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When I Moved To Hyderabad To Study, I Built My Life From Scratch And It Was Worth It

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I was eighteen years old, slightly pampered, and completely clueless when I arrived at Hyderabad to pursue my undergraduate degree from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. I mean, sure, it was my dream degree and my dream college, and I was really happy about the path my life was suddenly taking.

But, it also brought with it plenty of changes which I was neither acquainted or ready to deal with. There was never one moment of realization when this had dawned upon me, but during the never-ending course of shopping, packing, and travelling, it kind of cemented into my mind. So honestly, when my parents dropped me at the hostel and drove off, I was more scared than sad about the new life I was supposed to lead – in a new city, with a bunch of new people.

I graduated from high school in Kolkata. Growing up, I was immensely involved with academics and a bunch of extra curriculars. Something I was extremely anxious about was the fact that I had to start from scratch in college.

In school, I was someone – I had built for myself a reputation which was very convenient for me to slip into when I was unsure about myself. It had taken me twelve years, and college brought along a sense of urgency to be someone who would not get lost in a crowd. It was difficult, even impossible at first glance, because it felt like the three years here would be spent just getting to know the people around me.

Back home, at least I knew that no matter what, there was something common between me and my immediate peer group; as opposed to college where I was immediately identified by a string of tags and stereotypes, putting me into airtight containers.

I had thought escaping those would take me so long and drain me so much that it would make me rethink the entire purpose of carving out a spot for myself all over again. But, really, it is worth the effort.

Beyond all doubts of fitting in and finding your people (which you will eventually), it is worth all the efforts and it will happen naturally if you really want to find your passion. I am lucky enough to be in a college with an enriching academic environment, but I feel that it is only a matter of time, depending on where you are. College will inevitably give you the freedom to be yourself and find your voice. Always.

In all these eighteen years, I had internalized not just Bengali culture but also a very comfortable, taken-for-granted, Bengali way of life which included almost everything which was not a part of the experience of being a student in Hyderabad.

For someone who had never lived away from home for more than a night, living in a hostel, for me, was more a newfound responsibility than a mere taste of freedom. It also meant that I was expected to handle my own finances, and the fact that I was not accountable to anybody about where my money was going was an even greater source of apprehension.

Besides this, there was also culture shock I had to deal with. I knew nothing about the way of life in this part of India, and all my life, everything I was accustomed to was almost completely in stark contrast to what I had to get accustomed to in Hyderabad. Everything was different – the cuisine, the weather, the public transport, the people, and most importantly, the language. I completely hated the change because it was such a huge obstacle even while doing daily chores. But I got used to it, as I suppose everyone does.

I have survived two years in Hyderabad knowing only one Telugu phrase (which translates to ‘I don’t know Telugu’) and it has been an incredible adventure; more so because it was all up to me to steer through it. It was very personal, something which only mattered to me and something which only I had to deal with in my very own way. When I look back at it now, I see all the mistakes I have made and how they have contributed to the person who I am now – who is very different from the naïve teenager I was at the beginning of this process.

All these mistakes, simply put, have helped me grow up. If I hadn’t gotten onto the wrong bus (because I cannot read Telugu and was too shy to ask other people) and missed a movie I pre-booked tickets for; if I had not explored the city on my own when I had only twenty rupees in my purse; if I had not travelled for two hours to attend a play which made no sense to me whatsoever; if I had not struck up conversation with random strangers who knew nothing of me and whom I knew nothing of – I would not have made the most out of my experience as someone studying in Hyderabad. which I think I have, all on my own terms.

But I can say with conviction now that people here are a lot more helpful than people back home; and although I still swear by my plate of Kolkata biryani, the one here isn’t all that bad. Only after making all the mistakes I have made, including the one that included having a skewed set of preconceived (mostly wrong) notions about South Indians, have I realized how important mistakes are – because they have filtered out everything I should not have done, and in that process, have taught me everything I should.

As cliché as this might sound, if I had to give my eighteen-year-old self some precious advice about how to deal with college life, I would not say much. I guess, I would only say that I understand that this life is new and difficult and weird, but it gets better. It gets better because you make mistakes. Make all the mistakes you want (except things which would land you in trouble, no, not those) and figure out what works for you and what does not. Because otherwise, you’d never really know, and that’s quite sad.

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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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