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The Labels I Live With For Choosing History Over Engineering

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Editor's note: This post is a part of #BHL, a campaign by BBC Media Action and Youth Ki Awaaz to redefine and own the label of what a 'bigda hua ladka or ladki' really is. If you believe in making your own choices and smashing this stereotype, share your story.

Among the many motivational quotes swarming over the internet, you’ll often find this one: “If everyone likes you, you are doing something wrong.” I didn’t quite understand this until a few years ago. I used to think, how could being liked by everyone be wrong? But as I found out later, it is indeed wrong.

Growing up, I was the perfect kid every parent wished for. I kept to my studies, topped my classes, never ever took up anything that would cause even the slightest of discomfort to me or my parents. I really thought I was perfect and all the people different from me were simply not ‘good’.

Growing up, I was the perfect kid.

So by the time I was ready for college, I was long overdue for a reality check. It didn’t take long for me to realise that my quest to be ‘nice and perfect’ had thrown me out of sync with the world. I realised, sadly, that at the stage where I was, I wasn’t enough. Therefore, I decided to change, and made some decisions that were in clear contrast with the pattern of decisions expected of me.

A couple of months before my higher secondary exams, I decided not to apply for engineering entrance exams. It was the first decision where I deviated from what I was expected to do.

It was no surprise when everyone around me reacted as if their world had come crashing down. They tried everything from emotional blackmail to open rage, but I stood my ground. The way I see it, they had an idea of a ‘life’ already decided for me, one where I was happily settled and earning enough. When they realised that my decisions were veering away from that version, they believed that I was spoilt, reckless.

It was also the decision that spawned a chain of events that led to me being labelled a ‘Bigda Hua Ladka‘.

Later, I chose History as my graduation subject and entered Delhi University with nothing more than loads of accumulated academic information. What I saw here was astonishing. I saw students doing things that I didn’t even know of. People here organised events, acted in street plays, volunteered with organisations – and studying seemed like the last thing on their minds.

At first, I was slightly scared. Then I reasoned that cramming up three more years of knowledge won’t get me anywhere, so I might as well try to be something more.

I joined some societies and started observing how these work. I learned from every opportunity that I got. A few months later, college felt like home. As I pushed myself more, my beliefs underwent a transformation. I no longer believed that cramming up books was the sole purpose of education. So my parents didn’t find me hunched over a book all day. I also became aware of the prevalent casual sexism around us, so when someone at home made any comments that I found disturbing, I questioned them. All of this combined to make me the quintessential Bigda Hua Ladka to my parents.

What turned out to be the most difficult part of this phase was not learning new things, but coping with the change in the attitude of others toward me. As I started staying late in college for meetings or preparations, people began to worry that this all meant that I had gone “out of hand”. My parents also believed them at first. Why was I not studying the whole day like I used to? And suddenly, there were a lot of raised voices, heated arguments and slammed doors at home.

All this time, I wondered how it could be wrong to want to grow in life, to want to develop myself. For all I know, the time I spent in college made me able to do many things later. But it was disheartening to see people trying to judge me instead of understanding me.

So what I learnt from all of this is that not everyone will understand you, but it’s important that you understand what you are trying to do. I’ve been called arrogant, selfish, Bigda Hua and many similar beautiful names in my life, simply for choosing to do what I want to. But in retrospect, I see them as an inevitable part of my growth. Facing all that gave me the strength to stand up for myself.

So to everyone who is out there trying to stand up for themselves, I just want to say that labels don’t define you, they define the people who label you. If you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, then go right ahead. Don’t worry about what others are saying. Wear the labels like badges of honour.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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