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My Journey To IIM And Using Influence To Support Persons With Disability

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So I didn’t know what I want to write about in today’s post. I was reading pending texts for hours and then I realized that I’m procrastinating, again. But I’ve given myself a deadline so I thought, why not write about how and why I got into IIM? Have I been able to achieve that yet? Or am I any closer? Someone asked me this question a few days back during one of the WhatsApp time-pass challenges. So here it is.

Like most of the things that I have done, (be it starting my studies, travelling alone or starting swimming) I wrote CAT because everyone thought that I couldn’t do it. I did it to show them that I can. Some very reputed uncle came to have a talk with me. Because my father was not able to convince me to join a sarkaari post office job and he wanted someone influential to put some sense in me. And it gave me a solid reason to finally take out the study materials that were lying packed for more than a year, and start studying for CAT. I was unclear about what I want to do and that ‘TED talk’ worked, though, in a completely different direction than they wanted.

When I got an interview call from every IIM, which I wasn’t expecting, it was time to get serious about it. I did numerous HR questions, wrote many drafts of SoPs, and introspected the whole time. Why not continue with journalism? Why MBA? So many whats and whys! Why do I want this? Because everyone thought that I cannot have it? It was not a valid reason. I was feeling bad to even think like that. Without actual purpose. Studying in IIM because everyone thought that I cannot! No! I didn’t want that! I started looking for reasons. Better reasons. I needed something that makes sense.

But why am I telling you all this now? All this unnecessary stuff? Because now I realize that it wasn’t just about going against the world. I was able to think of some good reasons, which I wasn’t really sure about, but made sense to me. Let me quote what I wrote in one of the SoPs.

“Without rising to a position of influence and without the support that networking can enable, my vision will just be on paper.”

I terribly failed with the networking part. But have I reached a position of influence? Certainly, yes! Let me quote a few comments that I’ve got recently.

“Because when amazing people like you speak, we’re bound to listen.”

“Seriously it helps a lot… Personally, you’ve done a big favour to me”

This is coming from just two posts. Just think about all the persons with disability who’ve come to me inquiring about CAT or swimming. Their whole life, they’ve been told that they cannot do anything, just like me. If nothing, I’m giving them the hope that they can do it too! They can dare to dream! Even I came forward and dared to do all this because I saw someone, with almost the same disability as me, doing wonders!! I was sure that even if I don’t do anything, I’ll give people hope. I don’t know if it makes sense.

There were many other reasons. I explicitly wrote that money is also a major reason why I want to come to IIM Bangalore. And I don’t have any problem with writing that. It was true. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about you. I want to talk about the moment you felt pity or disgusted on seeing someone on a wheelchair. Or maybe I want to talk about the day when you started looking at your phone or something else to distract yourself from looking at that person crawling on the road because they couldn’t afford a wheelchair. But then you look at someone well dressed on a decent wheelchair and you go like “wow you’re so handsome”.

All you can do is pity. And share how bad you feel. I am not very different. But when someone in an influential position speaks, people do listen to them. Even when they throw crap at their followers. If you can do nothing, speak. Become aware, make people aware. Make sure your workplace is accessible even if there are zero colleagues with disability. Next time, make a ramp instead of stairs in front of your house. If you’re working in a school/university, make it accessible and tell everyone why it is important. Make sure you write to the police to remove the unnecessary road breakers in small-town muhallas. Because they don’t listen to a “divyaang”. They are humiliated there too. I’ll share that story in the next few posts, maybe. But do something! Your pity is not taking anyone anywhere. And your pity is not something these disabled people want from you.

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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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