Thursday, 29 October 2020

Building understanding on 'gender, gender based violence and role of police' with Uttar Pradesh Police

“There is always a protection veil over girls, a control, and a sort of management over them. When they are child, they are under their father’s shade, when they grow up and get married they come under the territory of husband and when they grow old, their son manages and takes decision for them”

In the wake of gruesome Hathras gang rape, safety of women and the rising number of incidences of cruelty against women has captured once again the attention of vast number of Indians who otherwise prefer bystander attitude. Along with this, the state machinery of Uttar Pradesh, the role of Police and the caste discrimination that seemed long buried in wake of modern India has come under scrutiny. There were so many red flags in the case that shows that despite howling of progressive India for ages, we are so behind addressing violence against women. It is sad, that we talk about violence against women only when a rape case is highlighted by Media one in blue moon. None of this is product of one moment of rage or expression of power, this is deep ingrained belief system which is deep rooted in patriarchy which is extremely visible and invisible at the same time in almost all spheres of our lives.

This incidence also triggered reaction from the Government that led to initiation of Nari Shakti program addressing gender equality and awareness building on violence against women. As part of this program, we got this wonderful opportunity to engage with Police of Khushinagar district, Uttar Pradesh. This is our second collaboration with Uttar Pradesh administration.

Interestingly our workshop coincides with Dusshera, and when the zoom meeting started – it was worth mentioning that all the police personnel were located in different settings bubbling with excitement – some of them in park duty, few of them on bus stand duty, some of them were in police station and none of them were sitting all by themselves. Moments like these make us realize the importance of our work and when collaborated with government machinery – the impact it can create in bringing out the social change that is much needed in today’s narrative.

The workshop on gender sensitization and role of police in dealing with gender based violence free from biases began with the introduction on the need and importance of why the conversation on gender, discrimination and violence are must backed with the data from NCRB and Thomas Reuters foundation report 2018.

Following the screening of video on gender equality, we invited them to share the gender difference they see in different spaces – home, education, workplace – police in this case, public spaces, religion and media.

‘I think men and women in the police station have almost same duty, they get same attention however when they reach home everything is different; it is the men who is the decision maker in the house and women who does household chores’

There are lot of difference as to how men and women function in police duty. Men are fearless and full of authority in their police duty, while women are scared even in their uniform because the outside people see them as women, who are not as strong as they are. Also when it comes to day and night duty – it is mostly the men who are assigned night patrol because it’s not safe for women even though they might be police in night’

‘All the news related to women are treated with insensitivity, they are shown with shame and disgust. There is so much anger in people that they make hue and cry of minute things, which blow out of proportion followed by mudslinging on social media resulting on lot of fake reports. It’s painful and exhausting.’

‘There is meagre contribution of women in terms of religion and its practice. The priests are male, the havans and other practices are carried by men, we hardly see women anywhere near religious gatherings as well.’

‘The difference between girls and boys in education is evidently clear. Girls are provided education in a very cautious way, they are constantly reminded that they need to be careful and wary of people around them. The teachers teaches them differently – girls are always taught in restricted environment that lacks the freedom while boys are free of any restraints and enjoys as if they own the world. The teaching mindset and style is based on gender bias. ’

Talking about public spaces, for example bus stand – you can see boys standing with zero ounce of care in the world, they are loud, throwing comments here and there, making themselves very visible while girls stand in corner, almost closing themselves to be invisible scared and almost ready to flee’

Taking cues from these responses, we engaged on what is gender, how these gender difference impact different aspects of our day to day lives, why these bias exists and how this discrimination lead to violence!

‘I think all this gender difference begins at home where the mother teaches their daughter to behave in certain way, tells her to do household chores but gives free reign to boys’

‘While I agree that gender bias begins at home, it is also the responsibility of teachers and elders around to make girls understand that they need to be very careful, and not engage with strangers because people can’t be trusted’

These statements are like sharp edged swords because they reflect ignorance and deep rooted patriarchal mindset which places the burden of violence on women indicating that it is women who starts the cycle of violence because she is the one who is responsible for children and their upbringing; secondly the responsibility to protect herself from violence is also thrown very casually on her shoulder while giving a free pass to men. What a wonderful way to wipe the hands altogether for the violence caused by men!

We took a quick poll on few statements asking them whether they think that it reflects violence or not! To our surprise most of them agreed that all the statements comes under violence.

Taking examples from their previous answers and poll statements – we talked in detail about what is gender based violence, different types with real life examples, the impact of GBV on women and on country at large followed by some very threatening data points reflecting the severity of the current situation of violence in India.

To further establish the understanding on gender and gender based violence; we gave them different situations enquiring their course of action!

‘Before taking any procedural action required in the rape case, I would make sure that she is doing okay, and get her medical assistance. I would treat her like my daughter and provide as much as comfort and support as I can’

‘This is the case of child sexual abuse, I would instruct personnel dressed in casual clothing to go along with the boy for medical, provide comfort to the parents and direct the concerned official to take appropriate action’

‘When the women police officer reports a sexual harassment complaint against the senior, I would report it to senior women official, take all the details and file the case as soon as possible’

‘In this case, we would ask both the parties that is girl’s parents and her would be in laws to come to police station where we would make them understand that dowry must not be taken, we would tell them about legal action that could be taken against them and if they still go ahead and ask for dowry, we would file FIR and take appropriate action.’

‘We need to change the mindset, the way we see women, the way we differentiate and how we tackle the cases involving women. I will try and use this information in the cases!’

These responses gave us hope!

‘I loved the workshop. It was so informative and such discourse must continue, it gives us an opportunity to learn, rethink and increases our confidence. There are people who grasp the information immediately, answer the questions and take action on the spot while others take time to understand the information, once that sinks in they inculcate this in their course of action. It is very important that these conversations continue to take place because it spreads awareness around crucial issues. Crimes are increasing with each day, we not only have to curb them but build a system that employs reformative approach’

Sunday, 18 October 2020

'How are you feeling?' - Taking first step towards positive mental health

 “Whenever I am upset I talk to someone who can understand me. If that doesn’t help then I use social media however that just frustrates me more”

After a very engaging and productive mental health awareness workshop with 60+ students from Government School on International Mental Health Day, we conceptualized yet another workshop with same objective and intention for young people. Mental Health is crucial in all times, however due to Covid-19, it has taken a major hit and people are struggling to cope with it. We invited people all across India that includes students, activists, grass root workers and others to devote few moments just for themselves to get in touch with what’s going on with them. In this quest, we came across many near and dear ones who are finding it difficult to cope with stress, anxiety and uncertainties in various dimensions of their lives. While curating diverse activities for Mental Health awareness month, we didn’t schedule or intend to provide direct counseling or psychological support, however with the mobilization for this workshop, the opportunity came up on its own that lead us to some very crucial one on one sessions. That made our work more holistic, contextualized and reflective on the current needs for mental health.

The workshop had 17 participants from different parts of India - Mumbai, Delhi, Noida and Bihar with an intersection of age, gender, social context, education status, region and language. This made us more proactive in creating an inclusive space where the diversity would be respected and celebrated to create a learning environment.

The workshop began with a brief introduction on who we are, what will happen in next one and half hour and warm welcome to the participants. This was followed by mindful meditation practice to allow them to absorb the space, bring their thoughts in, and be fully present in the moment in sync with the breath. In the next activity, they were invited to write down an experience where they felt sad, upset, angry or frustrated during this year or any point of their lives.

Life can be really touch, challenging and not everything goes as we plan so what do we do when we are at odds with the life –

‘I listen to the music and it calms me down’

‘I cry, write and share it with my partner’

‘I eat my favorite things, go to park, play with animals who really sooth me’

‘I go to some place away from crowd, where there is no one, sit in silence to experience peace’

‘I go for long walks, enjoy the open sky and nature. It makes my problems look tiny’

‘I sit my guitar, play music’

‘I sit with pen and paper and let my imagination flow – write or draw. Sometimes I go to my friends and talk for hours’

‘I listen to music and that is according to my mood – so sad music for sad mood’

‘I cry a lot and then speak to my sister’

‘I go to the praying space in my house, sit and pray’

‘When I am sad or in distress – I write and that helps me to understand what I am going through. So if I have a conflict and I feel it could be resolved by talking to concerned person – I go and solve it and if it can’t be solved that ways then I meditate’

‘I do sketching, play with dogs, watch BTS group, listen to loud music and dance’

With the help of these responses we build an understanding on healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms while facing a distressed situation. These responses were so incredible, the vulnerability and openness brought a new light to the session and I couldn’t be more grateful to share space with these wonderful people.

In the next part of the session, we explored some of the most profound self-coping practices which could help in dealing with the situations in a better way. The first one being positive self-talk:

‘I love myself, people might think I am self-obsessed but I like who I am. I love clicking my pictures, posting them and writing interesting captions’

‘I am hard working, supportive, I try to treat people equally and not judge them of any social parameters’

‘I am caring, loving and I sympathize with people easily’

‘I am good at giving advice, whenever someone asks me of a situation – I help them make better decision’

‘I never shy away from admitting my mistakes, I am sensitive and love learning new things’

‘I care for environment and animals and I don’t take kindly to people who don’t do right by them’

The thing about positive self-talk is that they are your own words for yourself – what good qualities you have rather what others tell you so when in difficult situation, reminding oneself of those can help you find your way out and support you in keeping your mental health in check.

We then invited the participants to draw or write their dreams – what they have for themselves with a reminder that they belong to them and are curated by them and not the ones which are dictated by parents, family or society.

‘I want to have a house with my name plate over it, earned by me; I want to go to ladakh whenever this lock down gets over and I want to travel the world on my own’

‘I want to travel many places with my friends with no phones or just phone to click pictures with no cell service’

‘I want to take my parents many places and yes no phones for me too. Also I want to study hard, achieve my goals and buy car for myself’

‘I had put my PhD on hold, I wish to ace it one day’

‘The thing about dreams is they keep changing with age. When I was a young boy I wanted to pass metric with 1st division but couldn’t because of 4 marks, then I wanted to became government official but couldn’t qualify, then I wanted to become rich unfortunately that path lead to the place where I didn’t want to go. Now I wish to live in peace and love without any expectations’

‘I wish to visit Korea and meet BTS band’

‘I want to become successful and celebrated; may be direct a documentary or film’

This was one of the most beautiful part of the workshop because it made me realize the beauty and power of dreams; if you dream you are alive, you have the light in you that could help you overcome any damn difficulty, challenge or struggles. While sharing the dreams, there was this smile on their faces, gleam in the eyes and charm on the face – I think that’s why we strive for dreams, live and love.

Following this, the participants were engaged in the practice of journaling where they were invited to write about their happy moment/day and don’t let the pen stop till we say.

In the last part of the workshop, we asked the participants to think and share what are the things they are grateful for –

‘I am grateful for my parents, that I am alive despite this pandemic, this beautiful space where I am working and learning each day’

‘I am skilled so I can always earn and not go without food’

‘I have a dream’

Happiness doesn’t lead to gratitude, gratitude leads to happiness. This one sentence changed my life. We always crib, cry, get angry, frustrated or lash out because things didn’t go according to us, something bad happened to us, betrayal etc but in the rush to feel miserable we forget to cherish and be thankful of the things that makes our life beautiful and amazing! Be grateful is a wonderful way of living, to enjoy the little joys of life, to express it makes life thousand times better.

‘From entire Bihar, I would like to thank you. I can’t express how wonderful I am feeling at the moment. If we make 20-30 people sit and do these things, they would create such a change. People fight, argue, have conflicts for no good reasons with these practices they can feel better than taking it out on others. I loved meditation practice, it grounded me and I have never felt so refreshed. Thank you’     

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Learning to say 'NO' to child sexual abuse

“Why does child sexual abuse happen? Why do people do this?”

A very simple question coming from curiosity and instinctive mind from an adolescent however stumped me. I didn’t know how to answer it because can there be a logic or reasonable explanation or any statement for an act that violates someone? I don’t think so! The only thing that came to my mind is when the person doesn’t understand body autonomy, that one’s body is their own business, that no one has right to do anything without consent or the people who abuses their strength or power does that – and thinking about why they do what they do could be a step towards understanding or justifying the act!

The session on child sexual abuse with the adolescent participants from Government school began with the screening of short video by Child line. This was followed by inviting the students to draw body and indicate the parts where no one should touch them. It was a surreal experience to watch them intently draw, some of them put a cross on the four body parts, few highlighted the body parts and others circled it – this was to grasp their thoughts and understanding of relationship between touch and body.

Through the presentation we talked in detail about child sexual abuse and POCSO Act 2012 and why it is important to be aware of CSA beyond the knowledge of good touch and bad touch. In the next part of the session, we engaged on ‘challenging child sexual abuse’. One of the practice that we have included in the workshop this year is saying NO out aloud. Understanding CSA is one step, but what would I do if something like this happens to me. Saying out aloud is a major exercise where the participants yell NO many a times till they get comfortable of saying it – this gives them voice – a power to challenge which they have in them but are unaware of. It is a powerful activity which changes the entire environment of the session.

One of the major aspect of challenging CSA is recognizing trusted adult – someone who would listen to you, understand you, will support and be there for you without judging or shaming. It was heartening to see them pondering and coming up with the names of father, mother, elder sister and big brother. To make them understand that it is not the fault of the person who is at end of violence and it is okay to seek help is very crucial.   

The session was then opened for questions –

‘Why would anyone do this?’

‘Does it happen with boys?’’

‘What happens when someone calls 1098?’

Since this was the last workshop, we also asked the participants to share their feedback –

‘I learnt a lot during the workshop. I got to know about physical changes, private parts of boys and girls. I didn’t even know the names’

‘I learnt about good touch and bad touch’

‘I understood that we shouldn’t touch someone’s private part. It is wrong and criminal offence’

‘I enjoyed the workshop on gender – it is good to know that both girls and boys can do whatever they want to’

‘I liked the session on gender, understanding that we are the ones who created these difference’

‘I understood that there are identities more than just boy and girl’

‘I learnt about sex and what does saying NO means’ 

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Understanding 'sexuality and sexual identity' with the students of Government School

“If my friend says that he is not interested in girls, then I would ask him who he is interested in.”

While many countries in the world are celebrating ‘coming out day’; the conversations on sexuality and LGBTQ remains abysmal in our country. These conservations become imperative especially during puberty, because with the different changes experienced by adolescents they are also building, developing and enquiring their sexual identity. The Indian society is buried deep under binary normative system, there is hardly any representation or discussion about gender and sexual identities; so if a person doesn’t find themselves fitting in the two box system – it could be very confusing, traumatic and troubling experience with fear of stigma and judgment all around.

With this intention to build knowledge on sexuality and different identities we conducted our fifth workshop on ‘boy, girl and beyond’ with the adolescent participants of Government School.

The workshop began with ‘which statement is normal and which is not’. It was not surprising to hear that their views coincide with the majority of the people in our society. In the next part of the session, through presentation we showed them various pictures and invited them to share whether the photo is of man or woman or someone else. The pictures are tricky because most of them don’t fall under the dictated appearance, role or responsibility of the gender like Harmeet Gaur who has growth of facial hairs due to a genetic disease. Through this, they received the message that we would be talking about people who don’t bind themselves in the normative binary system. With each picture, we talked about individual and how they are defying the traditional gender norms which left the participants surprised.

As part of sharing information, we talked about gender and sexual identities in details and why it is important to be aware of them. There are many layers of conversations – beginning with how we as individuals identify ourselves; secondly to make sure that if someone identifies beyond the definition of boy and girl – that it is okay and normal to be who you are irrespective of what is being told to us by people around us – it’s not easy and will be a very difficult journey; thirdly – it is up to you when and how to share your identity (coming out) even with your closed and trusted one, no one can do otherwise. Last and very important point as to if you know, or seen someone who has different identity; then to respect and treat them equally and not judge them for who they are. THEY ARE AS NORMAL, AS NATURAL, AS OKAY AS ME BEING A GIRL OR YOU BEING A BOY.

To gather their understanding, we shared few statements as asked how would they react in following circumstances –

If your friend comes and tells you that he is not attracted to girls like other boys?

I will tell him to stay away from girls

‘I will tell him that it’s okay, he can stick with me and we don’t have to talk about girls’

‘I will ask him who he is interested in? and if he says boys – I will try and help him become friends with them’

You are standing with your friends and a boy passes through the road. Your friends start teasing him and abuses him using words like kinnar and gay

‘I will stop them immediately by saying that it’s not right. You must never use these words’

‘I will beat them’

‘I will make them understand that these words are not supposed to be an abuse, also the other person might feel bad because how you are treating them’

You like a girl so you go to her and tell her that however she doesn’t feel the same way. Few days later you find the girl standing very closely with other girl.

Why would I do anything? She rejected me so I would walk away and not bother her

‘I will ask them to stand far from each other’

‘I will make someone else my friend’

‘I will ask her one more time’

‘I will be sad and might cry too’

You are crossing the road and then you see few children making fun of a kinnar, pulling their saree and troubling her

‘I would go to them and ask them to stop misbehaving’

‘I will tell them not to disrespect them because we must respect others’

‘I will tell them that they have no right to misbehave with them and how difficult it is for them for survive and they have no right to trouble them’

We then screened a short advertisement video of a transgender activist who had adopted a girl.

I like the idea, their daughter wants to become the lawyer so that her mother gets equal rights as we have.’      

Monday, 12 October 2020

'What does being a boy or girl means?'

“You are a boy, and now you are all grown up so you have to take up the responsibility for running the shop and visit different markets so as to understand how business runs. And, your sisters would soon leave the house so you have to take care of the house as well”

The session on gender with the adolescent participants from Government school began with an interesting activity of ‘who does what?’ Most of the responses indicated the social understanding of work for example household chores, rearing child or taking care of family is women’s responsibility and it is men’s job to earn money and make decisions for the family. However, on twisting the question and discussion on which work is done exclusively by either of the gender – the answer was quite obvious though neglected that every work can be done by both except giving birth to the child and breast feeding.

In the next part of the workshop, we dwelled on what it means to be a boy or a girl -  

Boys are asked to pick and carry heavy things’

‘We can go out, roam around any time’

‘I am treated far better than my sister’

‘I am asked by my father to do responsibilities that involves outside work’

‘My father used to take me to school when I was young but now I am a big boy so he told me go on my own’

 “I will have to take care of home and parents when my sisters would go away”

Taking cue from the responses and with a presentation, we co-created a story with the participants to build an understanding on what is gender? What it means to be born as a boy or a girl or how our society dictates what work can be done, which responsibility is to be carried out, our capacity, capabilities and so on based on which sex organ we are born with thereby restricting us from achieving our true potential or expression of who we are? However since we are part of the society that has created this binary system, we can challenge it and can do whatever we want to!

This was a step by step process – so on asking who cooks food in the food – the answer was unanimously ‘mother or my sister’; but one of the students raised his hand and shared that he cooked food (maggi) when his mother was sick; taking this example we talked about how a boy or man cooks food either when the women in the house is ill or when he works in hotels/restaurant in the position of chef! It was wonderful to see that adolescents came up with the answer without us building up – ‘men work in restaurants as chef because they earn good money’

‘Girls are not allowed to go outside for work’

This gave us opportunity to engage on the subject choices – the boys immediately said that girls chose home sciences; on asking why they blatantly pointed out the reason as they ultimately have to support household. With this, we explained that it’s not that girls are not intelligent or incapable but it is because of their gender, they are forced or they make choice of taking home sciences rather than math and science. What was most incredible about the discussion was that the participants were able to see through the lens of how gender is manipulating their vision of current narrative and they came up with the points without any prompts from us.

In the last activity, we invited the participants to share the difference they see in their homes and school based on gender -

“Boys play games, do fun and pranks, roam around when in home where as girls take care of people and home, make food and clean the house”

“In the school, we enjoy, loiter around with friends while girls study hard and rarely talk to their friends”

“Girls always sit together and never with boys”

“Mom take care of me, help me get ready for school, pack my bag and lunch every morning”

“Most of the teachers in school are men, even the workers be it security guard or cleaning personnel they are men”

“Mom and sisters take care of household, mother does shopping for grocery and clothes while I take care of outside matters”

These students see mostly men doing different jobs at their school and around, so it is difficult for them to imagine that all these work can be done by women as well. That’s why the conversations on gender is very important to establish that ability, strength or capacities are not gender based, they can do whatever they wish to, or they can be who they want to be – they just took the first step in the direction of challenging the norms by seeing the differences that exist in the society!  


Sunday, 11 October 2020

Learning to 'ask for consent' with the students from Government School

“It is wrong to make a girlfriend and that guy over there said he has one. It’s bad”

The second workshop with the adolescent students of Government school on ‘How are babies born’ started with this very question. Have they ever asked this question? Or do they ever think about it? Or what does being attracted to someone else means? how does the feeling of attraction, like or love feels? One of the most crucial part of adolescence conversation involves divulging into the fact that puberty is the process of making them sexual beings and interestingly this very notion is left out, ignored or taken for granted by people around adolescents. This ignorance or fear of telling them more than age or what if they lose their innocence (mind you this is a huge myth) that lead to different feelings and thoughts that includes confusion, irritation, shame, disgust and so on. With this clear objective, we engage on sex education with the adolescents so that with the comprehensive knowledge on these most taboos they can make better choices.

In the first activity, the participants were invited to share if they have heard, seen or what comes to their minds when they hear the word! Most of them denied having heard the word but few of them shyly almost terrified responded in affirmation.

Through a short film where a 10 years old boy asks his father about how babies are born, we talked about what is sex, who engages in sex and what does it mean?  

In the next part, we engaged on what condoms are and how they have more purpose than not getting your partner; they ensure safe sex and protects you from sexually transmitted diseases. The silence in the workshop was palpable – it seemed that this information was something they were hearing for the first time so we gave them few minutes to soak in.

In the last part of workshop, through the story of a girl and boy, we talked about what consent is – what does asking for consent actually means?

“She would slap him tightly”

“She would complain to her parents, teachers or someone elder”

“She would kiss back”

“Don’t know how she would react”

“If she liked the kiss then she would respond”

It was ironical to see that the participants who believed that having a girlfriend is wrong out rightly said that the girl would kiss back. With the help of responses we talked about how important it is to ask the person before engaging in anything be it kissing, hugging, holding hands and definitely sex. We also enquired the feelings and thoughts around what happens when someone is touched without their consent, how socialization of boys and girls are different and finally the media representation of relationship which actually promotes exact opposite of consent. The absence of these conversations in households and schools have led to a society where it seems okay to violate consent right and left and non-recognition to the simplest yet most crucial fact that violation of consent is VIOLENCE

How are you feeling?

‘There is no health without Mental health’ – WHO says. However the conversations on mental health is ubiquitously missing in our country, if even there are mentions of it – it is mostly related to mental illness which is stigmatized at large, full of myths and taboos. There is dire need to talk about mental health for the overall wellbeing of the people especially in time of uncertainties, pain and grief due to COVID-19.

We at Sahas have curated entire month of October dedicated to mental health awareness. As part of our campaign, on the occasion of International Mental Health Day on 10th October, we conducted an online workshop on mental health with 60+ students from different classes of Government School. It has been a long term goal to include a session on mental health in the gender, sexuality and reproductive health program however for one or the other reason it kept pushing forward. This quarantine, we have taken number of plunges in terms of creativity and new programs, one of which happens to be our current mental health program. We have incorporated wisdom and learnings of our Psychologist, our experience of working with adolescents and young people and own understanding of mental wellbeing and tools that we use for self-care and positive mental health to create this workshop.

With the help of Principal and state manager at Government School, Dwarka we invited students from different classes to participate in the workshop organized on International Mental Health Day, and more than 60 students joined on zoom giving us a happy surprise. With a pleasant smile on our face and heart full of gratitude, we began the session by building understanding on the importance of the day and how crucial it is to have mental well-being for everyone. The session proceeded with mindful meditation allowing them to calm their thoughts, relax and bring back their wandering energies to themselves so that they will be fully present to the various activities that would happen in next hour or two.

What started as chaos, students speaking all at once, noises all around seemed to hit a pause for few minutes – it amazed me how these young students have this wonderful diverse capabilities to bring entropy and silence all in a small dose of time. The participants were then invited to write their experience of a day where they felt low, sad or angry; giving them time and opportunity to reflect on the day and how that affected them.

Some of the coping mechanism shared by the students were –

“I sing songs or listen to music”

“I go to park, sit in silence and watch people”

“I look back and remember old memories when I was happy”

“I watch old photos”

“I sit with my parents and watch television”

“I laugh, let go and try to stop thinking about it”

“I do meditation”

“I go for cycling”

“I speak to my friends and talk about it”

“You may not like it, but I play PUB G”

“I play video games”

“I sleep”

“I shut down, and don’t talk to anyone”

“I sit with myself, avoid anyone’s company”

“I draw, paint or do craft”

“I pray”

I am stumped by their responses, each of them is so unique, beautiful and wonderful in their own way ! With the help of these answers, we talked about healthy and unhealthy coping mechanism line even if someone doesn’t like what you do, if it makes you grounded, present and help you deal with the situations – it’s good but secluding oneself or not talking to anyone or sleeping for long duration is numbing and falls under unhealthy practices. In our quest to build understanding on positive mental health and providing them tools to cope with not so good situations, we asked them to write 5 good things about themselves –

“I love talking to new people, I make friends easily – its good for both me and other person; I do this so that they don’t feel left out or alone. I can make people laugh. I love cycling, not a day goes by when I don’t go for cycling. I never shy away from doing any work be at school or home- if my mother asks me to do anything, I do it with a happy smile. I enjoy speaking my mind in front of small group of people but larger audience makes me nervous”

“My height has increased early, I have learnt riding bicycle fast. I am very tenacious- I do all my work on time, I learn and understand things quickly. I respect and love my elders and people of my age”

The positive self-talk works wonderfully when we face difficult situations – knowing about one’s good points help in negotiating and moving forward rather than procrastinating and pulling oneself down. Next we invited the participants to draw or write about their dreams- the one they have thought for themselves, not the one told by parents or teachers or their peers. This was such a beautiful sight when all of them were exceptionally silent, busy in creating, drawing and wording their dreams. 

In the next part of the session, we invited the students to write about their happy memory or a day where they enjoyed or were relaxed! It was an invitation for free writing to express their thoughts and feelings. The prompt response was ‘my birthday’ yes – the day when the person feels very special and people all around make us feel that ways. This is one of the tools – journaling; a diary is like a mirror where you can write whatever you are going through on regular basis which could be first step to acknowledging and dealing with a difficult experience.

In the last part of the workshop, we asked students to share what they are thankful for!

“I am happy that I have good parents, supporting friends, good school and a healthy life”

“I am happy to be alive”

“I am thankful that we are getting food during COVID-19, where so many people are going hungry”

“I am happy that we didn’t get ill from COVID-19, all of us are saved”

It is important to remind ourselves that these activities shouldn’t be restricted to some occasion or just International Mental Health Day, it should be part of our day to day life in order to have positive mental health.

During quarantine, this has been one of the most wonderful moments for Sahas; this is a reminder that we are growing creatively, taking each step in unknown and exploring things to build a community beyond assumptions, judgments, stigma and stereotypes of present narratives.