This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Charkha features. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Meet Saloni Todkari, The Teenage Activist Fighting For The Rights Of Children!

More from Charkha features

This article is part of Charkha’s ‘Children Changemaker’ series. 

Saloni Todkari, a class 10 student, immediately after joining her new school at Kalyan was informed by her teacher that bindi and bangles were mandatory for girl students. Saloni and her friend Rekha (name changed) who wore neither the bindi nor the bangles, failed to understand the teacher’s insistence, while the rule book of the school didn’t mention it.

The overzealous teacher would often reprimand them and would offer these two ‘erring’ students the accessories from her stock – only to be rejected. Their behaviour was soon reported to the principal who summoned the duo and asked for an explanation for not following the dictate of the school. She attempted at brainwashing the girls into conforming to the ‘good practices’ of the school and explained how the ‘bindi’ is part of our culture with proven scientific benefits but the girls were not convinced.

I have read the rulebook thoroughly and could not find anything related to such mandatory practice of wearing bindi and bangles. Why, then, the girl students are being subjected to such rules?” asked Saloni, clearly looking for a reasonable explanation for the imposition of such regressive practice. The principal responded by informing the parents of these two girls about their ‘rebellious’ behaviour.

Representational image.

Why is your daughter so headstrong? She argues a lot and refuses to wear bangles and bindi,” the principal asked their mothers.  “She tried to incite my mother. But my mother understands my point of view as she has given me the freedom and never compelled me to do things only because they are accepted by the society,” shared Saloni while explaining how their parents stood by them. Many other girls joined the cause and voiced their opinion. The principal finally conceded and allowed students to follow their will to wear bindi and bangles. The girls’ voice paved way for a big change.

Saloni was not against the rules. “Cleanliness, hygiene, proper uniform and shoes, adherence to school timings and rules for maintaining order have to be honoured. But the school should not try to execute unconstitutional commands,” shared Saloni while explaining her stand.

Where does Saloni get her ideas and strength to fight for the rights?

Saloni’s journey into ‘activism’ began when she had started attending the ‘Baag Shala’ (garden school) of ‘Maitrakul’ – a residential study centre for students run under the aegis of ‘Chhatrashakti Sanstha’. Maitrakul, is an abode for children from the weaker sections who find it difficult to pursue school education due to challenging circumstances at home. Here, the children study in a local aided school.

In 2014, Maitrakul boarding was established by Kishor at Bapgaon, Kalyan in Thane district realizing the need for a shelter for the children coming from a low-income background such as Saloni’s.  Originally from Virar, a town in Palghar district, Saloni convinced her mother to allow her to relocate to Thane. Saloni’s mother Manali Todkari who works as a domestic help understood her daughter’s dream and helped her achieve that.

After moving to Maitrakul, Saloni started attending the local secondary school not very far from the boarding. While she was studying in Class 10th, she learnt that out of school children wanting to appear for the Secondary School Certification (SSC) Board exam directly, had to fill the exam form no. 17 through a school.

Although the charge for the form 17 is ₹400, the schools were overcharging these hapless adolescents around ₹ 4,000-5,000 per each form. When Saloni noticed the exploitation, she raised the issue with the school administration who dismissed her concerns. Looking at the administration’s response, Saloni and fellow students decided to peacefully protest against the SSC Board.

We tried to seek an appointment with the SSC Board officers but to no avail. We wrote several letters but didn’t receive any reply. As our pleas were falling on deaf ears, we staged dharnas outside the board office. Even after days of protests when the board refused to act, we decided to change our strategy.

We created a ‘trophy’– an effigy of a beggar with a note pasted on its torso that read – ‘since the officers don’t get paid, they have turned to beg’ and entered the office. We wanted to present the trophy to the officer, but we were whisked away.  Although none of the office bearers met us, the SSC Board took cognizance of our grievance and acted on the schools which were overcharging the students for the form 17,” narrated Saloni.

She also informed about the protocols they had followed while organizing the protests. “We had informed the nearest police station about our plans. We went by the regulations and used peaceful methods to make our voices heard,” explained Saloni emphasizing on the need of following the constitutional norms while organizing peaceful protests.

Known for her understanding, peace-loving and empathetic nature at the boarding, Saloni was entrusted with the responsibility of reaching out to the neighbouring Katkari Wadi (Hamlet), under Maitrakul’sChiranjeevi’ programme. The Katkaris are an aboriginal forest tribe who continue to live in abject poverty even today. Parents go for work leaving behind young children at home. Schools in and around the area have limitations in meeting their educational needs and almost no Katkari child was enrolled in school.

When Saloni entered the hamlet, she was welcomed with mud and stones, hurled at her by older children. Saloni persisted and tried to broker a truce with the children by proposing to play games. Soon, the children old and young were playing games with Saloni. In a month’s time, she was able to hold an exercise on alphabets with the children in the Katkari Wadi. Since then, regular ‘Baag Shala’ is being organized by Maitrakul activists here.

As she grew older, Saloni’s grasp on social concerns especially on the challenges faced by the deprived children has also matured. On her way to school, Saloni started noticing the child beggars stalking the walkers on the street for money and food. She felt for the children who have been robbed of their right to live with dignity.

Swayed by the issue, Saloni decided to act by staging a protest outside Kalyan station. Maitrakul backed the decision as Saloni went on to fast for 3 days against the insensitivity of the administration, police and public regarding child beggars. Her Dharna and fast against child begging attracted the attention of the administration, media and political leaders. Saloni was just 15 when she launched the agitation and fast for the cause. But how did she cope with the pangs of hunger?

When I decide, I act. There were friends from Maitrakul who joined my agitation and they took turns to fast for a day with me. When my mother came to see me, she was shocked and broken but didn’t discourage me.  She understood that I was doing it for a good cause and gave me her blessings,” said Saloni.

On the third and the last day of the fast, the local corporators and members of political parties came to meet Saloni and promised to address the child beggars’ issue. The fast was undertaken in the second week of March after which the Covid Pandemic had set in and a total lockdown was announced in the state of Maharashtra. Saloni has not been able to pursue the issue of child beggars since the lockdown. But she keeps the issue alive by fasting once a month. Other children at Maitrakul also join her for the cause.

Saloni is not all agony and anguish, she’s fun-loving and easy-going. She’s a good actor and a performer. Her coordination skills are great; she plans the schedule, helps in contacting the resource persons and seeks police permission for the camps,” shared Ashish Jadhav, one of the functionaries of Maitrakul.

The law of love could be best understood and learned through little children,” believed Mahatma Gandhi, who always had a special place for children in his heart. He also said that one can learn the greatest lessons in life from the so-called ignorant children. His immense belief in children has, undoubtedly, inspired generations and the values he had advocated continue to guide the young minds like Saloni even today.

Note: This article has been written by Alka Gadgil from Maharashtra for Charkha Features.

You must be to comment.

More from Charkha features

Similar Posts

By Prerana

By Javed Abidi Foundation

By Our Voix

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below