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My Parents’ Refusal To Let Me Follow My Dreams Incapacitated Me

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I think this is the story of millions of children who are deeply passionate about something and dream big, but the society and even their parents do not understand.

My father was an Ameen in the irrigation department in a small village near Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. He had to cover about 20-30 km area in a day on cycle to register irrigation fees. Cycle was the only means of transport to remote villages. My father didn’t want me to ruin his precious bicycle just for fun.

I was good at drawing since my childhood, so, when I was 11 years old, my family had sent me to a painter’s shop to learn painting in Allahabad. The painter’s shop was 100 m away from Anand Bhavan (Nehru family’s residence) and just next to Anand Bhavan, there was Bal Bhavan, where kids just like ‘me’ used to learn drawing, music, science, etc. at summer workshops. I heard about Bal Bhavan and asked my parents to get me enrolled there; admission in Bal Bhavan was almost free but my parents denied. Perhaps they were afraid of the upcoming demands from me after attending the workshop.

I washed and washed the nerolac paint dipped brushes in kerosine oil and roamed around in the city with the paint bucket and brushes to help my master. While kids like me were busy learning their favorite skills from their teacher, I got nothing from my master. I failed to learn painting but I learned cycling there. Small cycles were available there on rent (1 rupee/30min), so, I took a cycle on rent and learned cycling. That time I loved the cycle more than anything else in the world.

I came back home and more time had passed. I liked all subjects, but English had always given me a headache. Arts, crafts, music, dance are not considered as a ‘subjects’ in our society, so, I was forced not to draw much as it was a wastage of paper, pencil, color and time as well. I was the only child in my school and my village, which had interest in drawing, and no one encouraged me except my teacher Majula Tripathi and my neighbour aunty ji. I didn’t need encouragement at that time, I was strong enough to practise what I liked and I did it: I used to bring comic books on rent (50 paise/day), I used to read it within 1 or 2 hours and draw superheroes rest of the time. But I was forced to stop it and often get beaten for this, as if it is a crime to draw muscular superheroes in distinct costumes; yet, I was allowed to draw figures of gods.

Yes! we had ‘art’ paper on our examination date sheet, that very day we used to do our annual purchasing of colour, brushes and आम प्लेट (plate for mixing colors in a mango shape). Cheap colors and brushes are not good on cheap paper and you have to learn to handle water or poster color from teacher, books, YouTube or other sources on the Internet. But no such things existed in my village in 1998. I did the watercolor my own way and made dozens of ‘Shaktimaan’ and other superheroes’ posters; unfortunately, I don’t have them with me.

When I was in Intermediate (+2), I took biology because my family convinced me to become a doctor. I liked biology just because of the great teaching style of my teacher Mr. VK Gothi. He also praised me for my fine drawing skills, but, things were not the same for other subjects like physics or chemistry. I was expelled from home as I refused to prepare for medical entrance exams. Later on, I agreed to do BSc.

During BSc, I was highly influenced by cinema (Hollywood and Bollywood). It was the time I was being introduced to Arnold, Jakie Chan, Bruce Lee, Brad Pitt, Russel Crow, Angelina Jolie, Enrique, Shakira, Kailash Kher, KK, Sukhwinder Singh, Lucky Ali, etc. I am a born imitator, so, I started imitating actors like Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, and Jagdeep. I started singing and imitating singers also; people liked me, and soon, I became a public figure in my college.

Zuckerberg had just founded Facebook that year. I wanted to learn guitar for maximum impact, so I asked my mother and she refused again. She thought learning music and guitar would ruin my ‘serious studies’. It was meaningless for me to cut open a snail and bring out its nerve or pass H2S gas in a solution and watch it turning white. So, I dropped out of college. I spent about one year doing nothing (academically) and watching movies. After one year, I was asked to join BFA course in an art school, and I was forced to choose Allahabad University, as my mother didn’t want to allow me to go to another city for studies.

I bought a BFA entrance form and found that I am above the age limit for this course. I could have joined BHU or any other faculty where age limit was higher, but my mother refused to give money for anything outside Allahabad. I left home and went to Kolkata and sold some HDFC credit cards, this experience was not good so I returned back to the village and stayed at my uncle’s house. I joined a school and taught children, I earned some money and went to Kala Bhavan, Vishva Bharti University where I appeared in an entrance test but couldn’t succeed as I was totally out of practice.

I came back home in 2007 and joined a computer course and won best short story writer award in a competition organized by the institute. I went to Dehli in 2010 and started a job in Dominos Pizza and delivered pizza in Canaught Place area and covered places like NSD, Mandi House, MAMC, LHMC, Shri Ram Art Centre, Pragati Maidan, ITO, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Bal Bhavan, etc. I found the College Of Art during a delivery and bought a form from there; I appeared in the test and failed again, the reason was obvious.

It was 2013, I returned back home and convinced my mother after ten long years to invest money in an animation diploma course and a personal computer. My mother agreed as the institute was in Allahabad. I completed my diploma in ‘3D modeling and Animation’ in 2014 and started working in the same institute as a 3D-artist and trainer. During the course, I had no internet connection at home, this means no troubleshooting at home during practice or working on projects. I was totally dependent on my teachers and friends for study material and tutorials. I was never taught film making in the institute as my course didn’t cover it.

But during a storytelling session, the director of the institute and some friends liked a story that was narrated by me and I got a chance to shoot this story and make a short film. I shot the film but no one was interested to edit my film, I didn’t know about editing software and the process (I still don’t know these things). In December 2015, I was diagnosed with spinal TB and spent my next one year bedridden. After recovering from the disease, I got an Internet connection at home and started learning basic editing and VFX on YouTube. After gaining some software knowledge, I started my projects again and somehow completed them.

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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.

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 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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