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If Breaking Stereotypes Is A Mission, These 8 People Are Nailing It And How!

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By YKA Staff

Editor’s note: YKA’s annual event CONVERGE is all set to take place on December 12, 2015. ‘For those who give a damn’, it brings together a cross-section of speakers to deliver some of the most compelling stories that inspire change. Here is the list of the seven speakers who are shining examples of this year’s theme: ‘people who’ve broken stereotypes’.

Abhay Kumar

Abhay Kumar

After each screening of Abhay Kumar’s ‘Placebo’, there is silence…and then thunderous applause. A look into the lives of 4 students at India’s most prestigious medical college, Abhay’s first documentary boldly starts a conversation on academic pressure, ragging, isolation, mental illness and growing student suicides, and reveals the ruthless side of what it means to study in India. He believes that it is his responsibility as a filmmaker to ensure that this story, which is “everyone’s story”, reaches audiences far and wide.

A National Award winner and a three-time MAMI short film winner, catch Abhay at CONVERGE 2015 as he talks about his phenomenal journey and how cinema can challenge cultural and social stigma.

Akkai Padmashali


Akkai is a transwoman and social activist whose powerful views on gender equality have inspired thousands. Last month, she inaugurated Kerala’s landmark State Policy for Transgenders, and is also the first transgender person to have been conferred with the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award, the state’s second-highest civilian award. Since Akkai was young, she knew that she was a woman from within, but she wondered when she would really break free. In her journey towards becoming Akkai, she was forced to conform to society’s norms but she rose through the ashes and boldly broke stereotypes to proudly embrace her identity.




At 16, Sikha had already traversed across the world, from Oxford to Abu Dhabi, been interviewed by Melinda Gates at a TED-X Talk in Seattle and finished making her two films, one of which highlights the issue of teenage marriages. A member of the Daredevils, a group of kids in a Kolkata slum in India who work to collect health data and rally the community around important health issues like vaccines; one of the Child Advisors of NGO Prayasam; a brilliant student and a district level Hockey player to boot, Sikha is no ordinary girl.

Now 18, this crusader of change has a story to share that is perhaps nothing like what you’ve heard before.

Robin Chaurasiya and Farah Shaikh

Robin and Farah

At 16, Robin Chaurasiya left home to join the US Air Force only to be expelled later when they discovered she was a lesbian. Robin in turn, joined the fight to repeal the US army’s regressive “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Continuing her fight for equal opportunity, she established the NGO Kranti in Mumbai that works to empowers girls from red-light areas to turn around the ‘victim’ status and become agents of social change.

Farah Shaikh is one of the girls from Kranti who Robin has helped. As the daughter of a sex worker, survivor of attempted female foeticide, the victim of Gujarat riots, Farah is working to redefine education for marginalized communities. All of 21, despite her own struggle with formal education, today, she teaches 92 children in a Mumbai slum.

Ritesh Agarwal


A $100,000 is what he got as a part of the Thiel Fellowship, when Ritesh dropped out of college to start the now ubiquitous network of budget stays – OYO Rooms. One of the youngest CEOs in India, at 22, his is a multi-million dollar empire that he started building at 17, with his mother worried that no one would marry him because he wasn’t a graduate!

To anyone who has ever said ‘what do young people know about running a business?!’ – listen to Ritesh’s account of his entrepreneurial journey that’s changed the game for the hotel industry in India.

Kanu Behl

Kanu Behl

Remember ‘Love, Sex Aur Dhokha’? It was a landmark in the history of Indian Cinema in the way it redefined how we saw traditional camera angles and story lines. In 2010, Kanu Behl was the man who co-wrote it with Dibakar Banerjee, after assisting him on ‘Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’.

Come 2015, after what’s been an interesting journey, Kanu’s come out with his first independent feature film – ‘Titli’ – which has once again blown away audiences.

At Converge, you can catch him in a one-of-a-kind Q & A as he talks about his unique brand of filmmaking.

Sofia Ashraf


With over 3 million views of her music video that started a revolution and forced Unilever to sit up and take action, singer Sofia Ashraf is a powerhouse. You might know her as the ‘Burqa Rapper’, an activist or a rebel, but she prefers to be simply called a content creator. Having worked with maestros like A. R. Rahman, and broken stereotypes at the
age of 22, catch Sofia perform live at CONVERGE 2015!

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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