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My Husband’s Inspiring Belief In Islam Taught Me The True Meaning Of Ramadan

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As a kid, all Eid meant to me was a lot of non-vegetarian food at Junaid uncle’s house. He was a dear friend to my father, residing in a flat right above ours. Like a tradition, we used to go their place on Eid for dinner and aunty used to be ready with all the delicacies you would expect in a Muslim home.  Mind you, not everyone was invited for this dinner; others in the colony used to meet the Ahmed family to wish them and were only entertained with dahi bhalla and meethi seviyan, much to their dismay. It was only the Srivastavas who were called for dinner year after year, because of the close friendship between the men of the two families.

I remember while walking to the room for dinner, I used to cross their kitchen and see huge taamba utensils (big enough to cook a full grown man), and tonnes of mutton and biryani to feed our mohalla. I would think, “Oh God! How much can they cook and eat?

Now, I sense, God must actually have been looking down at my younger self and saying, “My dear child, just wait for some more years.” Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t cook and definitely not the way Junaid aunty or my mother-in-law can. My only claim to fame was seven years back in the US, our first Eid together as a couple. Shahzeel – my husband – being the only Muslim in our circle, him and I hosted a lunch and I cooked for 18 hours straight a day before Eid, just to make him feel little less homesick.

The success of the Eid gala was made evident not by the hours put in cooking, but by the content look on the faces of invitees. Also, I mentioned to them that there won’t be another party at Jawed-Srivastava’s for at least a year, as I was dead tired from all the cooking.

This year marks my eighth Eid with Shahzeel, and hence eighth Ramadan. To be honest, when I saw him go through this the very first time, I found it highly eccentric. In my defence, I was not raised in a Muslim household or amidst Muslim traditions. But over the period of time, his spunky spirit spoke to this cynical side of me, helping me see the exquisite part of this long-lived tradition.

Shahzeel is one of the biggest foodies I know of, may be the biggest. I am not exaggerating when I say this; you can actually control his mood through food. When this man enters home and smells bhuna murga or any non-vegetarian item, his face lights up like a five-year-old entering Disney World. And if he smells aloo gobi or green veggies (which he refers to as ‘ghaas phoosh’), it’s like the same kid learning that it’s Disneyland Paris and not Florida. In other words, disappointment.

And so, it amazes me when this bon vivant refrains from food and beverages for a stretch of 12-18 hours a day for 30 days straight. I know it’s a matter of practice and you eventually acclimate, but from what I have learnt it’s all about faith in yourself (willpower) and your God. Day one is the most difficult of the lot, when this ‘tea-man’ (his love for the beverage is legendary) skips his cup of morning tea and goes without food or drinks until the sun makes its peace with Earth. Eventually, the days start getting easier and the person starts getting stronger – physically and more importantly, mentally. But yes, it’s not easy, saying not as an observer but as a performer. With famished eyes and parched lips, I kept my first roza seven years back to accompany him. I remember asking him then, “How do you manage this? What keeps you going?

His confident answer still echoes in my ears: “For 11 months, your creator gives you the liberty to do things your way, and in return you only have to give a month. I think I can do that bit!” He keeps his belief system so guarded and secured that it is impervious to the battering of doubts. Many of us question our faith because of the unfortunate incident(s) that occur in our lives, but in his case it made him closer to Allah. My husband had the most troubled childhood I know of, yet, his faith in Allah stayed intact. If possible, it grew stronger.

It’s not that I have not seen people paying gratitude to God before, but his way of thinking and performing his righteous rituals never fails to amaze me. I believed Eid was a day of celebration, rich food, family get-togethers, and Eidi. And that it is, but now I know it’s more about Ramadan that leads to Eid, which is about perseverance, dedication, humility and submission to God.

So far, this has been my understanding of Ramadan, and I’m still on the learning curve. Coming from one religion and to be married into another, makes you wiser – if you have an open heart, and more so, an open mind. I may be the odd one out there but then I love what I am and where I am. Being different always has its own perks!

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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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