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Watch: Legendary Indian Para-Athlete Devendra Jhajharia Shares A Powerful Life Lesson

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I recall reading a play in Class 12 titled “On The Face Of It” by Susan Hill. It revolved around a character named Mr Lamb, an army veteran who lost one leg in a war. The tragic mishap did not shake his unwavering courage and positivism. Instead of focusing on what he could not do, he shifted his attention to what he could do but never found the time to – reading and making jams. And that, by his admission, was one of his most fulfilling life experiences.

Devendra Jhajharia’s narrative bears some semblance to Mr Lamb’s. Born in Churu district in Rajasthan, Jhajharia was the victim of an unfortunate accident when he was merely eight years old. He lost his left arm after being electrocuted by a live wire of 11,000 volts while attempting to climb a tree. Ironically enough, his village then was among the 18,000 Indian villages that were electrified but had no electricity. The near-fatal injury forced the doctors to amputate his left hand right away.

A Rough Start

Jhajharia was devastated. “When I came from the hospital back to my village, the first thought that came to my mind was that now I won’t be able to go back and play with my friends. What will they say? Will they even include me in a game? Will they isolate me because I was weak? As a child, you fall prey to a lot of such thoughts,” he confesses. Watch the video below as Devendra further reveals the thoughts that kept him up night after night and at which point in his life did he decide that surrendering was not an option.

Staying true to his never-give-up attitude, Jhajharia pursued his passion for athletics unabashedly by taking up javelin throw at school. Since his family could not afford to buy him a javelin stick, the determined child used a bamboo stick and practised the sport in the fields surrounding his village. Nothing in the world could have prepared him, though, for what came next.

Fortune favours the brave

In 1997, he was spotted by Dronacharya Awardee coach Ripu Daman Singh while competing at a school sports day. Singh took him under his wings – introducing the athlete to the concept of para-sports in the country and guiding him on his early sporting endeavours at college and district level. From here on, there was no stopping the prodigy. “Since the other kids didn’t want to play with me considering me a liability, I decided to play a sport and be better at it than them,” Jhajharia says with a smile.  At the Railway trials, he competed alongside able-bodied applicants to earn a job and upon winning served as Office Superintendent for 11 years.

Like any other para-athlete in the country, Jhajharia too has had his brush with struggles. His pleas for sponsorships from corporate houses did not yield any result and there was a time when even the government turned a blind eye.

Recognition Followed Suit

But all this changed when Jhajharia created history by becoming the first Indian to break his own record at the Rio Paralympics 2016, winning two gold medals. He won gold at Athens Paralympics in 2004 with a record javelin throw of 62.15 metres. At the Rio Paralympics, he broke the record throw with 63.97 metres. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a moment of immense pride took to Twitter to congratulate him after his Rio win. The PM’s words, “India is very proud of Devendra Jhajharia” were met with warmth and glee.

It is no more a fight to fit in for Jhajharia. His staggering achievements are the stuff that legends are made of. As his contribution to sports became more and more widely known, both Government and private sponsors approached him. He is currently supported by GoSports Foundation– a nonprofit venture working towards the development of India’s Paralympic athletes.

Apart from being India’s flag-bearer at the 2016 Paralympics, Jhajharia was awarded the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award this year. To this day, he remains the only Paralympian athlete to have been decorated with the revered Padma Shri, the nation’s fourth highest civilian award.

A Powerful Life Lesson

The 36-year-old champion has a message for all Indians – dream big and remain focused. “When I go to camps, I never leave my javelin in the storeroom. I always kept it in the room with me. It is because I should see my target 24 hours a day. The problem is we tend to get distracted by other things in life when our mind should actually be locked into our target,” Jhajharia advises. He makes a great point.

The biggest takeaway for me from Jhajharia’s and Mr Lamb’s accounts has been this – there are an enormous number of people in the world who get knocked down by life because of one reason or another. Not many of them fight back, admitting defeat. The ones who hustle hard, make history. The question that arises is, which one out of the two do you plan to be?

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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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