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Gurmehar Kaur’s ‘Small Acts Of Freedom’ Is A Beautiful Exercise In Reliving One’s Memories

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Co-authored by Ananya Pande:


Gurmehar Kaur has a story to tell. This time, however, she has written a book about it.

Nineteen-year-old Gurmehar was in the news last year because she joined a peaceful campaign after violent clashes at Delhi University’s Ramjas College. She became the target of an onslaught of social media vitriol – including death threats, rape threats and furious commentary from people ranging from politicians to cricketers, actors to media-influencers.

“When people ask me where I gather strength from, I cannot just point at one incident. My story does not start with me,” writes Gurmehar in her recent book. She doesn’t talk about the incident that took place last year – instead, she talks about the events that led to the incident.

Small Acts of Freedom” is an articulate work of non-fiction that tells the story of three generations of strong, passionate women who have faced the world and battled with it, on their own terms.

In this book, Gurmehar writes about two generation of women in her family who fought their own battles and stood by each other. They kept going on, no matter what happened. The story starts with Gurmehar’s 3-year-old self experiencing the sudden death of her father, Capt. Mandeep Singh, who died while fighting the Kargil war. She doesn’t have many memories of her father, but she has beautifully crafted every little memory they shared together. Starting from the bumpy rides on a Royal Enfield bike to her constant protest of not letting her father go to the valley, she narrates her story and the reasons that made her strong enough to stand against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). The book has an unusual narrative structure that crisscrosses between the past and the present.

Gurmehar Kaur at the Jaipur Literature Festival (Image source: ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival/Facebook)

Amarjeet, Gurmehar’s grandmother, lost her husband Ajeet at a very young age. They had just shifted from Vizag to Nangal in the 1970s when this incident took place. Ajeet died while saving his fellow laborers from a load that had snapped from a crane. After the incident, both Pammi and Raji had to shift to their grandparent’s house at Saharanpur.

The book then describes the story of their struggles while growing up. Both Pammi and Raji had to travel a long way in a bus to reach their school. Then, they had to bear the brunt of their aunt’s activities when they were staying with their uncle in Uttar Pradesh. But, in my opinion, the one thing that should strike a cord with the readers is the fact that Amarjeet struggled a lot in order to raise her children. She gave tuitions to the village children and ran a tailoring shop to put food on the table.

Furthermore, the book tells the love story of Young Harry (Gurmehar’s father) and Raji (Gurmehar’s mother), and how passionate her father was to join the Army from a very young age. Gurmehar doesn’t have very distinct memories of her father. Therefore, she vividly describes the three years she spent with her father. Raji lost her husband at a very young age. Initially, she was exhausted and depressed, but she had to snap out of it thinking about her children and her husband’s request to take care of them.

Gurmehar beautifully describes the transition in her mother’s behaviour and appearance after the incident. Whenever Gurmehar was afraid, she would hide behind her mother’s dupatta. This was her favorite activity – to look at the world through her dupatta. But somehow, the colour of her bleak world changed from bright red or blue to white and pale yellow.

The story also talks about Gurmehar’s struggle of growing up without a father. There were times when she wanted to give up. But she was motivated by the ‘tainted fact’ that her father died while fighting with real bullets in the battlefield – and since his blood runs through her veins, she can’t lose hope that easily. The book ends with Gurmehar turning 16 and her sister, Bani, visiting their father’s unit-raising day at Srinagar.

This is one of those rare books that will make you travel through time and make you cry as you go deep into her story. The essence of this book is strengthened by the mere fact that it records real life instances and how their amalgamation led the author to be who she is.

With the individualistic perspective it carries, the book is an intriguing read. it is also well-written – in a way that most people will find easy to understand – thus giving it the added charms of easy comprehensibility and credibility.

Ratnadeep Chakraborty is pursuing his Honours in journalism from Christ University. He has written over 20 articles about student politics and protests. He has worked as a research analyst for multiple politicians and political bodies across the country like B.PAC. He was the campus ambassador for the LeadHER programme, which aimed at improving the sex ratio at the workplace. He started with his individual book-reviewing activities when he was just 15 years old.

Ratnadeep is also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of “The Honest Critique”. Being exhausted by other forms of debating, he was intrigued by the community debates. He joined Dialogue (a student-run, policy-making institute) as the General Secretary. You can get in touch with him at

Ananya Pande is a student at Christ University who is pursuing media studies, economics, and political sciences. She has a knack for literature and enjoys writing poetry as well. You can get in touch with her at

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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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