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The Only Hindu Among 7 Muslims, He ‘Learned About Islam In Close Quarters’

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Like all of us, Paras Naik has dreams and aspirations. He is a soft-spoken young man, but his words exude confidence and maturity. There is a certain calmness with which thoughts are articulated, and a kind generosity in the way he tells his stories – where his friends enjoy the limelight. Or maybe those are the kind of stories he likes to tell. And today, when so much of our daily consumption is overwhelmingly about ‘me, myself and I’, this quality of Paras stands out.

I enjoy reading books of history and listening to Marathi classical music–it’s called ‘Natya Sangeet’. I want to become an IPS officer and attempt to change the mindsets of people who think all cops are corrupt. My dream is to work in areas of conflict where many officers hesitate to be posted because the experience would be life-changing for me.”

A student of Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Paras came on board the ‘Youth Leaders as Change Makers’ project in 2017. When he heard about the fellowship, Paras thought he would be doing research in the field of Science. Because he was studying Humanities, simultaneously pursuing a course of this nature seemed like a good idea to him.

Of course, later on, he understood the scope of the fellowship and its uniqueness that was rooted in the effective use of CBPAR (Community-Based Participatory Action Research) as a tool to study social realities. And this scientific approach of uncovering the truth greatly appealed to him. He reminisces about the residential orientation workshop in Kharghar: “I didn’t know what to expect. But the workshop gave us a taste of the fellowship and a sense of where we were headed. We watched a film called ‘India Untouched’ that really opened my eyes to the injustices in our country. We live in bubbles and our opinions are formed by very superficial factors – we don’t look at things holistically I believe the film was a very effective and powerful way of bringing closure to our debate of reservation which started at the workshop.

Throughout the fellowship, there were many such turning points and moments of extensive learning for Paras. His group, Innovations, comprised seven Muslim members and himself, a Hindu. They decided to explore Muslim perspectives on the Triple Talaq verdict. “Some of our group members were initially hesitant because the topic was definitely sensitive in nature and studying it would mean doing a deep-dive–what if family members didn’t approve? But we zeroed in on it after several group meetings and discussions with our facilitators. And in hindsight, it was a great decision–it was an education for me in Islam.”

Inscription of the Qura’n

A crucial learning for Paras was also the respect he cultivated for his friends’ religious practices. During Ramadan, he would make it a point to not carry his lunch to the group meetings and eat only when his friends broke their fast in the evenings. And there was no proclamation of ‘religious tolerance’ anywhere. It was all very organic and for that reason, very beautiful. Paras acknowledges PUKAR’s role in this process: “I got this opportunity because I was a part of the Youth Fellowship. I learned about Islam from such close quarters.”

Paras says that the fellowship has taught him to dig beneath the surface. “Our facilitator told us how some messages that are circulated online are fake. And how we can check the veracity of these messages. An important lesson for me has been never to accept a one-dimensional version of an issue. We were always encouraged to listen to multiple perspectives. Through our interactions with Islamic scholars and other experts in the course of our study, we came across aspects of the story that the media may not have covered. At every step, we were forced to think, and as a result, so much new information came to light. Plus I have developed the skills to interact with different entities.”

Finally, when Paras is asked what he likes most about the fellowship, he says: “CBPAR is PUKAR’s strength. PUKAR’s Youth Fellowship should never stop. And I hope many more fellows come out of the program with the capabilities and desire to be good citizens. The problems of the world are far from over but PUKAR’s Youth Fellowship is an attempt to find some answers.”

Paras Naik was a fellow from 2017-2018 as part of ‘Youth Leaders as Change Makers’, a collaboration between PUKAR, Guru Nanak Khalsa College, and Gunvati J. Kapoor Medical Charitable Relief Foundation. He is currently pursuing his B.A from Guru Nanak Khalsa College.

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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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