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Nileema Mishra: Winner of Magsaysay Award #Women Who Inspire

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By MP Manohar:

When Nileema Mishra won the Magsaysay Award (also hailed as the Asian Noble Prize, instituted in the memory of erstwhile President of Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay), this able lady known for some great pioneering work in the villages in Jalgaon and known in the narrow confines in the state of Maharashtra, in a way obscure, has come in to national limelight, nay international limelight.

Magsaysay Award Foundation while announcing the Winner proclaimed, “She is being recognized for her purpose-driven zeal to work tirelessly with villagers in Maharashtra, India, organizing them to successfully address both their aspirations and their adversities through collective action and heightened confidence in their potential to improve their own lives”.

Facts about 39 year old Nileema Misra reads like, she was born to a middle class family having an abiding interest in social welfare and public activities, in the village of Bahadarpur, Maharashtra. She went on to Pune and pursued Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology. Though she could have easily gone on to become an urban professional and lead a comfortable life, she shortly after completion of her course in the year 1995 returned to her native place Bahadarpur with a dream to transform the lives of downtrodden women in her village.

As a child she was distressed with the all-round poverty prevalent in her village, farmer suicides, plight of widows and old aged and at a tender age of about 13 years, she decided not to marry and dedicate her life to the welfare and upliftment of people. Thus when she returned with the same resolute in 1995, it didn’t take her much time to realize that the biggest problem stemmed from basic fact- lack of money in the hands of the rural families and plunged head long in to social service by starting Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan (BNGVN) on a humble scale with a handful of about a dozen women who were more vulnerable in an impoverished society.

Today the movement has more than 10000 women in various Self-Help groups, engaging in micro-credit, production of food products and export quality quilts. BNGVN also help in training the rural women folks in income-generating products and further helps in marketing, accounting, computer literacy, procurement in bulk at better prices, building warehouses etc.

What a great resolve at such a tender age of 13, to realize the dreams of our Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi to create self-sufficient village communities!  When this village girl could have been dreaming about bangles and bindis, jewelry and colourful dresses, fashion and cinema etc this kid was dreaming of transforming the lives of her fellow village folks crippled in poverty. Amazed, what I could only draw a parallel immediately in my mind, is the late Kalpana Chawla who as an young child looked at stars dreamt that one day she will go to space and she achieved it and created history and become immortal, this great Indian-American Astronaut remains an icon for present and future generations. Nileema Mishra will achieve still greater heights and become a example for numerous others to emulate.

Her father Chandrasekhar Mishra and was a retired School Headmaster and now a Trustee of RK Mishra High school in Bahadarpur and her mother a social activist. Like any father he wanted to marry her but found Nileema very resolute that she will not marry and wanted to dedicate her life to help the downtrodden women of her village. It naturally made him sad but left her daughter to pursue her dreams. Now this award has made her father proud that Nileema has been recognized at such a young age and it is a testimony that she is proceeding in the right direction in her chosen domain.

All this has not come without challenges. When in the year 2000 Nileema wanted funds very badly to take her activities to the next level, she without any hesitation sold hers mother’s ancestral jewels to garner about 3 lacs and thus created a revolving funds to start new income-generating schemes as well as building basic infrastructure like computers. No big deal for Nileema who even when she was a kid saved her pocket money to give it to poor village folks.

She had already announced that the 22 lacs she would receive as prize money would go in to fund further activities. She received the prestigious medal and certificate in a spectacular function in Philippines on 31-Aug-11 and has brought along with that international focus and attention to Jalgaon.

In Nileema’s words her education in Clinical Psychology has helped clear negative thoughts and focus on social work.  Nileema and her group’s activities encompass wider issues like health problems faced by rural villages by building 300 odd private and communal toilets.

She went in for the micro-finance route for uplifting the financial status of women is very noteworthy at a time when this sector is being accused of commercial exploitation and coercions leading to even suicides in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Though micro-finance started as a very noble venture for rural transformation, it has got commercial overtones and over the period has lost sight of its lofty goals and has become yet another flourishing profit-mongering industry interested in profits alone.

But given the glaring fact that present day banks are yet to come out with a special rural platform for financial inclusion of the impoverished rural lot, these micro-finance companies will alone be the refuge of the rural India despite all shortcomings. But let the micro-finance institutions take a few leaves out of Nileema Mishra’s prodigal work and realign their priorities to provide a viable, sustainable and a compassionate business model which will make rural communities more self-reliant and prosperity which will go a long way to alleviate poverty as well as to the GDP of our nation.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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