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How A Student Of IIT Cycled 2500 Kms Across India To Fight Against Child Labour

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By Anwesha Dhar: 

campaign-logoUjjawal is like any other guy of his age. All set to graduate this year, armed with an engineering degree, Ujjawal loves to live and relive every moment of his life to the fullest. A sweet zest of capturing these moments as well brought him to the world of photography. He chose his camera, however, to not only freeze these moments but to invest in them with a powerful message-a message to fight child labour. To do so, he has taken up the mission to ride his bike from Kolkata to Mumbai, talking to people, bringing to the forefront the stifled voices of the multitudes who succumbed to this heinous act. Here is his journey-

May 27th 2014-Ujjawal started his journey alongside Siddharth. The road forward was unchartered, full of obstacles and riddled with unexpected twists and turns. But nothing was going to stop him now!

Ujjawal Chauhan

Later that evening, he met Suman at Kolaghat. Unlike his friends, Suman is still fighting the odds, managing to attend school and leading by example.

Suman

Soon he met Ganesh, whose life presented the ways Suman’s life could/can go wrong any day. Ganesh works with a truck driver and remains a stranger to the joys of school life. On being asked why not employ someone else, Ganesh’s employer says, “iske jitna mehnat wala koi nai hoga. Dekho abhi muh mein gutka khaake kitna kaam karta hai” (No one will work as hard as him. Look how he chews on his tobacco and works hard!)

Ganesh

Mayurbanj in Odisha painted a brighter picture for Ujjawal. He met Abhinav and Abhimanyu. Ujjawal writes, “Seeing children from humble backgrounds having the very visible urge to go to school and realise their dreams keeps my hopes alive that things can change…are changing in little ways… While Abhimanyu wants to become a doctor, Abhinav wants to become a teacher.”

AbhinavAbhimanyu (3)

While still traversing Odisha, Ujjawal encountered an incident that left him thinking. In the Balam district of the state, he spotted some children trying to pluck mangoes and wished to click their picture. He was however greeted with sticks by their mothers! He writes, “Luckily, (before anything happened) a Hindi speaking person came over and translated that the women were of the thought that I was there to kidnap children. I explained how I was cycling from Kolkata to Mumbai, and showed them previous pictures of travel and children from my camera. Seeing this, they got very excited and happy and called their kids back, who all had been until now standing far away, and told them to pose for pictures with their mangoes for me.

CRY

He also met people from Patang, a CRY supported organisation in the state working for youth engagement! One of their programs called Sampark is specially targeted for school drop-outs where they’re taught basic leadership and moral skills. 18 children from the program have been re-enrolled into schools. He writes, “I visited a village called Chhamunda for field visit. Being an area having Maoists in the past, there is lack of teachers willing to teach there. This has led to skewed ratio of teacher to student where 4 teachers cater to 256 students. Patang filed complaints and 2 new teachers were thus recruited, of which 1 is joining soon.” The visit left him filled with hope and renewed vigour. “Amidst rights violation and child labour incidences that I am witnessing, such work by organisations shows the silver lining, and that things can change for the better may be gradually and slowly, but come.”

Patang

In the road ahead, Sajid and Aman posed a picture of how much parental support counts in a child’s life. Even though they were helping their father at his shop, both the kids attend school and their father firmly believes that education is a powerful tool. He recounted how he was not able to educate himself, but considers it important and a responsibility to teach his children. All his five daughters and two sons are educated/ pursuing education. Ujjawal writes, “Though that we found the two children at work, also seeing a parent aware of not making them help him at his work at the cost of the larger education are stories of hope as well.”

CRY1

 

Palli Alok Pathagar (PAP), a CRY project Partner in Odisha has done credible work in rescuing many child labourers in this area where migration is a major issue. Ujjawal recounts the tale of young Saudamini Mahanand from Banmal in this context. He writes, “Her parents migrated from their village and she was thus forced to start working in brick kiln despite her reluctance to drop out of her school. However, PAP intervened and public hearing in OCPCR and NCPCR was made. As a result, 11 RCC (regional care centres) in Orissa were set up for the first time due to this case, especially for migration issue in this region and high rate of drop-outs. Under these RCCs, hostels are provided to children while their parents are away on seasonal migration to other areas. Saudamini now studies in class 6, and wants to work in Anganwadi.”

Saudamini

He also met Ganesh Tiwari, a dhaba owner who stands as a model to those who employ children in there dhabas. The wall proudly reads “There are no child labourers here.”

Ganesh Tewari

Navadhar Samajik evam Sanskrutik Vikas Manch, a CRY supported project currently works in 10 slums in Raipur city. The organisation has conducted various programs like awareness program on health issues and child labour through street plays. “What I was moved by was the fact that, in spite of having to work, or schools which are not good enough, most of the children have a dream in the eyes. The children whose photos I clicked, very interestingly, shared their desire of becoming policeman and doctor.”

CRY2

Finally, Ujjawal rode his way to Nagpur where he was warmly greeted by Saddle Up Guys, who expressed their full support to him!

Ujjawal

Such experiences, poignant stories and kitty full of memories later, Ujjawal continued to ride though the dusty roads and completed his journey. If you are passionate about child rights and wish to bring about a lasting change in the lives of children, tell us what you would like to do.

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  1. Prashant Kaushik

    Great Job !!!!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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