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Sanjay Basti’s Kajal Shows How One Empowered Woman Can Change An Entire Community

Amidst the medley of hotels, embassies and bungalows that signal progress and power, Sanjay Basti in the heart of Lutyens Delhi is a paradox to the modernity and urbanisation in its vicinity. The chaos and clustered streets in the camp cut through a haphazard placement of huts and is a witness to deplorable lack of sanitation. Most families manage meagre living through daily wage labour and selling staples. Lack of financial security and an unstable future make the residents of this area susceptible to drug abuse and alcoholism. The wave of dipsomania transmits and creates a generation of school dropouts and hoodlums who became a menace to the community. Women and young children are particularly vulnerable in this felonious and often patriarchal environment. Battling many such existing social evils on a daily basis is Kajal, a 21-year-old resident of Sanjay Basti who is committed, passionate and hopeful of making her home and the community a better place to live. Devoid of all pessimism, she is kind, fierce and determined, and has optimised her potential with hard work and a supportive family and peer circle.

Sanjay Camp1 - D for Delhi
A still from Sanjay Basti in New Delhi

Soon after entering her early 20s, Kajal started providing financial support to her family by giving tuition classes to several children in Sanjay Camp. In her own way, without realising it, she started a journey of fighting against biased norms governing the society.

She became an advocate of menstrual hygiene by selling sanitary napkins from her dwelling. This was her first step towards breaking the vicious cycle of stigma and unawareness that majorly affects the local women’s reproductive and mental health. She’s been a contact point for all NGOs, social workers and media professionals who want to write about or work in Sanjay Camp, both small and big initiatives. She has equipped herself with management and life skills by managing the admin and operational challenges of various NGOs and others. Kajal chose to break the stereotypes and marched ahead to advocate the need for education, peace, human rights, prevention of domestic violence and now the social-emotional well-being of fellow community members.

Kajal setting up a library in her basti.

Somewhere along the way, Kajal got the opportunity to discover her professional ambitions and personal growth through Light Up (Emotions Matter Foundation), an NGO advocating for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and enhancement of the emotional intelligence of children and communities. The development and establishment of the NGO in her community went hand-in-hand with her evolution as a devoted social worker. As a social champion of Light Up (Emotions Matter Foundation), she spent several hours every week in managing the organisation’s operations along while bringing many children under the ambit of the educational space created by Light Up.

Her decision to become a social worker led Kajal to traverse on two journeys of transformation: one was external in which she experienced a much-needed social change in her community, and the other was internal by which her perception of emotional maturity, patience and the role as an educator completely transformed. Pointing towards a small example, Kajal confessed how prior to Light Up, in order to discipline the children or improve their work she’d often resort to hitting them. The idea that even one seemingly harmless instance of violence can scar a child’s emotional health was quite alien to her. By working with Light Up on their SEL programme, she discovered the intensity of this kind of violence and how it was deeply entrenched in the daily lives of the community members. The change in Kajal led to a subsequent change in parts of her community as she transformed it by not only enlightening students about the importance of emotions but also teachers and parents.

Apart from this, she has spearheaded a movement advocating education. Education represented that opulent commodity in Sanjay Camp that was deeply desired but rarely achieved by most. Her efforts have resulted in bringing education at the doorstep of every child residing in Sanjay Basti accomplishing a goal that no one would have thought of. Going beyond academics, the change can be observed in their behaviour as the children became less aggressive, more attentive and inculcated a relatively humbler way of conducting themselves. Kajal does not want materialistic incentive to encourage children to be a part of the Light Up community but wants them to foster a will to learn. She is often found providing counsel to parents and children alike, encouraging them to be strong and empowered. At present, she is teaching under the ‘Each One Teach One’ initiative to re-enrol drop-outs and this opportunity has provided her means to earn a better livelihood.

Kajal is one of the most resounding examples of how empowering even one woman can completely alter the face of an entire community. Light Up is one of the few social ventures encouraging such individuals and honing their skill sets around women empowerment, life skills, and management skills. We have realised that there is a dire need to shed light upon the most ignored components of a healthy existence – emotions that play a greater role in deciding one’s life path and redefining success of an individual. We truly believe that recognising the problem and working on it can lead to a positive change in the dynamics of the society, and our goals are being realised through social champions like Kajal. We know that a Kajal exists in every space where there is a scope of social change and we are on a journey to discover that – a journey that has only just begun.

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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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