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Issue 12

Armed with Phones and Spreadsheets, How These Teenagers Took on the Second Wave

It’s 5 am and the DMs in Dasnoor Anand’s inbox are overflowing — requests for ICU beds in Pune, an enquiry about Remdesivir in Mumbai, search for oxygen cylinders in Lucknow, and many more such please for help. Anand tries her best to reply to everyone. She has only three hours to sleep before it’s time to wake up for online lectures.

This is what April and May 2021 looked like for several teenagers part of student organisation ‘Silence The Violence (STV)’.

With the second wave of COVID-19 slamming into India with an unexpected ferocity, the members of STV have been saving lives while simultaneously attending lectures and preparing for exams. The group consists of girls from all over India, ranging from those in Class 11 to those in first year of university.

In their bid to help out, STV (@stvorg) amplified the availability of resources like hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen, and even tiffin services on its Instagram account. The team gathered information through Twitter handles, personal contacts and other youth organisations, and grouped resources by city or state. They called each hospital and oxygen supplier personally to verify details before posting it. On a backup account (@stvorg_backup), a colour-coded list of resources was regularly updated – green for hospital beds, grey for ambulance services, yellow for food and blue for oxygen.

The motivation behind this venture? Nandini Nimodiya, 17, a member of the Crisis Team answered, “We are all students stuck at home. Social media is the only power we have.”

The team started with two-hour shifts but had to dial it up to five-eight hours due to the number of requests. Each day, STV got approximately 100 leads for different resources from all over the country. Out of these, half got exhausted by the time they called to verify. But of the remaining 50, STV was passing on 15-20 resources to people messaging for help.

“Even if we’re able to save one life at the end of the day, it makes everything worth it,” said Anand, 19, founder of STV, adding that they managed to help roughly 15 people daily.

The group made use of the latest ‘guide’ feature on Instagram, creating city-wise guides for all essential services. A guide is a collection of posts from various accounts that have information about a particular city’s resources. Followers of STV found this specific and timely. Shreya Joshi, 22, a resident of Pune says, “I wanted to find an oxygen concentrator for my father.  All the contacts I had were busy or switched off. That’s when I found  STV’s ‘Pune Guide’ on Instagram. It directed me to verified suppliers, and I got what I needed.”

STV started making city-wise guides when they realised that residents of small towns did not know whom to contact for resources. They started with major cities like Pune and Delhi but have compiled 12-city guides so far. They have even expanded to state level guides, with over 15 state guides in place, including Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand.

STV’s expansive list of resources has helped make it a fast-growing account on Instagram. Over the course of five days, the number of followers shot up from 1,200 to 10,000. Currently, they’re reaching 11,100 people via social media.

Since the number of SOS calls has decreased, STV is now devoting time to spreading awareness about COVID-19. This is a major part of its threefold mission statement ‘Action-Advocacy-Awareness’. The volunteers are making informative posts on topics like ‘Covid and pregnancy’ or ‘mental health in Covid’. STV held its first online mental health event ‘Horizon’, where it partnered with certified psychologists to provide three days of free counselling sessions, seminars and workshops. This was followed by an online concert where young artists came together to unwind.

The team consists of 45 members between the ages of 16 and 20. Of the 45, 20 members have been completely devoted to the Covid crisis. Fifty additional volunteers were also roped in to help. Most of the members are from Mumbai and Pune, followed by a few in Andhra Pradesh and the Northeast. Over the past few weeks, STV has also managed to recruit volunteers from Karnataka and Kerala too.

Around 85% of the team is made up of women, with an all-girls core team. A point of grievance for these young girls is that they are often misgendered by people who contact them. They are addressed as ‘sir’ or ‘bhaiyya’. “We tell them we are women led, and that they can call us ‘ma’am’ or ‘didi‘,” says Nimodiya.

Project S.A.F.E (@project_s.a.f.e) is another all-girls organisation that has been amplifying Covid resources, specifically in Pune. This team consists of five girls from the Pimpri-Chinchwad College of Engineering. The girls spent all day finding resources – except from 3 pm-5 pm, as that’s when they were writing their exams! These engineering students collaborated with their friends interning at medical colleges to provide people with accurate information about availability of beds and medicine.

With 20 requests daily, at least 15 patients were guided to the required resources. Devika Chopdar, 20, founder of Project S.A.F.E says, “I didn’t know social media could have such a huge impact. So far, my profile has only been about myself. Seeing people receive life-saving facilities through it is a new experience.”

These local Covid helpers received a request for a ventilator bed at 1 am one night. None of the hospitals were answering their phones. Project S.A.F.E then circulated the request on social media. Within the next one hour, the Pune online community procured a ventilator and passed this information on to the critical patient.

Student communities across the country stepped up to fight the second wave. Delhi University’s Miranda House created a Covid helpline to assist residents of Delhi with quick updates on resources. A group of 22 student artists and poets from all over India came together for a night of music and poetry titled, ‘In The Dark Times There Will be Singing’, and raised Rs 1,47,000. All funds were donated to communities hardest hit by the second wave of COVID-19. Generating finances, even from outside the country. US-based Princeton alumnus Shreyas Lakhtakia and Julu Beth Katticaran, offered career counselling sessions to raise money for Covid charities in India.

The Indian student community that aided the country in its hour of need is here to stay and is only growing stronger. Even the girls of STV are planning more posts, events, and community building in the months to come. All while preparing for the upcoming Class 12 board exams, of course!

Featured image credit: antiopabg/Pixabay; Editing: LiveWire

This article has been republished from LiveWire with permission of the author.

Aditi Dindorkar is a second-year student at Ashoka University. She is pursuing a major in English and Creative Writing, and a minor in Media Studies. This report is written as part of her course, Introduction to Newswriting and Reporting.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 8

Why making money isn’t the Recipe for Social Change: A response to Manu Joseph’s suggestion for youngsters

On the 14th of February, 2021, environmental activist Disha Ravi was arrested on charges of sedition for sharing a ‘toolkit’ and supporting farmers’ protests online. She was charged for being part of a ‘global conspiracy’ because she was associated with Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. Following her arrest, Manu Joseph, a recognised journalist, and columnist for live mint magazine wrote an opinion piece, suggesting a plan of action for the ‘sound minded’ Indian youth, to truly bring about social change. Joseph not only critiqued various young Indians’ choices to be activists but also suggested they would serve the country better if they found jobs, started on a ‘doomed business’ and aided the economy instead of “fighting battles they do not understand”. 

While the opening lines of his piece truly baffle me as part of the generation he is addressing, I cannot overlook how these ideas resonate with the larger Indian public his age. The assumption that the only correct way to bring change in society is by becoming a part of the system which the youth believes needs to change is one of the primary differences between Manu Joseph’s generation and ours. Equating young protestors and activists to misguided and unemployed individuals with nothing better to do is an easy narrative most of us have heard over dining table conversations with our parents. However, the question we all must ask is why the ‘privileged youth’ of ‘sound mind’ choose to protest if the avenues for economic and political upheaval were an easy alternative. Manu Joseph, in his piece, writes that contemporary activism in India is influenced by the West, if not an extension of it and fails because it does not have the same humanitarian networks backing it as the United States does. But what this ‘practical’ advice and observation seems to ignore is that young activists in India choose to speak up despite the system and its flaws, and not because they are unaware of the lack of protection from non-state organisations and the consequences of their actions but to get rid of the pattern itself. 

Joseph argues that the most effective way for the youth to ‘serve their nation’ and ‘take care of the unlucky ones’ is through encashing on the for-profit world, rather than ‘choosing the easy option of festive grandstanding and do-gooding, which is often harmful, at best useless or an inefficient way to make the world a better place.’ When Joseph states that choosing activism is the ‘easy option,’ he contradicts himself and his point about state scrutiny for activists and the lack of a humanitarian organisational mechanism for the protection of these individuals. If protests and sharing a ‘toolkit’ was in fact ‘inefficient and useless’, and ‘an easy option of festive grandstanding’, a 22-year-old, unemployed youth would not have been scrutinised and subjected to charges of sedition by the government, and young protestors would not need a mechanism to protect themselves from state action. 

Another argument that Joseph makes, which is also commonly used against the youth in this country is that they do not understand their battles and are influenced by Western ideas and aspirations which often only work in the West. A response from the ‘young’ to these arguments would be to ask questions about their assumed naivety, address how the State, since its inception has borrowed several ideas from the West and continues to do so. Western ideas and aspirations are not merely being used by the youth today, but have been part of discourse across the country since its inception. Further, protest and activism are not merely borrowed Western concepts but have been part of the country’s political culture throughout history, be it Gandhi’s call to protest for Independence, or the ‘Jungle Bachao Andolan’ by tribals in Singhbhum. Joseph says that, “The young who hope to be “good trouble” can be ruined by the state, and their handlers, who use them to achieve political and ideological ends, cannot always save them”. The understanding that the young will be, and can be ruined by the state, and their ‘handlers’ will not be able to save them is premised on the belief that these activists have ‘handlers’ and are being influenced by people who will not be able to support them in the long run, completely negating the youth’s ability to think, reason, form opinions and then act.

The Court granted bail to Disha Ravi on the account of the contents of the toolkit being ‘innocuous’ and denied any account of her being part of a larger conspiracy to harm either the state or any particular community. However, the action taken by the government, and the article written by Joseph represent sentiments against the young and their actions, often misunderstood, simply because they are forms of direct dissent and expressions of freedom instead of the path that the youth has always been expected to follow. Maybe, the problem is not that activists are misinformed, unaware, gloomy individuals seeking a moral advantage as saviours for the ‘unlucky’ but that, the way they choose to bring about change is different, more spontaneous than the generations before them. Maybe, all of us truly believe that, ‘We have only one job: if we are lucky, we must take care of the unlucky; everything else is merely an argument about the best way’, as Manu Joseph puts it, and our generation’s way is different from his, possibly because of avenues like social media that connects us globally. Maybe we are not after the drug of ‘do-gooding’ alone but are only seeking different means to make the world a better place. 

Saman Fatima is a third-year History Major at Ashoka University, who is often found sketching or reading for leisure when not immersing herself in mandatory class assignments. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Categories
Issue 5

A Stymied Transition: How the Class of 2023 is adapting to ‘college life’ online

2020 has been rough for students everywhere. With the disruption of regular classes, being stuck either away from home or at home for months, and with some being directly affected by the coronavirus infection, the year has been challenging. College students had it harder than others because they also lost jobs and higher studies opportunities in addition to difficulties with assessment. While there has been some acknowledgement of the hardships faced by the class of 2020, very little has been said about the students who passed out from school this year and were college-bound right in the middle of the pandemic. They are now nearing the end of the first semester, but the journey till here has been full of stress.

The roller coaster of uncertainty started off when a nation-wide lockdown was imposed in the month of March–when high school students were taking their final Board examinations. The remaining exams were postponed. Board results got delayed until finally average scores were awarded to those who couldn’t take the exams. But this initial postponement led to further delays in admission processes that rely on the Board examination marks. For instance, many students aspiring to get into prestigious colleges like those under the Delhi University had to either gamble losing a semester and wait till November for admission lists, or let go of their plan and settle for a different college.

Most country-wide entrance examinations are conducted physically in person. Therefore, students who had to take tests like the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test and Joint Entrance Examination (NEET-JEE), or the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), etc., were left hanging as the entrances were delayed for several months. It was not clear how, or whether at all, they would be conducted, given the pandemic rampaging across the country. Such circumstances affected students’ performance too.

Many students’ college plans that they had worked on for years were upturned and students were forced to settle for choices they had never even considered. Students had to consider completely new rubrics like the possibility of travel and online learning when choosing their college. And most unfortunately, several young people were not able to enrol in colleges at all. A major reason was because COVID-19 tanked an already plummeting economy, another was the economic loss due to floods in different parts of the country, thus increasing the financial burden on many sections of the population in India.

Since all learning was to be online for a while, parents might fail to see the merit in such an education. This has also been the reason for many students to not go to their college of choice, but just attend a less expensive program at a college that is in the city where they already live. Parents were afraid of the risk involved in travelling and living in a different city as the pandemic continues. Many students plan to get a transfer to a college with better opportunities in their second year, when the pandemic hopefully would have mitigated too.

After going through a rough time getting into college, perhaps the major part of uncertainty is over for the students. Most of the big decisions have been made and now they are focussed on their studies and other college activities. In fact, having gone through such a gruelling experience together, they already share something as a batch. College is a completely new chapter in one’s life, one that comes with the promise of freedom and excitement. For the class of 2023, all of ‘college-life’ has only been available online. They got Zoom instead of lecture halls full of chatter and group chats instead of college canteens bustling with groups of friends.

And yet, while the rest of us have been figuring out how to maintain relationships in a physically distant world, these students have been building new relationships from scratch, online.

Kavya, studying at a private college in Jabalpur, says that online classes are a bit dull, and she isn’t surprised that she often sleeps off during lectures and misses assignment deadlines. What she is finding unexpected, though, is how fun her online college life has turned out to be. Social media is the only space where they can hangout, and yet, it is not exactly a bad compromise. She and her friends sometimes skip classes together, have lengthy conversations on group chats and celebrate birthdays on video calls.

Being stuck at home may be an impediment to making new friends, but it might also be an important driver for the same. Young people who have probably not seen anyone other than their family members for months must feel a stronger urge to connect with others their own age.

Amaysi, a student at Sophia College, says that she has always been a people person and loves meeting new people. She was not expecting to have to make good connections this way. “I now know way more people than I might have been able to interact with physically.” says Amaysi. She has been busy helping organise her college’s annual intercollege fest, which is online this year. 

Online interactions are certainly very different from ones in real life. While that may be an annoying reality for most of us now, it is perhaps a better one for some. Individuals with social anxiety, who might experience stress being amongst people and hence behave unlike their usual selves, can find online interactions more easier. For such people, online college might actually be a space where they get to be themselves without much difficulty.

These students have not seen the actual buildings and cities that make their colleges come alive. For them college is just virtual interaction so far. The people behind the screen – their friends and professors – are the only familiar aspects of their college lives. And thus, finding these people behind the screen everyday is a blessing rather than an impediment, in a way. Of course, they hope to physically be together, and look forward to how much more real things will be for them. But for now, they are doing everything to make the best out of current circumstances. Online interactions with our loved ones, friends, family, colleagues, may not seem to be enough, but for the class of 2023, that is all they have to make do with, at least for now.

Mansi is a student of philosophy and environmental studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include performing arts, politics and octopuses.

Picture Credit: “Gmail on Laptop in Dark” by Image Catalog is marked with CC0 1.0

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organization, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).