Daily Archives: May 22, 2019

#AgeOfAdolescence – What It Means To Be An Adolescent Girl In India

Adolescents today, face a unique set of challenges. In a world riddled with poverty, violence, inequity, crises and conflicts, climate change, rapid urbanization and evolving technology, the 1.2 billion adolescents at the juncture between childhood and adulthood, stand the chance of transforming their societies or losing out on the potential of their most critical years, defining how societies will emerge down the road. 

While the age of adolescence is also hailed as the age of opportunity, with many young girls across the world taking on the baton to fight for their rights, dignity and equality, many others still await collective responsibility towards ensuring their rightful place in society.

Here’s what life looks like for many of the 120 million adolescent girls in India, comprising 10% of India’s population. 

When a girl hits puberty, begins the potential of a vicious cycle of vulnerability, deprivation and injustice..

In many scenarios, she might drop out of school due to an unsafe journey to school, no separate toilets for girls and boys, or poor economic conditions…

She might be discriminated towards at home, made to undertake household chores and look after her younger siblings, while her brother goes to school or work…

Coerced to marry at a young age, against her will, to follow age old traditions of society

Without sex education and knowledge of reproductive health, leading to early pregnancy, complications from child bearing and in some cases unsafe abortions, taking a toll on her health..

Or vulnerable to abuse and violence, getting trafficked across borders under the false promise of a better life, to take on domestic jobs and support a living…

Leaving her a deprived and dependent young woman, unable to reach her potential

Often meaning an abrupt end to her childhood, with lost opportunities and little choices for the future 

But, if caring families, communities and governments come together and invest in their girls, they will go to school, marry later, delay child bearing, earn higher incomes, lifting their families out of poverty, becoming a force for change for generations to come…

#AgeOfAdolescence – Supplementing or Substituting? Adolescent Views On Participating In The Digital World

The Pew Research Centre surveyed over 1000 American teens (aged 13-17) in two survey rounds in 2014 and 2015 to explore how they engage online, and what commands their time and interest in the online world. The survey found that boys tend to use Facebook, girls tend to use Instagram; that those from lower income backgrounds tend to use Facebook while those from wealthier families lean towards Instagram and Snapchat. An average teen in America reportedly sends and receives 30 text messages each day. Interestingly, African American and Hispanic teens reported a higher instance of being online constantly, as opposed to white teens.

Other research has indicated that the use of phones for activities other than communication is relatively more common among those in their teen years. Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai has declared that teens are susceptible to cervical spine damage due to long and sustained usage of phones and other wireless devices – they call this ‘text neck’. It is pointed out that among those aged 15-29, the number owning cell phones does not vary significantly with age. 

As teenagers have retreated (or advanced?) into the digital world, there’s been a flurry of adult concern over safety, health and behavioural issues. Of course the same concerns exist for adults as well, but given the additional vulnerability of the adolescent years, parents, caregivers, and the well-being community has been invested in unearthing, understanding and addressing the risks for them. 

In an attempt to focus more on their perspective on these and other issues, I did interviews with five adolescents in Mumbai, all belonging to the English-speaking upper middle class. Three of the respondents were female and two male. Two were over 15 years old, and the others aged 13-15 years.

Mrittika and her brother had a phone when they were in Grades 3 and 4 – their parents were both working full time and the children were given the phone (dabba phone) so they could be in touch as they managed their everyday routine. In ‘those days’ there was no WiFi, so the use of the phone was restricted to SMS-ing friends and listening to FM/ pre-loaded music. The Facebook account was in place by Grade 6, around the same time as she got her smart phone (though the two instances aren’t causally related). 

She acknowledges several risks among her peer group – the careless ticking off on the T&C ‘Accept’ box, the lack of care in sharing personal data and images on social media, the tendency to text someone instead of speaking with them because it makes tougher conversations ‘easier’, and the preoccupation with number of followers and ‘likes’ that spurs teens to accept ‘requests’ even from those they don’t know. 

In these is a series of areas that one would think demand caregiver attention – a conversation about dos and don’ts; an awareness session on what social media can potentially open one up to (in terms of risks). Yet, Mrittika hasn’t had any such formal conversations – most of it she’s picked up along the way. 

It’s the same for Riya (aged 14). There’s no formal education on digital interactions, but she’s figured out that it works on the same rules as the ‘real world’. “You don’t talk to strangers, you don’t say anything hurtful, and if you see something that is wrong, you report it.” She has access through her mother’s phone, and will only be given her own phone once she’s passed her Grade 10 exams. As a result her screen time amounts to less than an hour every day. 

But Riya is the exception. Her friend Kamya (also aged 14) has had a phone since she was 12. She acknowledges the pressure of the peer group in this – ‘all my friends had one and I really really wanted one’ she says. She’s conscious that there’s a certain amount of digital engagement that precedes the physical interaction among friends. So even the simple event of going out to a movie involves a great deal of prior communication – so if one doesn’t have access to a phone, one simply loses out. Additionally, you need to know what celebrities or your favourite band is up to, else you’re left out of conversations. 

Amogh (aged 16), got his phone at age 12. But he dismisses that one – it was a ‘dabba mobile’, given to him largely because he’d begun tuitions and his parents needed to be able to reach him on his way between school, tuitions and home. For him, when he was given a phone at age 13, (a smartphone), it became his source of games, texting friends and accessing Instagram so that he could view jokes and memes. 

Through Amogh I learn another reason that young people require phones – when at tuition, they wait for the teacher to finish writing the notes on the board and then they take a photo. That photo is circulated among the friends’ group. The notes are then transcribed – neatly and in an organized manner – onto the notebook. 

Jamshed got his phone at the age of 13. But by the age of 8 he was accessing games and music on the family tablet. He learned quickly how to go to Playstore and download the games he required. Where he didn’t learn intuitively, he had his friends or supportive adults to guide him. Through his conversation however, we keep coming back to music – the tablet was for him, the only access he had to the ‘new kind of music’. Even once he got his own phone, music remains the most important use for him – he subscribes to his favourite artists and receives regular updates. He does however mention Google, and how it helps to be able to look up whatever you want easily, without having to look through books/ newspapers hoping to find what you need. 

Through these conversations I realise five key things about adolescents and their digital lives:

1. The risks of engaging digitally are real and current. Yet, almost no conversations happen either through the education system or via caregivers on simple dos and don’ts.

2. Phones will be given to adolescents at a progressively younger age, as their lives begin to involve more than school and home – a spate of co-curricular and hobby activities require them to commute, and make caregivers anxious about being able to reach them through their day

3. The phone is like an adolescent’s room – personalized, private. In that sense, and given a shrinking amount of physical space available to them, the phone is also an important window for information, expression and entertainment, where the control lies with them

4. Phones are giving teens a way to avoid tough face-to-face conversations. These are being dispensed with, and instead simple text messages are taking their place. They give the teen a screen to stay behind; this reduces vulnerability, awkwardness.

5. Teens like to think visually – most use Instagram. There’s a reluctance to use many words or read many words.

#AgeofAdolescence – The Age Of Becoming

Navigating through life as an adolescent can be hard. The pressure and stress of fitting in, embracing bodily changes, seeking autonomy, learning about intimacy  and sexuality, making new relationships and struggling through old ones, can be daunting and somewhat liberating at the same time. Somewhere in between all the chaos that almost defines the age of adolescence is the magic of metamorphosis. Yet, central to this time is the search for an identity, the quest to find oneself. More often than not, this quest is a rollercoaster ride of emotions and hormones and the culmination of answers they seek along the way. 

1THE EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER RIDE

No one can be prepared for puberty. From changes in one’s body and the awkwardness that goes in dealing with the change, unanswered questions in one’s head, uncontrollable and inexplicable mood swings, experiencing attraction for the first time, performance at school, acceptance by parents and peers, low and high self esteem compels adolescents to often act rebellious or compulsively or wither into a shell, see sawing between confusing and contradictory behaviours. This hormonal imbalance, physical and emotional rollercoaster ride of stepping into an unfamiliar space (in one’s mind and body) marks the start of one’s adolescent years. 

2. WHEN SELF-WORTH BECOMES SKIN DEEP

The sudden growth of facial hair, breasts, acne and noticeable physical changes makes one’s outward appearance a constant trigger for stress and concern. These triggers change the way an adolescent sees him/herself, and the way that others see and treat him or her. Looking good and being noticed are the driving forces for ‘feeling worthy’. Constant selfies, counting likes and views on every social media post, attention seeking actions, are all based on the growing need to feel good about oneself.  

3. IT’S ALL ABOUT PERCEPTIONS (AND PEER GROUPS)

Whether it is real or not, adolescents’ perceptions are closely linked to what is considered ‘cool’ or acceptable by their peers. Peer influence plays a critical role in determining how one views oneself, shapes one’s opinions, and takes action (whether risky or not) to feel accepted and part of a group. Be it the kind of music one listens to, the pick of school subjects or bad habits, the way one dresses and speaks are also closely intertwined by this strong influence. Adolescents often adopt behaviours of a peer group they want to be part of, to feel normal and accepted, that can largely shape their lives. Or, they look for a role model and imitate their outward behaviours, as a result, losing track of their own identity. Social media being the modern-day hangout place today, makes their every move judged by their peers, putting immense pressure to be popular (social anxiety) and perceived in the so-called right way.   

4. EXPLORING AND EMBRACING ONE’S COMING OF AGE

Adolescence is the age to explore and understand sexuality. Sexual curiosity often leads to exposure to pornography, indulgence in sexual activities, and also increases the vulnerability for sexual abuse. The confusions of feeling attracted to a girl, a boy or anyone else, understanding the layers of those feelings, identifying one’s sexual preferences, mustering the courage to come out, and the curiosity of exploring a sexual relationship are predominant experiences during adolescent years. One’s cultural and social environment and childhood conditioning colours one’s attitude, thoughts and perceptions toward sexuality, determining adolescent romantic and sexual relationships of all kinds — happy, tragic, mutual, one-sided, healthy or abusive. Today, digital sexual activity including sexting had opened new avenues for adolescents to explore their sexual identity. 

5. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS ME

The age of adolescence is largely an age of disconnect and detachment from one’s parents and families, while one struggles to discover oneself. The change in oneself, the growing generation gap, the inability to understand and relate to others, leaves one at logger-heads with one’s parents, who are often on tender hooks, worried that their adolescent will indulge in bad habits and risky relationships. The advent of social media, its new language and way of life has further alienated children from their parents, under the common perception of “you don’t understand me”. 

#AgeOfAdolescence – Girlhood Campaigns To Follow On Instagram

There are 1.1 billion girls in the world, and each one of them deserves equal opportunities in their lives. India alone has 120 million adolescent girls, accounting for nearly 10% of its population. Despite their numbers, girls in India are a largely invisible population. 

Yet, young girls today are source of energy, power and creativity. Based on the belief that intergenerational patterns of poverty, violence, abuse and discrimination can be broken in a single generation, here are some organizations who are investing in adolescent girls across the world, working to bring focus to issues of skewed sex ratio, female foeticide, child marriage, unequal and abusive treatment, young girls caught in conflicts, and gender disparities, promoting girl’s empowerment and fulfilment of their human rights and aspiring to create agents of multi-generational change.

Don’t miss these inspiring girlhood campaigns making their presence across the world.

1. GIRL EFFECT

Girl Effect is a creative non-profit – experts in media, mobile, brand and international development – working where girls are marginalised and vulnerable. They build youth brands and mobile platforms that millions of girls and boys love and interact with. From apps that build skills, to TV dramas that explore vital issues, to magazines written and distributed by girls.

Girl effect uses media and mobile tech, namely girls connect, springster, to empower girls to change their lives, in formats and ways in which girls love to interact. 

2. I AM LIKE OTHER GIRLS

I’m not like OTHER girls” – a phrase too familiar to most young women trying to be individual. Too many of us try to achieve individuality by distancing ourselves from our gender but who decides what girls are like? And who decides that they’re all the same?   

I Am Like Other Girls is an Instagram based project that strives to redefine what it means to be like other girls. Started in 2017 by Ellie Lee and Tara Anand who discovered that they shared a sense of loathing towards statements like “You’re not like other girls” or “I’m not like other girls.” Statements like these thrown around so casually and doing so much damage to one’s perception of girls and femininity, their aspiration was to disassemble the negativity associated with femininity and make it clear that femininity is whatever one wants it to be.

I am like other girls is project that addresses a multitude of perspective and voices on girlhood, encouraging girls from different backgrounds to participate and share their illustrated stories. 

3. BECAUSE I AM A GIRL

Around the world, girls continue to face unique barriers that violate their rights and keep them from achieving their full potential. Discrimination against girls leads to grave injustices like gender-based violence, being forced to drop out of school, child marriage and early pregnancy. Because I Am a Girl is an international movement by Plan International that aims to address this discrimination, and promotes the rights of girls, bringing millions of girls out of poverty around the world. 

Because I am a Girl focuses on giving girls equal opportunities, whether that means changing laws, improving education, improving sexual health services or providing support by creating pathways for them to become leaders and make change happen. They work with all community members and leaders, including men and boys, to help girls learn, lead, decide and thrive – empowering girls to achieve gender equality.

4. GIRL UP

Started by the United Nations Foundation, Girl Up started with the belief that girls are powerful. Girls have limitless potential. Girls can change the world. And yet in certain places around the world, girls continue to lack access to opportunities.

Girl Up is a global movement of empowered young women leaders who defend gender equality. Through leadership development training, Girl Up gives girls the resources and platform to start a movement for social change wherever they are. Working with the belief that no matter their background, girls have the power to transform themselves, their communities, and the world around them, this initiative has brought together Champions and Global Advocates that represent a diverse group of individuals – celebrities, athletes, business executives, philanthropists – who actively work to empower adolescent girls around the globe.

5. GIRL UPRISING

Girl rising is driven by the mission to ensure that girls around the world are educated and empowered. This campaign works with partners to change attitudes and behaviors, and spark community-led initiatives, together, advancing towards a future where every girl has the opportunity to go to school, stay in school, and reach her full potential.

In 2017, Girl rising launched a 24-week gender sensitization curriculum designed to reach 50,000 students and 1,700 teachers in India. The curriculum empowers participants to address local norms, question stereotypes and drive change within their school environments, families and in their communities.

Girl rising uses a host of tools to engage and change deep rooted mindsets that hold girls back in communities across the world. They primarily use Storytelling as a catalyst for impact and long-term social change, told through film, television, social media videos, graphic novels, radio, curricula and more.

6. TOO YOUNG TOO WED

The advent of this campaign traces back to Heart, Afghanistan where visual journalist Stephanie Sinclair was working on a story about girls and women who set themselves on fire. There, she discovered a disturbing pattern amongst the scarred patients in the hospital’s burn ward: Most of them had been forced into marriage as children. A common practice across communities throughout the world, Sinclair started too young to wed, a transmedia campaign aimed at raising awareness of the problem, supporting girls who were already married and ultimately halting the practice that affects one girl every two seconds. 

This campaign’s traveling photo exhibit is the crux of their advocacy efforts, featuring haunting stories of child brides across Nepal, India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and the United States. Besides partnering with potent organizations on the issue of child marriage, this campaign also provides on-ground support to girls in their communities. 

 

#AgeOfAdolescence – Unleashing Her Potential

“Little girls with dreams become women with vision.” – Unknown.

In India the number of girls and adolescents who are married off early, trafficked, out-of-school, underage domestic workers, victims of abuse, violence and discrimination, run into millions. A long-standing patriarchal society has contributed largely to the bleak status of the girl child who grows up to become dependent, unhealthy, and deprived of opportunity… the consequences of which reverberate throughout their lives, affecting societies and generations to come.

Today, girls are changing the story. Smiling, confident and energetic, adolescent girls across India are breaking stereotypes, battling age old mindsets, challenging traditional roles, benchmarking their own standards, building a life away from discrimination, violence and neglect.

Meet the girls of Madhubani whose new thoughts and actions are slowly gathering steam, translating into social, economic and political independence and proving (against popular belief) that adolescence is an age of opportunity. 

Follow us Little Humans this week for these stories.  

RADHA KUMARI

“Have you thought about getting married?
She giggles and responds very self-assured, “I am only 14! I am not going to think of marriage now. My older sister is 19 and still not married!”

RAKHI KUMARI

“There are so many girls in this village who marry young and then get beaten up by their husbands. When I get married, if my husband tries to hit me I won’t even give him food… why should I? And I wont change the childs clothes also! Bhai! Hum kyun kuch bhi karenge? If you don’t do that’s the only way the husband will learn!”

SATYAVATI

“Where is your school located?”
“My school is 4 km from here, in another village.”
Has the distance been a problem ever?
“It is far, but I have a bicycle, and I ride it to school every day.”

GUNJAN KUMARI

“They have a problem if I dance… why but? I love dancing!”

CHANDINI

“Are there separate toilets for girls and boys in your school?”
“No, there are no separate toilets for girls and boys in my school. In fact, the one common toilet we have is also not in use, as it does not have a running supply of water.”
“What do you do during your menstruation cycle?”
“It gets difficult to attend school during menstruation cycle, but I manage somehow. I love studying, so I go anyway.”

SHRUTI KUMARI

“ Ladki ko ghar mein hi padhai karni chahiye…par kaise?”

SHALU

What do you want to become when you grow up?
“My friends want to grow up to be teachers, but I want to be a model!” she poses

SARASWATI KUMARI

“A boy can hit a girl, so then why can’t a girl hit a boy?”

RAJNANDINI KUMARI

“What do you think about getting married?
I will think of marriage only when I have done something in life,” she says rather confidently.

#AgeOfAdolescence – 5 Youth Led Movements Across The World You Must Follow

“We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference,” said 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student who began a solo climate protest by striking from her school last August. It was not surprising to see UN Women on Twitter sharing “She is proof that we need to listen to the young generation for a sustainable future.” 

Around the world, young people are becoming a power in their own right. Millions them are now engaged in what has become the civil-rights struggle of our time. It includes girls in India demonstrating against police inaction over sexual assaults; Pakistani school children marching through Lahore after the latest Taliban attack; young people on the streets of Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, supporting refugees; and Yemeni students demonstrating against a war that has destroyed their childhoods. 

It is an important moment. The torch is not being passed to a new generation; this new generation has had to seize it. Here’s how some of them have done it.

1. #FRIDAYSFORFUTURE

A large float featuring of climate activist Greta Thunberg at the annual Rose Monday Carnival parade in Dusseldorf, Germany. Photo courtesy-The Guardian


#FridaysForFuture is a movement that began in August 2018, after Greta sat in front of the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and it soon went viral. The hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #Climatestrike picked up and millions of people from across the world began to protest outside public spaces, schools and even their parliaments.

According to the #FridaysForFuture website, 1.6 million strikers across all 7 continents, in more than 125 countries have been in 2000 different locations.

If you want to become a striker in India, here is where you can begin. 

2.  MARCH FOR OUR LIVES

People hold their hands up with messages written on them during the March For Our Lives rally in support of gun control March in Washington. Photo courtesy-AP


Advocating for gun control reform and better school safety, March of Our Lives began in Feb 2018, a day after a mass shooting that occurred at a school in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen students and staff members were killed in this gun fire. 

Emma Gonzalez, a student activists, led the crowd in 6min 20secs of silence to symbolise the amount of time it took the gunman to commit the 17 murders. The movement picked up so rapidly that even Barack Obama tweeted – “Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for social change.” Several Hollywood celebrities such as George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, donated $50,000 to March For Our Lives. 

3.  INTERNATIONAL INDIGENOUS YOUTH COUNCIL

Standing Rock, North Dakota Water Protectors.  Photo courtesy-  Socialist Alternative


Dakota Access Pipeline, a series of constructions of controversial pipelines that were designed to deliver oil through the United states, were posed to destroy the land and water. Therefore, in 2016, this led to a peaceful protest- Standing Rock Indigenous Uprising of 2016. 

The project was opposed by youth activists such as Iron Shell-Dominguez and Thomas Dominguez-Lopez.  International Indigenous Youth Council was established while the protests were at its peak.  The objective of IIYC was to organise youth through education, spiritual practices and civic engagement to create positive change in their communities. The IIYC has several chapters including youth and young adults under the age of 30 who can join the local chapters.

4.  #BLACKLIVESMATTER

Protesters walking during a Black Lives Matter rally in Minneapolis Photo courtesy-  Black lives Matter


When 17-year-old Trayon Martin was shot by 28-year-old George Zimmerman in the name of self-defense and was later acquitted, it created a big uproar in not only the United States but across the globe.  In 2013, three Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter calling for freedom and justice for all black lives. 

The movement is not centered around a political ideology but supports a race-conscious reform. Today, the movement is a member led organisation with 40 chapters. At the core, the members organise and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.

5.  PINJRA TOD

The graffiti outside north campus of Delhi University. Photo Courtesy- Indian Express.


In 2015, an anonymous letter was sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia protesting a woman’s right to stay out late at night. This protest led to पिंजरा तोड़ (Break the cage) #pinjratod, a collective effort by women students and alumni across colleges and hostels in Delhi. Pinjra Tod demands that ‘safety’ and ‘security’ not be used to silence girls and women’s right to mobility and freedom.

It seeks to discuss, debate, share, mobilise and collectivise struggles against restrictive and regressive hostel regulations, demand access to safe and affordable hostel accommodation and pro-active functioning of Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee Cells. In 2016, girls and women from across the country joined Pinjra Tod to protest the ban of a curfew time in hostels, girls being told to not wear skirts and to cover their heads with dupattas. 

Have you heard of or started a youth movement yourself? Or does this inspire you to create a movement within your neighbourhood, community, school, college? Remember, change begins with YOU! Write to us at contact@leher.org if you’d like us to feature your movement.

#AgeOfAdolescence – Let’s Talk About Drugs

The Rastafarian reggae star Bob Marley was once famously quoted saying, “When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.” When we put aside the casual camaraderie (greatly glorified by pop culture) around the use of drugs and substances, we are forced to face the dystopic reality it has given rise to. With a lack of national level data to show the status of drug abuse amongst India’s youth, journalistic accounts such as this supplement as evidence to show the extent to which drug abuse amongst India’s youth and children has grown:

“According to New Delhi-based de-addiction expert Keshav Palita, five to 10 new adolescent patients crop up each day and more than half of them were introduced to drugs when they’re below 15. Cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, mephedrone and other pharmaceutical and party drugs are the most common among children.” 

The film Udta Punjab brought into focus (albeit for a short while) just how devastating the consequences of substance addiction can be. It also exposed the audience to the disturbing reality about the nexus between various state and non-state actors which actively perpetuate substance addiction by allowing and indeed facilitating easy access, amplified by a dearth of both preventive and rehabilitative facilities, and highlighting its adverse effects on the youth of Punjab. 

Punjab, Karnataka, Mumbai, Manipur, Odisha, Tamil Nadu – no part of the country is untouched by the menace of drug abuse and addiction. And yet, there is so little done about it, and even lesser dialogue on the issue. Given the emotional, social and psychological vulnerabilities of being an adolescent youth, they make for easy targets for substance abuse and addiction. In India, the drug problem is largely interpreted from a law and order and legal perspective. A preventive and community based approach to the issue is the only lasting solution, and countries like Iceland are leading the path by example. 

To be able to find solutions to an endemic problem such as drug abuse, perhaps one of the first steps is to find ways to have uninhibited dialogues about the issue. This narrative captures the honest accounts of two adolescents (speaking as adults today) and their foray into the use and abuse of drugs. 

“For the next few days after you do drugs, your body temporarily loses its capacity to produce endorphins. Which means you don’t have the capacity to feel happy. You feel existential.”

SAILESH, A 21-YEAR-OLD STUDENT

1. How old were you the first time you tried a drug? What was it?

I have been smoking pot for a while now, but the first time I tried a chemical drug – MDMA, was last year. I was twenty-one at the time. I don’t remember much of the trip, I was extremely exhausted from alcohol. I tried it again after a couple of months when I was at a concert with my friends. It made me feel extremely positive and energetic, almost euphoric. This drug is also known as the love drug.

2.  Tell us a little more about the effect of this drug, and any other drugs you may have tried so far.

When the drug kicks in, it makes you feel euphoric and you enjoy that state while it lasts. The drug infuses a great deal of energy into you, so you need to keep moving to feel like you are in control. If you don’t, it might make you feel nauseous. The problem is, if the ratio of the ingredients in the drug is messed up, it can have serious repercussions, and there is no way to know what you are consuming. Some side effects that I have felt are severe jaw clenching – the ache has lasted up to two days, and lacerations resembling ulcers on my side lips – which have lasted up to five-six days. These are common side effects for almost enough who has tried them.

When I tried acid, I had an ‘out of body experience’. The whole thing last for 12-14 hours. The first 2 hours were the worst hours of my life. I thought I would die. I thought I was dead. I realized I wasn’t when I had to go to the bathroom to pee.

For the next few days after you do drugs, your body temporarily loses its capacity to produce endorphins. Which means you don’t have the capacity to feel happy. You feel existential.

3.  The decision to do drugs is a very defining moment, often influenced by your state of mind. How did you get to making yours? 

I had begun smoke pot with friends when I was in college. Over time you start talking about these things with your friends when you are chilling. I knew the effects of MDMA, I knew they would predominantly give me good vibes. So, I was confident about. My decision to finally try it was influenced by the occasion of my farewell party. A lot of us did it together. For me the decisive factor was to just ‘experience’ it, trying it wasn’t a coping mechanism for me.

4.  How easy is it to score drugs for a teenager/ adolescent to score drugs?

It is easy. Even if the person may not know someone directly, there is always the friend of a friend. In terms of order of access, it is easiest to score pot, followed by cocaine, MDMA, ecstacy and acid. More youngsters prefer going to the hills to score and experience a trip. Technology has also contributed hugely to how accessible drugs are.

5.  Have you ever been caught by your parents/ police?

Never by my parents, a few times by the police.

6.  And how did you get away?

You know they want a bribe, they know they want a bribe. But if you act smart they can really make things difficult for you.

7.  If you could go back and take a different decision, what would it be?

My decision wouldn’t be any different from what it was. I know my reasons for it, and I don’t fear I will get dependent on it. 

“When I got into drugs I got there out of curiosity, I was vulnerable, and it took me to a lot of dangerous places…we need to let our children express themselves more freely, we need to let them know that it’s okay to speak about feelings and emotions.”

ARBAAZ, A 25-YEAR-OLD FILM-MAKER & THEATRE PRACTITIONER/ TEACHER

1. Tell us a little bit about how you arrived at your decision to try drugs.

I was nineteen the first time I did drugs – it was weed. Later I tried substances like Ecstasy.
When I started college, I wasn’t the kind who liked doing any of this. Even people smoking cigarettes around me would bother me.  But over time, with peer influence you begin to think “it’s okay” to do this, to try these things out. And that’s a trap. Besides, there is always something or the other that is bothering you. Later I realized there were a lot of unresolved emotions within me and drugs seemed the easiest way to deal with them.

2.  Can you put substance addiction into perspective for us, based on your personal experience of having battled it?

There is a lot of psychology involved to understand peoples’ relationships with drugs. One says one is not ‘addicted’, no one likes to acknowledge addiction. Everyone thinks they have the situation under control until one day it all spirals out of control. Because of what I have gone through and come out of, I can safely say when people say these things they are mostly in denial. They might say their habits of drug abuse are “occasional”, it doesn’t take long for that to develop into a habit. Not surprisingly, you start to develop a kind of resistance to the quantity of drugs you are used to consuming. After which you start increasing the dose. Even that doesn’t feel enough after a point. And then you start mixing. Nothing is enough. You do it for a ‘feeling’, you want to feel a certain way and because you are internally capable of invoking those emotions. And then there they are at your command – the drugs.You need to deal with the bad emotions. They don’t go away.  Just like a bodily would will heal only under hygienic conditions, you have to allow your emotional wounds to heal in a healthy manner. And drugs won’t help with that. They just help you escape temporarily.

3.  You have been to some very dark places through your fight with substance addiction. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey, and the point at which you realized you needed an intervention, and how you went about it?

One day when I was sober, I saw gray dots around the pupils of my eyes. While I had noticed it before, I had not really paid attention to it. A few days later, when I did Ecstasy, I started bleeding from my nose. I read up about it and found out that it happens because of cysts that form as an effect of the chemical, and then burst – causing the bleeding. I also found out that the cysts could form in your brain, and if they burst you might lose complete motor control.

That day I realized if I didn’t do something about myself, I would probably die.

I quit my job and went home. I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to me. I couldn’t talk about my alcohol or substance addiction. My parents would never understand. We have very conveniently developed the knack of sweeping things we find uncomfortable to speak about, under the rug. We term them as ‘inappropriate’. We do not have a culture where we can speak about these things frankly and seek help and support. I went to a doctor but obviously couldn’t even tell him what was wrong. Maybe if I had told him the cause of my state he would have been able to contribute to my healing, but there was no way I could tell him I was facing withdrawal symptoms.

4.  What were some of the challenges you faced during your recovery?

I got out of it completely through self-healing and repair. It took me a little over a year and a half. One day I felt as if my brain had completely stopped working. I could not make sense of anyone or anything. Worse, I could not visualize. And for a film maker to not be able to visualize is perhaps the worst thing that could happen. I needed to start sleeping, that was something I realized I had to fix. When you are working for ten hours and partying for five hours, you end up passing out. And passing out is not equivalent to sleeping. Your body crashes and gives up. I realized I had not really slept in months. I started making myself sleep forcibly. And slowly I could feel the difference. It took a long time, but I helped my body heal. Slowly I got back in charge of my mental faculties.

5.  Tell us a little more about your journey of self-healing and self-acceptance.

There were good days and bad days through out that self-healing journey. I got worse before I got better. There were times when I felt suicidal. I couldn’t seem to remember my purpose or remind myself what I was worth. But I am glad I went through it. I am glad I let myself feel. I cornered myself and told myself that all I had was time and that I needed to relax. I tried to work on accepting myself. It took a lot of looking back. When I got into drugs I got there out of curiosity, I was vulnerable, and it took me to a lot of dangerous places.

6.  So many adolescents and young people today consume drugs ‘casually’, not knowing when it turns into a habit. What do you think needs to change for us to handle this problem better?

Drugs have been so conveniently shut out of popular discourse because of the illegal status accorded to it. No one talks about it. So many children and adolescents fall prey to it, but no one wants to have conversations around it – on how you have support and it is possible to come out of it. There is absolutely no education on this. As younger people/ adolescents we at times have no idea what we’re doing or getting into. Nothing in school or college prepares us to deal with things like these. We are always taught to repress ourselves and our emotions. There needs to be more education on this – we need to let our children express themselves more freely, we need to let them know that it’s okay to speak about feelings and emotions. 

7.  If you could go back and make a different decision, would you?

Yes, I would definitely change my decision. But this journey too has taught me a lot about myself. It has brought me closer to myself, the realizations I have had through this journey have been very important. Today I can successfully say no to anyone offering me any kind of substance, and that has come with a lot of hard work and conviction.  
I am now addicted to food, sleep and laughter.

*The names of the respondents have been changed to protect their identities.

5 Journalists Changing The Child Rights Discourse In India

Dialogue about the rights of children is slowly gaining momentum, making its way into our whatsapp groups, Netflix movie content, dinner table conversations, PTA meetings, email forwards, prime time news and even discussions with our own children.

It has been the earnest effort, responsibility and the genuine intent of several journalists, who have used the power of the written word to tell the real stories of children that needed to be told, exposing to the world the plight of millions of them in India, changing our collective understanding and empathy towards children today.

Here’s 5 journalists changing the child rights discourse in India, in their own unique way. 

1. TANMOY BHADURI

Tanmoy Bhaduri is a multi-award winning writer and photojournalist based in Kolkaka, West Bengal, whose passion has been documenting under-reported issues and breaking news. His stories have shed light on issues of development, human trafficking, women and child rights, insurgencies, natural disaster, climate change, land rights, strikes and conflicts.

He has worked with a host of news publications and with numerous development sector organizations that have lent to his flair and depth of knowledge in the space, and is a regular contributor to The Citizen, The Wire, The Quint, Huffpost, YKA and The News Minute. Additionally, his work has appeared in all leading publications across the world.

This TRF Media Alumni and Writer for Pulitzer Centre, is also the recipient of the Shishushree Award for Best Reporting in New Media by West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Government of West Bengal in 2017 & 2018, for highlighting key Child Rights & Social Justice issues in the region.

From Why Northeast witnesses highest rates of child marriages in India, how a teen sex trafficking survivor demands Indian courts to act, The brick kiln kids of Bengal, The Jharkhand sisters singing their way to victory, the paradox of Bihar’s school budget, how football gives hopes to Chennai’s slum children, Tanmoy, not only tells stories of children in remote parts of India, who remain silenced by their circumstances and geography, but also optimistic and encouraging stories of how underprivileged children are benefitting from opportunity and intervention.

2.  ANURADHA NAGARAJ

Photo – Thomson Reuters Foundation

Anuradha Nagaraj has spent over two decades sniffing news – dissecting, decoding and presenting it so that it continuously finds relevance among the reading public. From the Indian Express, Open Magazine to Thomson Reuters Foundation, Anuradha Nagraj has explored in-depth and touched upon many subjects that often don’t make it to mainstream publications. Anuradha started her career at The Indian Express as a reporter and rose to be the city editor of its Delhi edition within a short period. During this journey, she has been state correspondent in Rajasthan, extensively reported from North Maharashtra and New Delhi. Anuradha also covered the Indian sub-continent for the Deutsche Presse Agentur, a German news agency. Anuradha is the winner of the 2018 Ulrich Wickert International Award for reporting on child rights.

This Chennai-based journalist is presently the anti-trafficking correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Anuradha has been one of the few journalists who has covered the breadth of trafficking and its severe effects on children. Be it a series of drawings by children who have been trafficked, anti-trafficking efforts at the Kumbh Mela, to a sex trafficked teen survivor who takes on the Indian system, her first-hand narratives and real life experiences illustrate the voices of children who have been never heard. 

From Sold for $7, child slave lifts lid on life as Indian maid, Traffickers recruit child labour as Indian schools break for summer, campaigners warn, Child Workers in India Are Making Pickles and Fireworks Before They Even Turn 6, Suicide at Indian spinning mill sparks child labour investigation, India’s Kumbh Mela festival steps up anti-trafficking efforts, to Missing children in southern Indian state raise trafficking fears, Anuradha’s work acts as an eye-opener for many children’s issues that don’t make it to the public domain.

3.  DILNAZ BOGA

Photo – Dilnaz Boga

Indian photojournalist and reporter, Dilnaz Boga won the Agence France-Presse Kate Webb Prize for her courageous work in the troubled region of Kashmir, back in 2011. Prior to winning the award, she had spent a year in Srinagar working for the Kashmir Dispatch as well as a number of international publications and websites, the culmination of a decade covering the region. Dilnaz Boga’s stories on Kashmir talk about how people, especially children, think and feel while growing up in a conflict area. She was chosen for the AFP award based on ten human interest stories she had submitted, most of them focusing on crime, women, children and youth.

Dilnaz has also worked for the Hindustan Times as Chief Copy Editor on the International Desk in Mumbai, prior to which she worked for a few city-based newspapers, covering issues like health, women’s and children’s issues, human interest, civic issues, education and crime. She has covered conflicts in Kashmir, the North-East, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra for several publications.

In July 2004, she completed her MA in Peace and Conflict Studies on her dissertation ‘Cycles of violence: The psychological impact of human rights violations on the children in Kashmir’ from the University of Sydney in Australia, lending directly to shedding some light on the reality of those who have no voice – especially the children and youth of the region. The following year, she filmed a documentary in Kashmir titled Invisible Kashmir: The other side of Jannat (Heaven), which was screened at film festivals all over the world. In 2019, Dilnaz completed her PhD from TISS on the local, national and international print media in Kashmir.

From why do children throw stones, the long-term effects of curfews on children, India’s illegal detention of juveniles rising, forces occupy India’s schools, there are very few female journalists who have been able to bring the stories of children in Kashmir, that Dilnaz did. 

4.  BHAVYA DORE

Photo – AFP

A regular contributor to various national and international publications, this Mumbai-based freelance journalist has worked for the Hindustan Times, covering education and then legal issues and has since then written for others like Caravan, Quartz, Forbes and the BBC. She spent a year reporting on juvenile justice issues through the Prabha Dutt Fellowship from the Sanskriti Foundation. She has also reported on LGBT issues on a Humsafar Trust Media fellowship and from Germany as a fellow of the India Germany Media Ambassadors programme. She has received a RedInk award from the Mumbai Press Club in 2014 and a Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitive Reporting in 2018.

Bhavya is particularly interested in covering culture, sports, gender and criminal and juvenile justice issues, a key conversation in the larger child rights discourse.

From mumbai children’s home still a mess, Why emotional public outrage should not sway the rehabilitation of juvenile convicts, The law’s blindness to teenage sexual consent is criminalising young boys, 17-year-old thief ‘beaten up’ by railway police dies, Some Indian states are considering the death penalty for child rapists. But will it be effective? Sex crimes against children: Few convictions in Assam, several victims turn hostile, finds study, Sent to a juvenile home at age 32: The unique and bizarre travails of Mr X, Bhavya has told the stories of many juveniles in conflict with law from a child’s perspective.

5. SOUMYA DAS

Photo – The Hindu

Presently, a Principal Correspondent with Deccan Herald, Soumya Das has also worked as a Senior Reporter with The Hindu in his previous stint as a journalist. While he primarily reports on the political, social and crime beat in West Bengal, he has also covered a range of stories in context to children and their rights in the region. This Kolkata based journalist has covered issues of child sexual abuse, child labour, child trafficking and cyber crimes against children to name a few.

From good tough- bad touch in West Bengal syllabus, Kolkata school suspends classes, parents agitate, In West Bengal, an app to help counter sexual abuse in schools, Some thoughts on child labour, West Bengal sees 100 cases of child abuse in 3 months, Bengal Commission for Child Rights moves SC against Rohingya deportation, 63% children in Bengal jails from Bangladesh, Another baby trafficking racket in West Bengal, Child rights body to hold international seminar on child abuse, Tech development a challenge to curb cybercrimes, to West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) to conduct mental audit of shelter home children, Soumya’s coverage of the wide gamut of children’s issues in the West Bengal region has been critical to their representation.