This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by RAAZ DHEERAJ SHARMA✍️. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Interview: This Kashmiri Youth Advocate At UN Is Using Education As A Tool For Reform


“I want to bring smiles on the faces of people, each face inspiring me to go further to make more people smile,” said Suhail Mehraj, a youth activist who represented Kashmir at UN Youth Assembly. Suhail is also one of the advisers on the UNDP board.

Suhail, who works with different volunteer initiatives for the welfare of the people in Kashmirbelieves in living a resourceful life and aims at educating people on their rights and social responsibilities. He wants to change the perception about Kashmiri youth and improve the education system in the valley.

DS: How do you see yourself different from other youths of velly?

SM: I don’t think that I’m different. I was brought here in the valley only, and I performed every sort of activity here only. I am just performing my duty.

DS: Tell us about your education awareness programme? When did you think or made your mind that you want to do something to improve education scenario in the valley?

SM: I was 16 when I along with my schoolmates decided to work to improve the education situation in Kashmir. What inspired me was that I wanted Kashmir to be a profound learning space that has a good share in the global development. During my conversations with students, I found that learning level was very pathetic. A lot of children couldn’t go to school due to many reasons like lack of financial recourses, motivation, etc.  Many were the first generation learners.  After witnessing all this, I could not sleep properly. My mind was full of questions like how can we become a developed society if we are unable to educate children properly. I started two-day (Saturday and Sunday) teaching program in a week in my district, selecting areas where education was yet a new thing. I motivated people to educate their children. I made them realise the importance of education and how it could be a tool to bring positive changes in Kashmir and also help them voice their issues. Finally, I got some 250 students of different age group enrolled in my initiative. Some of them were not able to read and write, but within four months the efforts showed results. They were able to read and write. After that, I got about some 45 school dropouts back in school. Last year, I started a campaign to motivate students who had the privilege to be in schools colleges and universities, to help in bringing Kashmir close to the progress, by taking initiating different initiatives.

DS: You are also working with UN. Tell us something about that?

SM: I work with different organs of UN, such as UNDP, UNICEF and  ILO  as their young advisory member for their various projects in Asia and West Africa. Helping them in forming the ground policies and strategies to meet the goals. Apart from that, I’m also assisting the youth and policymakers of Nigeria for making a difference, advising them on certain issues like Education & Health.

You delivered one speech at UN Youth Assembly on how to enhance education in developing nations. Tell us something about that and share your experience with us.

In February, I got an opportunity to speak in one of the world’s prestigious podium General Assembly as a part of Youth Assembly. I shared views about the initiatives that I started in my state and how I used education as a key to reformation.  I stressed upon the fact that there’s a huge young population in the world and that youth should take the responsibility to shape the future of world that is full of positivity and possibilities. We can’t have a good future until we collaborate. If someone is suffering in America or any other place of the world, we can’t be happy in India. We must feel pain for each other, and that pain will get us closer. Today, we have several problems, but when people would join hands, there won’t be a single problem. The best part of my country is that youth have started taking responsibilities in making the world a better place, that’s why I’m here today.

DS: How will you relate development and educational programme in Kashmir?

SM: I would say that development and education should be in equilibrium, with education the priority. Development can only happen when you have education. This can be understood in a way that we need alphabets to even spell development. It’s really hard to think of development if we are not pushing for education. If today we develop two schools they, in turn, will give us infinite ideas and ways for sustainable development. Need to place priority for education first. Everything can wait but not education.

DS: Are you satisfied with the educational policies of the union and state government with respect to Kashmir?

SM: Unfortunately not! The big problem here in the valley is that everything is being ignored, including education, to safeguard the vote banks. Government is nourishing ignorance in many forms. Like incompetent government teachers. So many people are holding a good position in the education department which they don’t deserve. Recently, a teacher, who was in service ofr 16 years, was sacked for providing fake documents at the time of recruitment. Such cases are really heartbreaking. She ruined those 16 years of our students. This is just one of the many such cases. And the other problem is few people are taking advantage and making profits out of the education, and authorities seem to be helpless. If we want a good India, we must place priority for education, why not to turn India into an education hub, so that people from America and Europe come here to learn. That would be the best tribute to the people who sacrificed their lives for this country. They wanted India to lead the world.

DS: If you ever get an opportunity to make education policies for the valley then how will you improve the system?

SM: It will like a dream coming true.

I will place priority for education in all aspects.  Free quality education to every child till college. Easy access to education. Home-oriented education.  Giving students a proper protocol to live their dream job in the system for a day to encourage them to pursue their goals actively. Will make sure that education takes them close to the traditions and cultures of the nation. Will provide e-library in every locality and vicinity mentors. High placement chance for students of government schools. Will make it mandatory for the school staff and officers to enrol their children in government schools.  Constitute senior citizens and youth councils as pressure groups.  Exchange programs with different countries. Providing education to differently abled children will be one of the priorities. Exempt of grade system.

Will try to showcase that education holds power to rescues us all from the current issues. Will develop universities like Harvard here in the valley. Making it sure that all the other policies are education friendly.  Will make education a non-profit service. Will restrict the area of students of primary level travelling taking care of their health. Will bring equality in the schools so that children of carpenters or casual labours open their lunch boxes with those from the privileged section of the society. If we want to live in the dream nation, we must crave for it now.

DS: Education is the only weapon that can help us improve the condition of the valley. Do you agree with this? Also, what’s your message to the youth who are getting involved in stone pelting?

SM: Indeed! I am a firm believer that education holds power to have an impact on things. There are always better ways and options that one can choose to get things done.

DS: In your opinion what is the biggest challenge before Kashmiri youths?

Insatiability in the structure of the system. Nobody is ready to hug them, to listen to their problem and issues.  They always find it hard to get access the system.

DS: Who is your role model and what is your goal and what you want to achieve in your life?

SM: It was my childhood aim to help the people around, and I shall continue it to the limit of my endurance.  Sufferings and problems of people are the biggest sources of motivation for me. Every suffering inspires me and boosts me to work more for my people. I even got many good opportunities outside to work and study, but I opted to be here only. So that I can remain close to the problem of people, no matter if I don’t get successful, but I’m chasing on the ground for a better future.  I want to bring smiles to the faces of people, each face inspiring me to go more beyond to make more smiles.

DS: What kind of Kashmir you want to see?

SM: A prosperous, full of positivity and possibility. Where social and Human rights are maintained in every aspect. Where everyone can dream with no limits. Where I can revive the old memories with our Kashmiri Pundit brothers, like my ancestors.Where Hindus who migrated from the valley come back.

DS: Is there any way to resolve differences? What is your opinion about current political developments and government policies in Kashmir?

SM: Dialogue is the only way out to end the differences and disturbance. If we fail to initiate the same, we may lose more smiles, and in this way, we are inviting more difficult situation.

DS: What is your message to the people of this country?

SM: Kashmiris are not enemies to anybody; they need to be heard.  They always wanted India to prosper in every aspect. They feel pain on its side. Kashmiris want to hug you; they want you to sit with them for a cup of tea. They want to tell you that what is being propagated on the sidelines is not true. They want to tell you the truth.  They always share higher regards for you because they believe you only hold the capacity to resolve their impediments.
Kindly press it hard on the system to listen to the common voices of Kashmiris. Please help us to end this difficult time. Kashmiris also want to smile.

Raaz Dheeraj Sharma writes for Youth Ki Awaaz on different issues. He is a final year law student and is currently interning at District Court of Delhi.

 You can join him on Twitter. His Twitter Account is @withraaz.

You must be to comment.


Similar Posts

By Sajad Rasool


By Accountability Initiative

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below