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Meet Sunitha Krishnan: The Lady Who Personifies Courage

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By Sneha Roychoudhury:

We talk. We discuss. We sit in fancy bourgeoisie drawing-rooms and click our tongues over the wrongs that have been committed and the ones yet to be made. The helplessness. The futility. And then, from one of these homes, one of these rooms filled with men and women whose idea of change is limited to a passing discussion over a meal, there rises a name, a person, an instrument of social change who pushes for all that truly and really makes a difference, all that changes lives and touches souls.

sunitha krishnana

It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – J. K. Rowling

Some years back one woman made a singular choice, a life decision- she recognised a calling and pushed her head above shoulders, shoulders trying to smother her and suffocate her, to follow what meant much more to her that the tragedy entwining her own life did. Sunitha Krishnan, a rather eminent social activist, remains to be a role model for so many in our generation and for all those yet to come. She, with her contribution and the stand she takes, opens out doors of dreams, of aspirations and ambitions, of awe inspiring direction- all of which are actually at arm’s length for each one of us if only we have the courage and the vision to stretch our hands and to grab what we want.

Born in Bangalore, Karnataka, Sunitha Krishnan was sexually abused by eight men when she was fifteen. This, however, she recalls, served as an impetus to who she is and the cause she serves today. Much has been written and said about her work for sex workers and her vocal protest against human trafficking through Prajwala, the NGO she co-founded and one could possibly not have elaborated enough on her absolutely undaunted effort in her course of action. My article, though focussing on all the elements of this undying contribution, must rekindle a different faith, must light a small lamp in a heart, in a soul and in a mind that does want to steer into motion the wheels of substantial change in a society we all know is folly and ridden with sorry vices. This is the tale, the portrait of that woman who was socially shunned and emotionally and physically wasted, a woman who made her losses and her grief the strength of her ideas, a person who made it her life to protect all those who have gone through the plight (or worse) that she had faced.

“The sense of loneliness that goes with that was a very interesting firsthand experience for me and it helped consolidate my thinking. I learned exactly what my women and children go through and therefore all my efforts, my life, my breath, my being was then dedicated to that.” -Sunitha Krishnan

Termed many a times as a woman entrepreneur, Krishnan has made her mark through sheer will, which she used to raise women stuck in dingy, surly lives as sex-workers or trafficked slaves from their social standing and give them the dignity and the independence they are entirely entitled to. Her organisation strives to vocationally train such women, fund treatment for their children and give them an existence and a livelihood they could never have imagined possible. There are very few times that human sensitivity is directed towards those fringes of the race that are considered vestigial. Fewer times still when this sensitivity is transferred into action and Sunitha Krishnan is one such rare occasion- the singular occurrence that followed a road towards the improvement of the discarded and the ostracised, the unwanted and the unaccepted. She embraced those who had only known the hardships and never realised there could exist better circumstances for them, who didn’t know any better for all that their heart felt was crushed under the pain they have known and been through.

The example she sets to the nation at large and the rest of the world cannot ever be reflected by recognition, for mankind can only try, only try to thank and express their gratitude to such determined, brave hearts. Sunitha Krishnan has been awarded the Global Leadership Award, the Real Heroes Award and the Safdar Hashmi Awards for Human Rights. But, like I mentioned earlier, there can be no words or no gesture great enough to coronate such people, for they are the ones who have risen and soared, they have been born as phoenixes- from the ashes of their dead past, however traumatic- and healed the lives of others in immense, agonising situations. There is a reason they are deified. There is a reason they are different. It is a fire we generally call courage.

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  1. Abhinita Mohanty

    I love her for whatever she is doing today and for whatever she stands…..she is ‘the true heroine’ in every sense…..after so much of struggle and even after being raped……she came in terms wit it….gals must realize that rape is not the end. Sunitha’s struggle 2 end child trafficking is remarkable….hats off!!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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 psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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