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Meet The Teacher Who Fought To Give 12,000 Children Their Right To Education

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Three years ago, a group of 22 class 5 students at the Bab Ul-Uloom School in Seelampur – one of Delhi’s lowest income localities – were assigned a unique project. To devise their own child rights charter. “Children should be taught to stand up for what they believe in,” says Anurag Kundu, the 2013-2015 Teach For India fellow who was responsible for the class. He had named them, aspirationally, the ‘college scholars’. He noticed one thing featured prominently in every student’s charter – that every child should be entitled to a good education.

Rights And Reality

Theoretically, the national Right To Education Act (RTE) guarantees a good education to all. It also dictates, in Section 12 (1) (c), that every recognised private unaided school is required to reserve 25% of its entry-level seats for students from economically weaker sections and socially disadvantaged groups.

However, when Anurag began conducting research after his Fellowship, as the lead of Advocacy and Community Engagement at Indus Action, he discovered that a majority of private schools regulated by the North, South, and East Delhi Municipal Corporations (MCD) were in violation of this provision. This meant that hundreds of children from backgrounds akin to the college scholars were being denied their rights.  He was deeply disturbed by the injustice.

“I had always found that in diverse classrooms, children learned better,” reflects Anurag. His teaching experience showed him that this diversity fostered the transcendence of the artificial barriers of caste, religion, and financial status. This belief, backed by several empirical research studies, is what drove him to RTE activism.

Fighting For Rights  

Anurag began documenting the violations to draw attention to incidences of non-compliance. He spent a year filing RTIs, publishing a research study, writing to child rights commissions, and coordinating with other organisations who work on similar themes. By then, he had left Indus Action, but he continued his pursuit in a personal capacity. He sought help from legal professionals and activists, and organised calling campaigns with elected municipal representatives.

When his efforts failed to break through the apathy of political and government officials, he filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in December 2016 – the linchpin of his relentless struggle – that marked the beginning of a four-month long courtroom battle. On April 26, 2017, the Delhi High Court ordered the MCD to make the admission process under this provision in private schools fair and transparent. Anurag and his team – Kumar Shanu (advocate), Paras Jain (law student), and Kapil Agarwal (law student) – had scored a major victory.

“This will guarantee the rights of approximately 12,000 children annually in Delhi! Plus, it sets a precedent that can be used in other states when seeking the court’s help,” he says.

Classroom To Courtroom

During the one and a half year long legal battle, Anurag found himself applying the skills he built during his two-year fellowship. The PIL process required methodical planning akin to the process he employed to create unit plans for his students. His time as a teacher taught him to identify long-term objectives and key resources, break down the plan into stages, and gauge student responses. He converted these classroom takeaways to effective legal strategies.

Of the hurdles he encountered on his journey to justice, Anurag says: “The most important challenge is oneself. One must keep oneself motivated.” The environment fostered by the fellowship, ‘where passionate, motivated people surround you,’ helped mould his resilient mindset.

He wished for his students, too, to develop in similar surroundings. However, he notes, “When they don’t have running water in their homes, or proper roofs over their heads, how do you expect them to focus on decimals and percentages? We should make teaching relevant to what the children are experiencing.”

Anurag merged curriculum concepts with issues that his students felt strongly about. As part of their child rights charter project, the college scholars decided to conduct a survey to assess reading levels of children in their community. Anurag used excerpts from texts on the methodology of surveys as English reading comprehension passages for them to decode. The kids surveyed 350 students spread across 20 different schools. After collecting the data, they applied the concepts of fractions and percentages to arrive at their final interpretation – approximately 50% of class 5 students were unable to read a 2nd-grade level Hindi text, and 70% of their peers were unable to read a 2nd-grade level English text.

Their efforts, however, did not end there. The students converted their findings into graphs and presented them at InspireED, an education-based conference in Delhi. They also organised a conference for parents, government authorities, educational entrepreneurs, school teachers and principals, to move towards conceiving a solution. Through ‘collaboration, consultation, and consensus’, Anurag’s students took a pressingly complex issue and did all they could in their power to remedy it – much like his own 18-month legal battle. Of the schools still in violation of Section 12 (1)(c), Anurag’s hope is that through news outlets and social media platforms, the community can ‘identify people who are fighting similar battles’ and provide them with all the support they require.

Perhaps his most encouraging observation is that one does not require a degree to do the things he did – and the lack of one must not serve as an excuse to refrain from righting the injustice around oneself. “All skills can be cultivated”, he says of his research, legal preparation, activism, and writing. It would do society well to take a cue from his students, who, he says, “Don’t just talk about becoming scientists, computer engineers, doctors, and teachers—they talk about becoming engaged citizens who are also scientists, engineers, doctors, and teachers.”

Written by Ananya Damodaran, Communications at Teach For India.

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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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