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In Just 4 Hours, YKA’s Converge Smashed Stereotypes With 8 Path-Breaking Conversations

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By Lipi Mehta

On December 12 this year, team YKA went offline (well, mostly) for Youth Ki Awaaz’s annual flagship event CONVERGE. Bringing together a cross-section of some incredible speakers sharing their experiences and work, this year’s theme brought together eight individuals who have, and continue to break, society’s stereotypes. A jam-packed Anti-Social in Delhi saw close to 200 specially selected attendees, engaging in a four-hour conversation, covering issues ranging from depression, education, healthcare, gender, sexuality, entrepreneurship, filmmaking, and socially conscious music!

If you missed out on CONVERGE this year, here are highlights of the event.

1. Robin Chaurasiya

“Why I Quit The U.S. Air Force To Work For Children From Red Light Areas In India”

Robin Chaurasiya is an activist and the Founder of Mumbai-based NGO Kranti that works with children from red light areas and persons from marginalised communities. Robin spoke about battling abuse and the possibilities of emerging as a survivor and changemaker from a being a victim. She left the audience with a powerful message of approaching activism and life with happiness instead of anger.

2. Farah Shaikh

“Why India’s Marginalized Youth Are Actually India’s Future Leaders”

Farah is one of the girls from Kranti whom Robin has helped. She shared her inspiring story of surviving female foeticide and growing up in a world where she realised early on that girls are less valued than boys. As a teacher today, she aims to empower her children and ensure that they never have to face what she had to.

3. Abhay Kumar

“What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Depression”

Abhay Kumar is a film-maker who recently made the acclaimed documentary ‘Placebo’, on the lives of 4 medical students, and started a conversation on students’ mental health, ragging and isolation. Abhay focused on how In India, we don’t even have the basic vocabulary to talk about depression or mental health, despite most families being close-knit. He concluded by talking about the need for more primary ways to address mental health in India.

Abhay’s talk garnered so much interest on Twitter that ‘Abhay Kumar’ became one of the top trends in India. We are glad that more and more people joined in to talk about the critical issue of mental health.
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4. Akkai Padmashali

“How I Discovered My Gender In A World That Forced Stereotypes”

Akkai is a transwoman and activist whose fight for gender equality has inspired thousands. She shared her personal life story of being born male but embracing her gender identity as female, and spoke about how she didn’t let societal norms cage her. She stressed on equal rights and the need for the regressive Section 377 to be scrapped from Indian law. The audience was hooked to Akkai’s talk from the word go as she put her views forth with courage and her unmistakable style of humour.


‘Akkai Padmashali’ also trended on Twitter in India. Her powerful statements on gender identity and equality resonated with hundreds.

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5. Sofia Ashraf

Singer and rap artist Sofia Ashraf of ‘Kodaikanal Won’t‘ fame performed 5 of her songs in what many from the audience described as one of the most powerful performances they had seen. Sofia spoke about using her art for a cause and the need for creating ‘conscientious music’.

6. Sikha

“Improving Public Health In India’s Marginalised Communities”

18-year-old Sikha is a community health worker who works with the NGO Prayasam. Called the ‘Vaccine Hero’, she spoke about how she realised that she needed to take charge of the health issues plaguing her community. Belittled as ‘just a child’ by neighbours, Sikha’s determination to improve public health systems ensured that she carried on with her work. She concluded by saying that each one of us has the power to change our destinies, regardless of where we come from or who our families are.

7. Ritesh Agarwal

“How I Built India’s Largest Hotel Chain At 21”

Ritesh Agarwal, Founder of OYO Rooms, shared his entrepreneurial journey with the audience, recounting the struggles he faced before OYO Rooms became the multi-million dollar company it is today. He spoke about experiential learning—he lived in various bed and breakfasts for 3.5 months to just learn—and his vision of making OYO Rooms the world’s largest hotel chain. Not to forget, Ritesh was mobbed by budding entrepreneurs during lunch, who wanted to share their ideas with him and get advice from him, and this was when he’d just arrived, even before his session started!

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8. Kanu Behl

Q&A on: How Independent Cinema Is Breaking The Mainstream Stereotype

Filmmaker Kanu Behl is the director of the critically acclaimed film ‘Titli’ and the co-writer of ‘Love, Sex Aur Dhokha’. He was in conversation with filmmaker Abhay Kumar and answered questions from the audience as well. He spoke about how film-making is a personal journey that each person has to undertake on their own (“Equivalent to locking yourself up in a dark room”) and discussed writing, assisting other directors, and more.

We are glad that we could take socially relevant conversation offline and put together an event such as CONVERGE 2015. To those who give a damn, thank you for attending, we hope you had a great time! We definitely did, seeing you at our photo booth, taking photos with the speakers whose stories inspired you the most.

And that’s all for now. A sign off from Team Youth Ki Awaaz, until next time!

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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