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How A Wheelchair Couldn’t Stop This Driven Man From Being A Swimming Champion

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I’ve known Justin Vijay Jesudas since 2007, when he was my colleague. He is a good friend now. He has been famous in our circles for being the life and soul of any party, the enthusiastic one in the office, someone who received multiple promotions, the favourite of bosses and colleagues alike.

By December 2009, I had moved on to another company in Chennai and called Justin a little before Christmas to wish him a merry holiday season. When his wife answered the phone and told me that he was in the hospital since he had met with an accident, I was shocked. But even then I didn’t realise the gravity of his injuries. Over time, I spoke to a mutual friend who told me that Justin would have to be in a wheelchair for life. It took me a long time to digest this and truly believe it.

I wanted to visit him, but he kept visitors away and focused on getting better. He took his physiotherapy sessions very seriously.

Meanwhile, I’ve always had a weight problem since the time Justin has known me. A couple of years down the line, with guidance from a friend, I worked on losing weight for the first time in my life. I didn’t know how to react when Justin called me and congratulated me on my weight loss, even trying to motivate me to lose more weight by promising me a book or a present every time I lost three kgs.

I realised then that most people are bogged down by trivial problems while Justin faces insurmountable challenges with a positive attitude and even goes out of his way to motivate others.

He has never once complained or sounded depressed while talking to me. Obviously, he would have gone through a gamut of negative emotions, but he has overcome them on his own without spreading any gloom. I am ashamed to say that I have often whined about small things but am proud that my friend has never been that way.

It is this indomitable spirit that differentiates Justin from ordinary people. And it is this spirit that has shone through in his recovery.

Imagine my surprise when he called me and said he was planning to drive to Bangalore! I know of people who have merely scratched their cars and been afraid to drive for weeks after that. I myself do not drive as I am afraid of traffic. I was nearly speechless that after such a horrific accident, he was able to get right back up.

From being completely immobile after the accident, he has won four gold medals in the State Paralympic Swimming Championship, taken part in special fashion shows for people with disability, played wheelchair basketball, participated in wheelchair marathons, done scuba diving in Kovalam, come to visit me in his modified car all the way to Vandalur in the outskirts of Chennai,  where I stay, been a guest on a Chennai Radio channel, and a host of other things that many people without disabilities wouldn’t do either. He’s now a celebrity. He’s even been featured in The Hindu.

In paralympic swimming, athletes with physical disabilities are classified from S1 to S10, where S1 is for the ones who have the most disability, S10 is for the ones who have the least. Justin is an S2 class athlete since his disability is severe. He took part in the freestyle 50m and 100m and backstroke 50m and 100m. He won gold in all the four events.

Justin says, “All those years ago, I did not have the choice to do away with my disability but I had a choice as to how to live with it. At every stage, there were challenges – physical, mental, social and architectural barriers. The swimming pool was inaccessible; the travel was 40 km, waking up to a spastic frozen body, sympathetic stares and so on. I saw only the possibilities to overcome them.”

What can I say? While the world around finds excuses to disable themselves from doing something, I find reasons to enable myself. There’s a scientific calculator for measuring disability, there aren’t any for ability!” he adds

Justin is an inspiration to all of us, who do not face 90% of the challenges he does, but are lazy and find excuses. His story is a triumph of mind over matter, of the spirit over body. It shows us that a strong will can overcome all the odds. Every time I talk to him, I try to remember that my friend has overcome so many challenges. After having a cheerful conversation with him, one is likely to forget that behind his cheerful demeanour lies a story of struggle, pain, challenges, frustration, and heartbreak.

We often look to public figures and celebrities for inspiration. Famous basketball players or sportsmen, actors and writers, without realising that sometimes, heroes reside in who we call ‘ordinary people’ – our neighbours, friends, relatives or colleagues. And until the story is highlighted for people to know about, they remain unsung heroes.

I’m glad Justin’s story is reaching people. But the more people it reaches, the better I’ll feel.


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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.

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.

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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.

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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, 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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