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I Thought I’ll Never Face Caste Discrimination Because I Went To A ‘Good’ School

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Image for representation only.

I remember being a completely introverted child, and my parents being worried about it. So, they continuously encouraged me to participate in every single activity at school, and I did. I was considerably good at what I did – music, painting, academics, and more. I couldn’t make any significant progress in oratory skills, but I still participated and tried to improve. Because of my activities and achievements, I was envied by my schoolmates.

As someone born in a city like Mumbai and as a girl born to parents who are exceptionally great in many ways, I never understood the vigilant stance of my parents towards the world. No, I was never discouraged by my parents for being a girl; for that matter, I didn’t even realize until a long time, the sort of resistance other girls were facing from their families.

But many times, I used to feel that my parents’ insistence on making me ‘bold’, ‘courageous’, and ‘extraordinary in everything’ was a little too much. It was, as they’d explained, because I was a Dalit. My father always quoted from Dr B. R. Ambedkar’s speech, “You have no other option but to work hard. Because when you’d work worth gold, they (so-called ‘upper’ castes) will consider it worth tin.” It inspired me and confused me at the same time.

Looking at the world as a child, I was oblivious to the depth of it and couldn’t relate the quote to my real life. But my parents took my sister and me to visit Shivaji Park in Dadar, Mumbai, in order to pay our tribute on the death anniversary of Dr Ambedkar. There were lakhs of other people coming from various regions, classes, and statuses.

My parents were successful in exposing me to the harsh realities of discrimination and poverty running in our society. This is why I don’t belong to the group of Dalit youth who enjoyed the bliss of ignorance and claim that the times have changed, and we face no discrimination in society.

Most of the youth from the well educated/well-earning section of the Dalit community actually believe that celebrating all sorts of festivals together with other communities, getting enrolled in good schools and being friends with Brahmins collectively means that we are not excluded, and we are all equal. I accept the fact that I have lived a comfortable life, and I went to a good school, and this privilege is not accessible to many from my community. Still, I thought I never faced discrimination until I realized how my perception was wrong.

The discrimination I faced at school was so subtle that I didn’t even realise it until I grew up. Image for representational purposes only.

Almost five years after passing out of school, while searching for some old documents, I found a certificate from the time I was in 2nd grade. It said that my painting was selected for a children’s exhibition in Delhi art gallery. I thought hard and tried to remember why this memory was not significantly implanted in my brain. I tried to search for any memory of a prize distribution ceremony. I couldn’t remember anything, because no such event had happened.

On one usual school day, a peon had brought it along with other usual stuff like chalk, duster and attendance register. He handed it to the class teacher, who saw my name on it and passed it towards me. That’s it. I must have kept it in my bag because I wouldn’t have understood what it was; I was in Marathi medium till 4th grade.

It was quite an odd treatment from a reputed school that announced every single achievement of students, no matter how small it was. All achievements were announced on speakers, and the entire school applauded the students. I wonder why I never asked myself why the school didn’t announce this on speakers. Regardless of how much my parents might have praised me for it after reaching home that day, it was still not the same, was it?

Then I started recollecting my entire school life from this newfound perspective. I found a lot of similar incidents, right from kindergarten. For example, the third prize that I got in some competition in my junior KG had not been given to me on stage (when annual prize distribution ceremony was taking place) with the excuse ‘only first and second prizes are given on the stage’, which was invalid because some got their third prizes too, on stage. Or, when the school appointed a special mentor to another student for Homi Bhabha Young Scientist Award, the same school didn’t even bother to check my result for the second level of that exam.

I discovered that I could sing well in my third grade. One of my teachers (who was also a Dalit) brought it to the notice of school’s music teacher and my parents—I am eternally grateful to him for convincing my parents to enrol me in a music class. I started learning music and looked forward to joining my seniors for the school’s annual musical program, performed publicly by students above the fifth grade.

The twist here is, when I got to 5th grade, all those senior singers of the school, who were all from upper castes, mostly Brahmins, passed out of the school and the school never conducted that program, saying that there weren’t enough singers or if there were any, they largely belonged to the SC/ST/OBC category and didn’t need a platform to showcase their talent.

One more ‘comical’ incident was that I was the student who won medals in various inter-school drawing competitions, and I was also the student who represented the school by singing on Doordarshan (solo) and in AIR (group). But after listening to my mother talking about my achievements on the same Doordarshan program, many of my teachers looked surprised and cynically prodded her by saying, “Oh! We never knew that Mudita could paint as well!” Or, those who knew said, “We thought she was only focused on academics,” some even went as far as berating me for being distracted in extra-curricular activities despite knowing that I was always one of the top 5 rankers. So, if an upper caste student is involved in multiple activities, they are an ‘all-rounder’ or ‘multi-talented’, but when I do the same, I am ‘distracted’.

I recently finished a course on education policymaking arranged by the Center for Civil Society, Delhi. It had a separate emphasis on ‘access to school’. In one of the lectures, Vimala Ramchandran said the term ‘access’ to school needs to be redefined. No doubt students are getting physical access to schools, but that’s not enough. Not all kinds of discrimination are loud. A larger part of it is extremely subtle. The subtlety increases as you go higher up the ladder, thereby making Dalit students feel more and more insecure.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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