings to question the validity and use of international institutions, which rely heavily on the US for funding, along with their existence. 

The tragic termination of the United States’ relationship with the WHO affects its very existence in the post-Covid-19 world. This vacuum in global leadership allows for the rise of middle powers as groups that can benefit from collective action and shared interests. Thus, the upcoming world order hangs in the future, but cannot be fathomed without factoring in the role and power these middle powers will hold in the upcoming decade. 

Kavya has recently started working as a management consultant after completing her Economics Honors degree from Christ University, Bangalore.

Design 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