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Here Is How Padmashri Recipient Dr Damayanti Beshra Is Reviving Santhali Literature

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Damayanti Beshra was born on 18th February in 1962 at Boberjoda in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. This village is 90 kms away from district headquarter Baripada. She is the eldest daughter of Late Rajmal Majhi and Late Pungi Majhi. The condition of education was detrimental those days, especially in the villages.

There were no schools in Boberjoda. But some kind-hearted, rational and educated natives gave education in a small shed. Damayanti also joined the other children. At first, she began to write letters on the ground with chalk. Her paternal uncle was delighted when he came to know that she was interested in studies. Her uncle was settled in a village named Deuli and didn’t have any children. So he adopted Damayanti and got her admitted to a government school.

Damayanti’s Early Education

Damayanti’s nickname was Dhigij during her childhood. According to Santal tradition the name was given after her grandmother. But instead of her parents’ name, her uncle and aunt’s name was written in school. Her uncle was late Budhan Majhi and aunt was late Mani Majhi. These two-people played a vital role in providing proper schooling to Damayanti.

At the Deuli school, she read up to class-III, as there was no further schooling available. Then she moved to Chandida School, which was located 2 kms away from the village. At Chandida School, she completed her 4th and 5th standard. Then she was admitted in T&RW Girls High School, Rairangpur. This was the beginning of her hostel life.

From class 6th to 11th she stayed at Rairangpur Kanyashram. During this time, she began to write poems. In the year 1977, she passed matriculation.

Matriculation And Graduation

After passing matriculation from Rairangpur Girls High School, Damayanti’s family members were concerned regarding her further studies because there was no women’s college in Rairangpur. So, her uncle Faguram Majhi got her admitted in Ramdevi Women’s College, Bhubaneswar. At Bhubaneswar, she stayed at Post Matric Hostel.
Damayanti was born to serve Santhali literature.
During those days, hostel fees were Rs.60/- but due to financial problems, she was not able to pay the hostel dues in time. She only got Rs.40/- or Rs.50/- from her family. Financially Damayanti faced a lot of problems. She had only two pair of clothes to wear. But despite all these difficulties Damayanti was doing very well and always secured highest marks among her hostel mates.
This impressed her hostel matron Braja Didi (Brajeswari Mishra). She was pleased by her performance and devotion to studies. Braja Didi loved Damayanti like her own sister. She let her stay in the hostel despite over dues to financial tribulations.
She managed to pay the hostel dues by the post-matric scholarship which she was getting at the year-end. In 1979 she passed Intermediate Arts, and in 1981 she passed B.A. with Odia Honours.

Damayanti As A Lecturer

In the year 1983, she passed M.A. from Utkal University, Bhubaneswar with Linguistic as her special paper. During her M.A. programme due to financial problems, she was not able to afford the University Hostel; thus, she stayed at Post Matric Hostel. During her college days, she began to write both in Odia and Santali language.
In 1985 she got her first job as Junior Employment Officer at Sambalpur. During this job, she qualified Staff Selection Commission and preferred Clerk-cum-typist to avail grounding atmosphere for her desired service. While working at A.G.Odisha, Bhubaneswar, she allowed OPSC (Odisha Public Service Commission). So, she left her second job and joined Maharaja Pratap Chandra College, as a Lecturer in the year 1987. This was the job she was made for and it provided her with the break to serve literature. Along with poems, she now began to write essays too.

Rise Of The Literary Genius

In the year 1988, Damayanti Beshra married Gangadhar Hansda. He was a Bank Officer and also a writer and lover of literature. So, their marriage was not only the marriage of hearts but also of two literature lovers. After marrying Hansda, her fortune changed. In 1990, her first poem “Onoliya“(Writer) was published in Fagun Koyel magazine, an essay on Pandit Raghunath Murmu was also published.

Damayanti did not stop there and continued to write poems and essays in both Odia and Santali language. Following the encouragement from her husband, Damayanti completed her M.Phil in Odia in the year 1993. Damayanti’s husband is also a writer; he wrote plays. After marriage, the writer duo wrote a play named Vig Sar.
Damayanti Beshra
In 2020 she was honoured by Padmashri for her remarkable contribution to Santhali literature.
Gangadhar came to know about the poems Damayanti was writing; he encouraged her to publish it. So, in 1994 Damayanti’s first anthology Jiwi Jharna was published. Jiwi Jharna is the first-ever anthology written and published by a female Santali writer. For this anthology, she received “Poet of the Year” award from All India Santali Writers Association.
After Jiwi Jharna she wrote another anthology of prose named Sagen Saonhed and O Ot Og Ol aar juri jita, a poetry book in 1995. In the same year, she was transferred from Baripada to Government College Phulbani. This was the turning point of her life.
In 1996, she wrote a book on Pandit Raghunath Murmu in Odia. When she was working at Phulbani, she wrote many striking and moral poems and essays. She also undertook some translation works. She was transferred back to Baripada in the year 2001. Immediately, she registered for PhD at North Odisha University, Mayurbhanj. Her PhD topic was “Mayurbhanjara Santala Eko Samajika Sanskritika Adhyayana“. In 2005 she was awarded her PhD degree.

Accolades And Recognitions

Since the year 2004 onwards, she has written many poems, essays, criticisms, grammar, history of Santhali literature, Santhali History etc. Her work in these different genres has got her the love and admiration of readers.
Damayanti is not only an exceptional writer but also a prodigious speaker. Different educational institutes and literacy organisations invite her as the guest of honour, chief guest and chief speaker. As a lecturer, she has presented many papers on national, international meets and UGC sponsored seminars.
She got the privilege of becoming the first convener in Santhali language when the Sahitya Akademi recognised it. She was honoured by Sahitya Akademi award for her extraordinary anthology Sai Saonhed in the year 2009. From the year 2011 onwards, she has been publishing the first Santali women’s magazine named Karam Dar.
Among the Odia and the Adivasis, she is well known as an Adivasi researcher, and people respect her for her calm, confident and humble attitude. In 2020 she was honoured by Padmashri for her remarkable contribution to Santhali literature.
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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.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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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
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