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These 2 Unconventional Teachers Are Heroes For Creating Equality In The Classrooms

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As the country celebrates Teacher’s Day, let’s have a look at the lives and teaching styles of two teachers determined to make a difference. While no two people could be more different regarding their background, what makes 48-year-old Dinesh Ankush and 37-year-old Harish Iyer similar is that they share a similar agenda. They both want to empower their students to make India more equal.

Ankush was born in a family belonging to a socially-backward caste and had experienced discrimination first-hand as a teenager. “The other savarna children in my school thought they were superior because they spoke fluent English and had fairer complexions – whereas I was a dark-skinned, long-haired boy from a backward caste. But when they saw that I was also good at my studies, their perception started changing,” he recalls.

Dinesh Ankush leading by example
Dinesh Ankush leading by example

That’s when he decided that he would educate himself as much as he could. After he completed his graduation in History, his sister filled out his B.Ed. admission form, thereby propelling him into a career in education. At first, he taught at a school where most of the children came from privileged backgrounds. But then, one day, the vice principal made him realise that children from socially- and economically-backward backgrounds could benefit more from his efforts. Ever since then, Ankush has been teaching at a number of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)-run Marathi medium schools. Presently, he teaches students from class 6 to class 8 at a BMC school in Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar. He also counsels older students and encourages them to get a college degree, at least.

“The students are at an age when they are just beginning to have their first experience of discrimination. I want to make sure that they focus on doing everything to improve their lives, instead of feeling hopeless and giving up,” he says. “It is easy to blame the parents or the child. But we need to understand that some of the older children do odd jobs to support their family’s income. If they lose interest in school, they will quit and take up casual labour and their standard of living will never improve,” he explains.

Ankush therefore works towards giving his students an academic experience close to that enjoyed by privileged children in fancier schools. Ankush discovered that many of these children come from families that have mobile phones. Additionally, some children also go to the neighbourhood cyber-cafe. “That’s when I started treating them to PowerPoint presentations along with the usual chalk-and-blackboard drill. I also encourage more group activities instead of singling out students – so that learning is less stressful or humiliating,” he says.

Ankush discovered that these teaching aids resulted in higher attendance rates. The children also started taking a greater interest in education. “Some of the older children have their own mobile phones – so I advise them about the apps they can download to learn new words in English and be more comfortable in the language,” he says. From time to time, he also keeps bringing successful members of the community to speak with children and encourage them to complete their education, so that they can have a chance at a better life.

Meanwhile, Harish Iyer uses his irreverent sense of humour to help students understand and respect people of all genders and sexualities. Iyer is a guest lecturer in copy-writing at a few colleges – and he uses this opportunity to break stereotypes.

Harish Iyer destroying stereotypes
Harish Iyer destroying stereotypes

“I once asked a group of boys to write a copy for an advertisement for female hygiene products . I was happy when they asked their female classmates what they were looking for in an ideal product,” he says. “I asked the girls to write a copy for an advertisement for undergarments for men. I was thrilled when their ads did not depend on an attractive woman to make the man appear more desirable, and instead focused on the real qualities of a good inner-wear such as eliminating the need to constantly adjust the crotch. This way both genders begin to develop empathy for each other,” he says.

Iyer is also a well-known equal rights activist and is often found studio-hopping and talking about matters related to the LGBT community on news channels. Iyer wants to normalise the LGBT community for the general population – and believes that it all begins in the classroom. “Activism cannot be limited to TV studios or candle light marches. It has to be a conscious, sustained effort and an integral part of our day-to-day lives,” he insists.

Incidentally, one of the colleges where Iyer teaches also happens to be a place where he was bullied as a teenager for his effeminate body language. Iyer had slit his wrists and would have died, had he not received medical attention in time.

“I have noticed that effeminate boys, whether straight or gay, face a lot of discrimination in a patriarchal society. To de-stigmatise femininity, I often switch pronouns based on gender. So I call girls ‘he’ and boys ‘she’ in class,” says Iyer. “This is an age when children have many questions and  want to talk. I let them ask me all kinds of questions. Sometimes, I even broadcast my lectures live on Facebook and the students answer questions from viewers,” he says.


If you know about inspirational teachers who are working toward empowering marginalised communities, please leave a comment below.

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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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