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What Growing Up With An Overachieving Sibling Has Been Like For Me

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By Sakshi Srivastava:

Siblings! The bane and boon of every kid’s existence. Their keepers, their nemesis, their first friends. So many roles. Such a profound bond. A relationship that cannot be explained in a few syllables or a handful of sentences.

While growing up, I had the stereotypical relationship with my elder brother. Never had a proper civil conversation without any kind of banter. Playful insults, blackmailing through secrets are all a part of a healthy sibling bond. Being an elder brother he had to bear the brunt of being responsible and most of the time, I was let off easily. We navigated the waters of our relationship pulling, pushing, supporting each other. Our parents taught us to be protectors of each other.

But, what always soured the relationship to a little extent was the blatant comparison between the two of us; he the overachiever, I the underdog. Always asked to look up to him, take him as a role model. He was good in academics, good at extra-curricular activities and most of all an extrovert. I was the reserved nerd who seemingly had no other interests out of the world of books. Never participated in any activity, wasn’t outspoken at all. He made friends everywhere, I hardly had a few. He was the school prefect, I was barely existent. He was the mature and responsible kid who never talked back. I was known as the bratty temperamental kid prone to caprice. The rebel. It was intolerable for the society to see those traits in a girl. It put me in a very difficult and emotional situation. Always having to prove myself in front of everyone only to be brushed off in the blinding light of my brother’s achievements. Everyone around me just assumed that because my course of life isn’t the same, I would end up only moderately successful.

Wherever I used to go, whether a social event or a family function, all I got to hear was how my brother excelled. As I would sit alone in a corner, a well-meaning aunt or uncle would come and ask in an overly concerned tone, “You should come out and talk to others more, dear. Do you need help? Look at your brother. He has struggled so much. Your parents are so proud of him. Don’t you want to be the same?” I feigned interest in their words while they made an inventory of his successes and poked at me at the same time. Had I not been bound by familial obligations, I might have given them a befitting reply.

Most people would refer to me as, “Aren’t you [insert sibling name]’s sister? Must feel really good, huh? What have you learnt from him?” As if I was an inanimate object or his property with no identity of my own. People tried to befriend me in order to know him. When I politely refused they called me rude and jealous. Hushed whispers, taunts and sugar-coated disdain never failed to remind me that my life was supposed to be a replica of his.

Mediocrity is so under-rated in a society that literally worships dominance through actions. Quiet is weak. Everyone wants their kid to have an innate flair for every single thing and still be good in academics. Everyone thinks that the other is imperfect even when the definition of perfection is vastly different for each. If one kid in a family is ‘good’, then all expect his/her siblings to follow in their footsteps. No room for choice and consent. So many kids succumb to this pressure and become what they were never meant to be. I have seen so many of my friends studying engineering or medicine or management just because their elder or younger brother is in the same line. They are struggling with their course, with themselves every single day. They bury themselves in machines and medicines when they want to travel and capture emotions through art. It is what is expected of them, not what they would want for themselves.

I have no qualms about being a mediocre kid. I know, maybe I haven’t seen his kinds of struggles or achieved anything of his stature, but that doesn’t mean I am a nobody. He might be a genius, a super geek but he can’t do things I can and vice-versa. For each code my brother writes, I give way to a new feeling on paper. Somehow people conveniently overlook this thing called individuality and expect me to be the same as him. Sometimes even parents tend to favouritise despite vehemently denying all such
allegations. Mine kept on saying that both of us are different but they never lowered their expectations of me. Whenever I did something on my own or even made a mistake, I was reminded that I had to meet the benchmarks set by my brother, be like him. If he studied 10 hours, I had to meet the same expectation. He took up science, so I had to do the same. He is allowed to make mistakes, me not so much. I remember being excited to show my English essay for which I had obtained an A, but the attention shifted from me to the shiny debate competition trophy my brother held. His failures were taken in stride, the true mark of a warrior; mine were a stain on my career, meant that I didn’t try enough. This pattern continued for most of my teenage life and even now. Not that I was never appreciated but with appreciation came
the dreaded comparison with him.

We often don’t realise what this does for the sibling whose talents are constantly undermined. How much pressure that puts on them.

For a long time, I was resentful and outright insecure, thinking that I would never be enough. My parents thought that I was envious of my brother’s success, but I wasn’t. I hated the behaviour of everyone around me that tried to guilt trip me into becoming something I could never relate to. I wanted to feel loved for what I was, not for what my brother was. We aren’t xerox copies. I wasn’t meant to be his shadow. I wouldn’t have a fancy job or travel around the world like him, but I would carve my own path where I would be happy. I also realised that some people stealthily try to take advantage by trying to exploit my insecurities and create a rift between us, but luckily I never let that happen. Nor did my brother. He made me realise that I was fine as I am. No need for the constant self-doubt or angst.

It is important to never lose your stance on things like these and appreciate what you are, your potential, the talents belong to you and not anyone else. You know how to make the most of them. I know that I don’t need anybody’s validation for what I am. There is not much I can do about the way this society functions, I would be subjected to such insensitive and illogical behaviour, but that doesn’t mean that I have to put up with it or even change. I just hope that people realise it too.

Featured image is a still from ‘Deewaar’. For representation only.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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