This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sonia Chatterjee. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

From Banking To Blogging – My Journey Of Reclaiming My Identity

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My life has been one of paradoxical chances that led to opinionated choices. When I was in class 6, I absolutely loathed chemistry. The subject science had just been segregated as physics, chemistry and biology. Nothing in chemistry really made much sense to me. In addition to that, my mother had been recently operated upon and was recovering in Kolkata for more than a couple of months. I had been missing her terribly.

During one chemistry class, I must have been in a world of my own while the teacher finished writing an assignment on board. We were given five minutes to solve it. When I heard the teacher call out my name to explain the solution on board, I was scared and embarrassed. Each bench in our class had two occupants. So, my friend on the same bench had been noticing my absent-mindedness for some time. Both of us ranked within the top three. Yet, without much ado, he subtly pushed his notebook towards me while carefully lifting mine. In a dazed state, I remember walking up to the classroom board and copying all the answers from his note.

Two things happened after this incident – I made a friend for life, someone I have consciously chosen to stay in touch with despite the years and distance and I was dead set on understanding what was so complicated about chemistry.

In a couple of months, I became so involved with the subject that I grew to be in love with it. Till my boards, there were only very few instances where I didn’t score the highest in the subject. A highly knowledgeable and student-friendly chemistry professor in classes 11 and 12 turned out to be my role model in motivating me to pursue honors in chemistry. My obsession with the subject went on till master’s level and would have culminated in a doctorate next had I not decided to quit my project at one of India’s topmost institutes to work for a market research firm.

After working for a year there, I realised that the only way forward and upward was through an MBA. So, at the age of 26, with very little savings (I had spent most of it on books and restaurants), I convinced my due-to-retire-in-two-years father to pay for my fees. Ironically, most of my friends were either settled or moving to the next level by then.

During my MBA tenure, I developed an apathy for two subjects – cost accounting and financial management. The balance sheet never tallied and the profit and loss statements never made sense. The moment we were given an option to select subjects for specialisation, I went all out for marketing papers. So, in the second year, I ended up with eight marketing, one operations and one IT paper. I had successfully managed to throw out finance from my life, or so I thought.

The year we were set to pass out was worst hit by recession. Most of the companies were opting out of placements in B-schools. Students, irrespective of their specialisation, were queuing up for all feasible companies. The first company to arrive on day zero was India’s top private sector bank. I had already cleared their previous levels. Along with nine of my batch-mates, I had been shortlisted for group discussion and interview. They had already earned the reputation for never having picked up a marketing major till then. I was so confident about them picking up one of my classmates that I ended up having one of the most relaxed and comfortable interviews ever. After all, I had nothing to lose. Imagine my surprise when I was one of the two people offered a job at the bank. This is how despite a severe lassitude towards finance , I ended up becoming a banker. I had no option but to face the situation head on.

When I started my tenure as a branch manager, there was very little I knew about managing a team – especially one consisting of senior employees – or handling the operations and sustainability of the branch. There is no learning better than learning through experience. I made mistakes and received warnings. Eventually, I learned my lesson and picked up the pieces. This is how I moved on to win many awards and accolades. The six years that I stayed in the banking sector, I had switched three jobs and two cities.

I went on maternity leave during my last assignment and never returned back. I had already lost my mother within five months of my marriage and being a motherless new mum was the toughest role that I had played till date. It was a conscious decision to be around my son, watch him grow and get back to the corporate world when we were both ready. I had decided on a sabbatical of a year to fifteen months. We had already moved back to Kolkata for good to let our son grow amidst the love and affection of his grandparents.

When he was about to turn eighteen months, I had planned to restart my job hunt. Instead, I found myself writing and posting my thoughts more often on my Facebook wall. The consistent comments and appreciation on those posts made me start thinking if  it was time to follow my dreams of being a ‘solopreneur’. I decided to take the plunge and on my son’s birthday month – September, I launched my site as a tribute to my late mother and a gift to my son. At 36, I was expected to be settled in life, career and finances. Instead, I gave it all up to chase my passion for writing.

Staring from the scratch, I can only tell you that this has been my most satisfying journey till date.  The quote from the movie ‘The Pursuit of Happyness‘ is what I live by and I intend to pass it on to my son –  “You’ve got a dream. You’ve got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it If you want something, go get it. Period.” 

Like I keep telling my son Tuneer, it is never too late to restart if you find your purpose of waking up everyday.

In addition, there’s a small story to this featured image that I would love to share. Way back in 2009, I was in Khandala for a training session. Five of us in that batch decided to take a weekend trip to Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. Throughout my life, I had always been scared of heights. In Mahabaleshwar, while coming back from a temple, we had climbed up a cliff. The edge of the cliff had the most gorgeous view of the surroundings but one wrong step meant going downhill without any chance of survival. I’m not sure what came over me but I made up my mind to let go of my inhibitions in that moment. So with the help of my friends, I reached the safe zone of the edge and stood there alone with my dupatta flying high in the air. That moment has been etched in my memory forever. I call it my moment of reclaiming myself. Every single time that I have hit rock bottom, I have thought of this moment and mustered the courage to fight back.

The article was first published here.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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