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“Christ Junior College Transformed Me From A Timid Teenager To A Confident Adult”

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By Ujjaini Chatterji

I had failed in Mathematics and Science throughout my tenth grade. I had to take a re-examination in my ninth grade for both the subjects to attend classes in the tenth grade.  I hadn’t done too badly in English and the Social Sciences; however it was never a consideration in my indoctrinated school ambience anyway. At the age of around fifteen, all my school teachers and Science topper friends had already delivered their unsolicited judgment about the uselessness of my future. I was not even a human, yet. I was only a hopeless creature who failed in Maths.  My interest in reading and knack in writing amused none. No matter how passionately I tried public speaking, the graduation speech of tenth grade was still delivered by the Science topper.

I remember the day when I had first entered the campus of my high school.  It was much before my tenth grade got over. I used to pester the receptionist with queries about the procedure to enrol into an ‘Arts course’. Unlike, most other places this campus refused to assure me a seat and declared without hesitation that ‘Arts’, too, was a very important stream and merit would certainly play an important part of the admission process. I was nervous because my schooling had indoctrinated me to believe that I was redundant without merit. However, in less than a few months, Christ Junior College changed me and my life forever.

For the first time, I attended an interview that chose to notice my passion for the Social Sciences and my admission was granted upon a promise to excel in what I was naturally interested in. My professor who took the interview had asked me to recite a self-composed poem. No teacher or friend had ever done what he did; he at once asked me to start preparing for all the events that Christ Junior College organises throughout the year.

From the very first lecture, the Christite classrooms echoed with debates.  Our Father principal had himself taught us the period of Renaissance and Reformation. The campus had debates, Model United Nations, writing competitions, Ethnic Days and so many other colourful activities throughout the year. In less than two years, I had probably read more than a hundred books and gathered more knowledge than I ever could, in over fifteen years. The library was the universe of my dreams and reading was part of our routine.

My debates’ assertions grew stronger, as I developed confidence as a speaker, and much more importantly, as a human being.  I found myself and surprisingly met a fascinating woman who had a lot of ideas to share. Christ had given me a stage, countless opportunities and the confidence that my principles and opinions could make a difference. Yes, Christ demanded excellence and didn’t negotiate when it came to standards. Mediocrity was unacceptable.

Christ Junior College - Ujjaini Chatterji - Article Image 1
Source: Photo Gallery/Christ Junior College Website

Christ timings were long, and I enjoyed those hours as the best of memories of my life.  One such memory was a session in the ‘Excellence Forum’ of the Social Science Department. We were asked to research on any topic that intrigued us beyond the limited boundaries of textbooks.  I had chosen ‘Sociology of Secret Societies.’ Presentation on such a topic in a Catholic Institution could have been risky, especially because I had gone overboard in my passionate debate with Father Principle and my class teacher on the topic. By the end of it, I was unsure about the response that I would get.  Both, Father Principal and my class teacher congratulated and blessed me for my spirit and encouraged me to continue reading. I was almost in tears.

I was the Runner Up of a National Level debate called Debating Matters India organised by British Council. The sheer thrill of speaking in front of hundreds and thousands of people, the adrenaline rush of collecting my trophy from the stage as the entire college erupted in cheering me were the memories that instilled the stamina of hard work and principles of honesty and integrity.

When I used to stand up on the stage to speak, and my voice echoed throughout the campus, only I could feel the rise of pride, dignity, ambitions, hopes and desires that compelled me to work harder and harder each time.  Christ Junior College had transformed me from a timid teenager to a confident and curious adult.

Those very ‘Security guards’ who are accused of enforcing the dress code, were my ‘Security uncles’ and I had formed some of the best bonds with them. It is a very snobbish class hierarchy to feel that ‘watchmen’ cannot enforce the dress code. I really would not mind wearing some dull clothes to an educational institute (or a uniform) when I had such fantastic intellectual arousal every single day. Festivities and Ethnic Days gave me enough opportunities to wear fancy clothes. My friends wore the shortest of skirts for Model United Nations and no one ever complained at Christ. All we needed to do was keep in mind the sanctity of the learning atmosphere. I did not complain.

I would instead complain if I were confined within a college where classes happened once in a month, or the classes took place in a monotonous mechanical process without any variation in opinions.  I would object to a college that denied students to sit in the class even if they chose only to sit for knowledge irrespective of attendance. I would object to a college that taught students dishonesty and made them believe that only marks (and later, money), could absolve them of all mistakes. I would object to a classroom that did not evolve my integrity and honesty. I would have reservations about a college that only made money with no social responsibility (Christ has a running organisation of handmade paper products created by poor women, and every class of the Junior College sponsors one unprivileged kid who writes to them regularly. It is also one of the cleanest and most Eco-friendly campuses I have ever seen). I would object to a college that would not give me the courage to think free and would, instead, leave me free without any discipline.

The campus, all the regular events and visits by eminent personalities and interactions were the gifts that Christ gave us to nurture ourselves and move closer to being our best. I was introduced to some very dynamic thoughts on homosexuality in this campus. Yes, we discussed gay rights in a Catholic college. Christ never distinguishes among students who wish to learn. Christ refuses to accept students without the thirst to excel. Christ demands commitment and excellence.

Christ is not for those who whine about working hard and definitely not for those who lack any passion to pursue. Christ gives us enough opportunities to elevate to a pedestal of excellence and emerge from that mediocrity, only if we intend to. Fortunately, a chappal with formal clothes cannot be allowed in an environment of intellectual niche.

It would be untrue to believe that I was never reprimanded as a student at Christ. In fact, every day, I was scolded by most of my Professors. But that was not humiliation; it was love, and that love had made me a part of the Christite family. I can say that with conviction because when my mother fell ill, and Father Principal had understood the genuinity of the situation, he had granted me a complete one week leave with attendance. When I returned, Father and my professors had personally enquired about my mother’s health. Christ cared for me, my professors had identified my skill and pushed me into, where they knew, I would excel.  Not just I, my entire family was a part of the Christ family. That is why the college was so protective about my future. They had seen the promise of excellence in every individual. Yes, those who care for us, compel us often to do things for our own good. They force us to chase our dreams despite our fears. They encourage us to move ahead. They never hold us back. We understand them, much later.

When my mom forbids me to spend my unearned money on mindless partying, I sometimes, get irritated. Today I am a responsible woman with values only because I was imparted the knowledge of sensitivity. Education is not a popularity contest. Sometimes, certain impositions seem rude, but we need them. If a player is not bruised enough, he shall never be a champion and those who cannot bear the wounds, fall out.

Christ Junior College - Ujjaini Chatterji - Article Image 2
Source: Photo Gallery/Christ Junior College Website

If we continue to resist a fine institution with an honest intent of knowledge, how shall we ever learn? A youth that is so unperturbed by the constant political upheavals in the country or current affairs have become so vocal about the ‘atrocities by Christ University’. And what shall be the alternative? A college with rampant booze with parental money and no lectures and dreams? Those who speak of western college culture, often tend to forget the self-discipline and research intent of their students. The day Christ-like Universities turn indifferent to students, the last rays of hope of education in India shall diminish. We are collectively failing the honesty of Christ University.

I heard that ‘Moot Court’ exercises and debates are compulsory activities at Christ. So is their attendance. I hope we remember how important it is for future lawyers to participate in discourse and intercourse of ideas. Christ provides that realm of learning which continues to help us, students, forever. I don’t think that any excellent foreign university would ever want a student who is irregular in attending classes and is only concerned about the ‘prescribed University passing marks’ and has no training or education beyond the obvious textbook cramming that begins from the nursery.

I have travelled to almost five different cities and attended more than ten different schools. But Christ gave me a sense of self, of belongingness. I haven’t been to the campus for a while, yet, I am in contact with each faculty of mine and my security uncles who had also restricted my entry at times for coming late. They remember me. In spite of a difference of generations and opinions, they encourage me and still debate with me. Our relationship did not end with our lectures.  It was a bond of mutual honour that I realised much later.

I did not moot even once in the five years of my Law School, and nobody cared to notice. Had I been at Christ, I would be ‘forced’ into a moot and who knows, like my debate trophies, I would win many Moots too! I can say this with conviction, because, on the eve when my father was apprehensive about sending me to Delhi alone for the first time, after qualifying for a national debate, the entire faculty stood by me. Father principle and my debate coordinator, personally, convinced my family about my safety.  Father Principal had clearly stated, “If Ujjaini does not go for the debate, no one else in the team shall.”

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Banner and featured image source: Photo Gallery/Christ Junior College Website
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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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