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No One From His Village Had Ever Been To College, This Is How Kamran Made It To AMU

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“I don’t know where I will be in the coming future. But yes, I’ll be better than what I’m today and what I was yesterday,” believes Mohammed Kamran, a 19-year-old student at the Aligarh Muslim University. Kamran is a smart, savvy and hard-working young man and his belief in himself made me wonder – how many of us actually think about where we want to see ourselves in the near future. I believe, it’s a question everyone should ask themselves every once in a while.

I have known Kamran for two years now, and there is one thing which has remained constant all this while. I have seen him understand and acknowledge his shortcomings and then devote himself to overcoming the same. He is constantly striving to develop himself and be at par with his peers. Kamran and I live on the AMU campus, and we bonded over homesickness and being away from our parents. Before we knew it, we were good friends. Kamran is a student of 11th grade, studying arts; while I am a student of engineering at AMU. During one of our casual conversations, I told him that I was planning to quit college and give up my diploma in engineering. He was quite shocked and that is how I got to know his side of the story, and how much struggle he had gone through to make it to AMU in the first place, the college that I was planning to leave very soon.

Kamran comes from Bhikhampur, a village located on the outskirts of the Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh – a place not many people know about. Bhikhampur is not a very developed town and its educational resources range from few to non-existent in many cases. A village with a Muslim majority of the population, it has most families living in poor condition – as a result of which, higher education is often neglected and is rarely an option. Nobody from Kamran’s village had ever been to a college, let alone a University. Most of the boys who grew up with him either stayed in the village or looked for jobs in a gulf country after completing their intermediate education.

Kamran had to convince his parents to send him to Aligarh for coaching for his entrance exam. His parents were not ready and were very resistant to the idea of Kamran wanting to study further. His father, who was then living in Saudi Arabia, wasn’t ready as he could not see any benefit in sending his son to study at Aligarh. Everyone including his parents, his neighbours and his relatives were not supportive of him. It was all very stressful for Kamran and he couldn’t manage to convince them to let him go in the first attempt. The stress took a toll on him and his behaviour became less cordial. He started staying out of his home most of the times and even got involved in many fights. There were times when he was quite close to being caught by the cops. Six months passed like this after which, his mother decided to send him to Aligarh. His father was still not ready, but his brother who also was in Saudi had faith in him and helped Kamran convince his parents. The process wasn’t any easier– since his ‘well-wishers’ had tried their best to convince his mother to not send him. However, after long emotional battles, Kamran did manage to convince, rather force his parents into letting him go.

It was hard for me to imagine how someone had to convince their family for letting one study in a University. I could not help but draw the vast distinctions between the same process of getting into a University for me and Kamran – I remembered how the very moment I had completed my high school, I was sent to Aligarh with a clear warning of ‘not coming back if I failed’. Kamran came to Aligarh, all by himself and made arrangements for living here. He got himself enrolled in a coaching institute, a quarter to live in and a tiffin service for his food. He would wake up early in the morning to attend his coaching classes and would even make sure to visit the AMU campus every day – only to remind himself what his goal was and for what he had fought with his parents and relatives. “The university roads and these beautiful buildings and the whole aura fascinated me to become a part of this,” he said.

On the day of results for the entrance exams, Kamran was back in his village. When everyone found out that he had done well and cleared the exam, nobody – including his parents – was thrilled, as to them, it was just another school that he would go to. His parents could not understand the reason for his happiness but for Kamran, this was one of the happiest moments of his life. His brother, who had been supportive of his decision all along was extremely proud and happy for his achievement and success. However, his struggle didn’t end there. The last time, he was home for vacations, one of his cousins asked him quite an interesting question – “How did you get into the University…any backdoor measure?”

For a long time, nobody in his village was ready to believe that he had genuinely worked hard to compete with forty thousand other students and earn himself a seat at this University.  “They had never tried to study further. They always knew that some job was waiting for them in some middle-eastern country and had their minds made up. I’m happy that my elder brother had faith in me and he sent me to Aligarh to attend the coaching classes. People advised him against it- yet he believed in me and today I’m here,” says Kamran, as he talks about his fellow students from the village.

Kamran has just completed class 11 and is now all set to clear his class 12. His teacher, Mohammad Allam, says, “Kamran has the quality of being a leader and is very helpful to everyone around him. I believe students like him who take pride in what they do are the ones who set examples for everyone.”

Kamran adds, that the place from where one receives his education matters a lot – “I won’t get a bigger mark sheet after passing out from here, that’s not why studying from here matters. All I can say is that had I been studying in my village, I would have been the same ignorant person like before. After coming here, I have learnt what education is and how it changes someone completely; the way we think, the way we talk and the way we work –everything. Only after coming here, have I learnt how government policies affect us or what democracy is and I’m glad to be here,” he says.

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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.

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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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