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“I Wish I Had The Guts To Say ‘No’ To A Loveless Marriage”- Bina Ramani

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The Story Of A Multi-Faceted Woman Who Transformed Hauz Khas Village

Dismissing Bina Ramani as a caviar socialite from Delhi’s elite is easy. However, the challenging episodes in her life, that she has braved through, with guts and gumption, are lesser-known and often overlooked.

Born into an affluent family of British India, that moved to Bombay from Pakistan, after the tumultuous partition of India in 1947, one might expect her to have had a life nothing short of a fairy tale. Well, to some extent it was. However, past the magnificent façade of unicorns and rainbows, lies the story of a woman who braved through every hurdle life threw at her. We are talking about Bina Ramani – a fashion designer, socialite, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, but more importantly, a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a woman.

Coming from a conservative and illustrious Sindhi Sikh family, Bina Ramani, (born Bina Lalvani) was the youngest of 12 siblings, always protected from the evil side of life. Ironically, Bina’s later life has been nothing short of a sea of scary vortexes, in which she has often found herself trapped but eventually emerged stronger. While her various stints in the glimmering world of fashion are known to all, there still remain so many facets to her multi-layered persona, which are relatively unknown.

Reminiscing of her childhood, Bina describes herself as a tomboy who would blow the biggest bubbles out of her chewing gum. A young girl with untraditional dreams, she went on to participate in the national games for high jump in 1956. After school, she was sent off to Lady Irwin College in Delhi to study home science. Later, she secretly trained at one of the biggest modelling schools in London of that time and aspired to become a singing sensation at the age of 18. This laid the foundation for Bina’s dream of living an independent life full of glitz and glamour, something that eventually came to her as the years passed by.

Bina’s family was, (and still is) close to the Kapoor Khandaan, which led her to be close to the then-superstar Shammi Kapoor. “He (Shammi) had just lost his wife and had sunk into depression. Mrs Krishna Kapoor, known universally as ‘bhabiji’, tried her best to arrange my marriage with him. Despite opposition from my family and Raj Kapoor himself, who didn’t approve Shammi’s wild ways, the two of us fell madly in love,” revealed Bina Ramani in an interview with The Times of India.

What followed was a whirlwind romance between the two, which lived for about a year, before Bina rushed into an arranged marriage at her family’s behest. “Before I knew it, my parents talked me into an arranged marriage within a week’s time, while Shammi was in the jungles on his annual trek. That changed my destiny overnight. My life in San Francisco, New York, and the incredible lows and highs shaped me as a person. Though today I wish I had questioned the decisions of my elders. I wish I had the guts to say ‘no’ to a loveless marriage arranged by my parents,” Ramani said.

Her marriage with Andy Ramani, an Air-India employee based in New York, fell apart 13 years later. However, by then, Bina Ramani was already a mother of two girls – Gitanjali and Malini. Along with motherhood came the responsibility of nurturing two young children, which became herculean post her divorce with her husband. The divorce didn’t come through easily either. It took four long years in the courts of Delhi, Mumbai and New York, and it was only after the eminent lawyer and a friend of Bina’s, Ram Jethmalani, stepped in that the divorce papers came through.

The bad marriage affected Bina, but not her grit and inner and strength. She dealt with Andy’s abusive behaviour, handing over 80% of her income to him, and raised two daughters single-handedly. In her autobiography, Bird in a Banyan Tree: My Story, Bina says, “We Indian woman are groomed to believe in a happily ever after scenario. Our self-images are built on it and we have nothing else to hold on to. Thus, we accept a man no matter what he does.”

Fortunately for her, Bina took the reins of her life in her own hands and returned to India along with her little girls post her divorce. In order to survive, she set up a business to export garments from India to the US, which gained her many contacts along the way. What calls for more respect for Bina Ramani as a person, is the fact that she did it all single-handedly, despite being diagnosed with cancer, which she miraculously recovered from after surgery.

Her export business was a success. One thing led to another, and by the 90s, Bina Ramani emerged as the high priestess of Delhi’s elite, a networker hard-wired into the capital’s emerging culture of socialites. She was no less than an empress with an expansive realm of glitz and glamour, and an eclectic mix of enterprises beneath her. In terms of sheer profile, few Indian socialites have had the spotlight on them quite as much as Ramani. Besides travelling and living all over the world, she opened boutiques, hung out with the international jet-set, partied on plush yachts, and lived the good life at all the chic parts of the globe.

“Before Bina, there was no figure in Indian society circles, with perhaps the exception of Maharani Gayatri Devi, who was even known internationally. So far the Indian chatterati has been dominated by the wives of top industrialists and pudgy actresses. Bina Ramani is a name that changed it all,” says a close friend of hers. Ramani did change a lot of things. She is the person who first thought of creating an all-inclusive society, by bridging the gap between the common and the elite – a dream she turned into reality with the discovery and transformation of Hauz Khas Village into an artist’s and designer’s delight, a hub for artisans and art connoisseurs.

Bina discovered Hauz Khas Village in March 1987. Reminiscing of the time, Ramani says, “At that time, it was a tiny, sleepy little village in the heart of south Delhi with this magnificent Mughal era aura around it. I wanted to open a store and that’s how I discovered it. And at that time only I realised that we could turn it into a beautiful hub of design and culture, and look at what it has become today. It’s an incredible place. It’s a truly international place with all sorts of flavours and influences. For me, it’s my Goa in Delhi. But I have to say that the village head there, his name was Choudhary Raghuvir Singh, he co-operated a lot with us. He was a fine gentleman because of whom we could make it what it has become.”

She even envisaged a grand celebration commemorating the silver jubilee of the discovery of Hauz Khas Village in 2012, “I envisaged a three-week-long celebration of the culture and spirit of the village. I thought we could request for the monuments to be opened up for a few days so that we could host Sufi concerts there. I’d also spoken to a few ambassadors to see if we could host food festivals at the village during the celebrations.” However, the plans came to nought as the villagers didn’t want unnecessary attention, a reason that Ramani respected.

Around the time she transformed Hauz Khas and Mehrauli with her Midas touch, Bina Ramani also found a soul mate in Georges Mailhot, who she later tied the knot with. All was perfect in the little paradise Bina had created for herself, until the fateful night of 30 April 1999, when model Jessica Lall was shot dead Ramani’s bar. The incident shook her to the core, and what followed was a seven-year-long struggle with the media, judiciary, powerful politicians, and the Indian masses.

“It was a very traumatic period for my family and me. There came a time when close friends told me to give in to the threats I received, take whatever was being offered and leave the country for my own safety and well-being! But I had to be true to myself and respect my integrity. I stuck to the truth, paid a heavy price,” says Bina Ramani while remembering the turbulent times.

Though her stance put her behind the bars, it didn’t deter her spirit. Years after the case was closed and the verdict was given by the court, Bina decided to let the people know about her side of the story. The idea culminated into her well-received autobiography, Bird in a Banyan Tree. The book presents a binding narrative of her life, all in her own words.

Today, Bina Ramani is living a quaint life with her husband and extended family. Being the art connoisseur that she is, Bina is a frequent attendee of art exhibits. Her latest enterprises include Malabar Secrets, a venture aimed at enhancing the quality of life by creating a perfect interplay between leisure and health. Bina Ramani is also an active participant in humanitarian causes and is associated with ‘People Against Rapes in India’ (PARI).

Despite the turmoil she has faced throughout the years, Bina Ramani holds the same fervour for life that she had as a girl. Her charming personality, combined with her self-reliance and sheer perseverance, is truly an inspiration for many.

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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, 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.

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