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Limitless and Emboldened: Rutuja Raorane’s Journey Has Just Begun

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Rutuja Raorane while receiving Divyaratna Puraskar by Sahas Pratishthan

In a widely acclaimed interview with the Science Times in 2011, Stephen Hawking famously advised people with disability to focus on things which their disability does not prevent them from doing. He said, “Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically”.  It is a piece of profoundly powerful advice from one of the greatest thinkers ever lived. Rutuja Raorane, an 18-year-old from Kankavli, Maharashtra, India embodies this advice. This is an account of a young change-maker who has been channelling her life experiences in creating a positive impact around her. It is her story of determination and a yearning to be independent.

Rutuja Raorane while receiving Divyaratna Puraskar by Sahas Pratishthan

Rutuja was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 3. It is an incurable genetic disease that causes loss of muscle mass and progressive weakness. Rutuja’s parents – Deepak and Shweta Raorane, did not realize the specifics until they got an expert’s opinion in Mumbai. As their first child, Rutuja’s ordeal shook them – this, however, did not stop them from providing her with the best of everything.

Rutuja was enrolled at St. Ursula High School, Waravade which was 4 kilometres from their house. Her mother wanted her to study here considering that it’s a reputed institution and she wanted her daughter to have the same experiences as any other child of her age. It included studying at an institution that did not highlight her disability.

Initially, Rutuja would hire a private auto-rickshaw for her daily commute to school but as her condition worsened, it became difficult for her to walk. Her parents were recommended a transfer to a school nearby for children who are intellectually disabled. Citing that their daughter was differently abled and intellectually non-disabled, they refused to accept the recommendation.

Rutuja is a sharp student and it reflects in her ability to express her thoughts. One of her teachers fondly recollects Rutuja’s presence, “She has been a determined student whose spirit embodied independence. She never cared for pity nor did she consider herself to be someone with special needs. Rutuja has been an incredibly positive person with a clear focus on her goals.”

As there was no ramp to support the mobility of people with disabilities, Rutuja petitioned her school to build a ramp. She also demanded that her classroom be shifted to the ground floor in an attempt to build a disabled-friendly learning environment. Understanding the sensitivity of the issue, her school built the ramp for Rutuja and assigned a ground floor class which was closest to the gate.  

While many among her classmates were empathetic, few were judgemental and dismissive towards Rutuja. “Why do we have to stay put in the same classroom on the ground floor for two years? The ground floor is meant for pre-primary and primary classes. We are in the company of kids,” some of her classmates would joke. Rutuja didn’t let the inconsiderateness affect her, she stayed composed.

As she found it difficult to take notes in the class, the teacher would repeat the point for her benefit. This too didn’t go down well with some of her classmates. “Why do they react in such a manner?” Rutuja would feel bad for a moment but then she would bounce back to her spirited mode.  One of her childhood friends, Tanishka shared that her friend has never been someone who would fixate on one thing. She takes everything in a jovial spirit and does not let it affect her.


Rutuja is full of energy. In free time, Rutuja would engage herself in different activities. When she was younger, she’d draw dress patterns in her sketch book and wanted to become a fashion designer. With each passing day, owing to the disease, her hand muscles became progressively weaker. Her spirit, nevertheless, has grown stronger!

As she prepared to attend Kankavli College after graduating from high school, Rutuja aspired slight independence in her way of life. Since the college was just a kilometre away, she researched about an electric wheelchair and with her parents’ support, got a new equipment that supported her dream of being an independent girl.


Rutuja (in yellow dress) with her parents Deepak and Shweta Raorane and sister Shreya

She has shaped her life experiences as an independent, positive and confident individual. This year, she has graduated with a higher secondary certificate in the Commerce stream and has secured a seat at the Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce – a premier institution in Pune. It has been her aim to pursue higher education in Pune and now she has achieved it. When asked about her plans to move, she acknowledges that it will be a challenge, but she is determined to overcome it. Her long-term goal is to join the Maharashtra State Service Commission as bureaucratic officer.

Rutuja’s spirit to chase her dreams and not limiting herself because of a physical challenge is inspiring. She advocates for an easy learning experience for disabled children, affordable healthcare facilities and disabled-friendly infrastructure. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed systemic limitations but also highlighted the need for remote working facilities. This is particularly helpful for people like Rutuja who can continue learning, working remotely. Their physical limitations do not hamper their ability to participate in the workforce or learn remotely.

With her electric chair, Rutuja roams around the town, much to the worry of her mother. But with the chair, she’s gained freedom that she hadn’t experienced before. She takes to the road and visits the bazar and parks; the bikers and motorists make way for her.

When she’s little sad or worried, she overcomes the blues by humming Hindi film songs. When she’s annoyed with her friends, she reacts using an appropriate dialogue from these movies. Rutuja is clearly focusing on things which her disability does not prevent her from doing. Her life is an example of how supportive family, friends and society can make a person’s experiences much simpler.

This article has been written by Neeraj Shyete with inputs from Arpita Mumbark and Alka Gadgil for Charkha Features. 

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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.

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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.

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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