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How My Mother Survived Domestic Violence And Poverty To Educate Her Two Sons

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A girl was married in a house in Patna in the late ’90s. When she entered her in-laws’ house, her ornaments and belongings that she had got from her paternal home were snatched. As the family was joint and her husband was the eldest among four brothers and three sisters, he didn’t speak a word. The woman was beautiful and had just completed her graduation.

It didn’t go well with other family members as they couldn’t digest an educated women in the family. She was toiling hard in household work. Her first child was a girl. However, she didn’t survive. The woman was selected for a job in Patna Secretariat, but she was advised not to join as her second child was about to be born. After the birth of her third child, the joint family started showing their ugliest form. She was deprived of her possessions. The family of four didn’t have anything to eat and they were reduced in a single room to live, cook, eat, study and sleep.

They were denied water supply. She even faced domestic violence at the hands of her in-laws, in her husband’s absence. The woman decided to step out and earn for a living, which was a taboo in society during those times. However, she couldn’t bear the starved faces of her sons. She took a job as a teacher in a private school for Rs 500/month. She was mocked and had to face flak for stepping out of the house. She ignored such remarks and sent her children to a local school. However, she had bigger aspirations for them. She wanted them to study in a CBSE-affiliated school.

When she entered her in-laws’ house, her ornaments and belongings that she had got from her paternal home were snatched. Representational image.

She applied in most of the reputed schools of Patna for their admission. After doing a cost benefit analysis, her children were admitted to the only affiliated school of Patna city at that time. She used to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning to cook food. After sending her children to school, she used to go her school. Due to scarcity of money, she had to travel a lot to attend her school which was almost 10 km from her home.  After school, she used to take tuitions for an hour. She used to return home by 4 o’clock in the evening.

Then, she used to teach her sons and do other household activities, including cooking, washing utensils, stitching, washing clothes; ironing clothes, cleaning the house and many more. Be it scorching summers or harsh winters, she would traverse kilometres to save every penny that she could. She travelled even in muddy rainy waters from pillar to post to ensure a promising career path for her children. She cooked in the extension of her verandah on the little stove in the volley of rains and the chill of winter.

From lifting water to carrying kerosene for cooking, she faced every season of struggle. This continued for 22 long years. Time passed ruthlessly for her. She was living through utter poverty. The money that she earned was all spent on food and education. She had marred her every other desire. From colourless Holi to cracker-less Diwali, she visited every temple, mazaar and gurudwara for the bright future of her children.

As time passed, her elder child completed high school. There was a greater challenge in front of her about his secondary high school studies. He was selected for a coaching-cum-school programme in DAV BSEB, Patna. However, he was not satisfied with studies in that school. He informed her mother about it. She had already submitted Rs 20,000 for his studies there. That was more than half her savings that she had saved over the past 16 years.

She sensed her son’s disappointment and readily agreed for his resignation from the coveted school of Patna. Her elder son studied hard. However, in his first attempt of the engineering entrance exam, he could only manage an extended merit list in an IIT and an undesirable branch in NIT. He decided to prepare again.

The financial burden on her increased as her younger son had also completed his high school and now money had to be invested in him, too, for his engineering preparation. She didn’t deter at all. She allowed her elder son to repeat and arranged money for her younger son to join coaching for preparation. In his second attempt, her elder son got admission in NIT Allahabad. However, her younger son couldn’t secure a good rank to enter any government college.

She enrolled her younger son in Brilliant tutorials by paying a hefty sum. To her hard luck, Brilliant tutorials closed jeopardising the future of enrolled students. Her younger son couldn’t perform well. She was advised by many to enrol him in some simple BSc course. However, her grit and determination led her to enrol him in a private engineering college in Dehradun despite its exorbitant fee. Her labour, determination and grit paid off. Both her sons got a job after their graduation. My mother is my inspiration. There is only one love in this world that is unconditional, and that is a mother’s love.

Image has been provided by the author.

I haven’t shared this story to gain sympathy, as I know that people only make mockery of one’s situation. I have shared it to show our patriarchal society all that a women is capable of, because I have heard from many quarters of society while growing up that women can’t excel. The patriarchal society often casted her as an inferior being with lesser mental and physical capabilities. A woman’s abilities have always been undermined by a male-dominated conservative mindset who can only respect a woman as a mother with preconceived ultra-notions of modesty within which she has to live and act.

Once she crosses that Lakshman Rekha, she is reduced to a sex object whose attempts to succeed are bounded by the evil atmosphere of doubt and character assassination, whose every effort is seen as a token of desire for sex, whose every communication is taken as a hint of invitation. This misogynist society can never see a women succeed because it challenges their idea of superiority that is meant to keep women in safe, within household work and only as a means to provide pleasure to her husband and look after her children.

Our alpha conservative society is becoming fearful as women are getting opportunities and excelling in every field. They’re being given a chance to prove themselves. The success story from every household that, till now, used to create a factory of CEOs, engineers and doctors by being a mother is now being shitted to become a success story of a mother-cum-professional.

This new normal is not digestible to those who don’t want women to study, who don’t want her to enter any professional field, who want to dictate women for their clothes, character and behaviour, who have made her virginity a sacred thing, and who have treated women as an good that is to be bought by dowry and sold during Kanyadaan. We coroneted her as Lakshmi when she entered a house with happy moments, and as a bitch with a sudden turn of ugly events.

This women’s day is a tribute to every women who has broken this shackle of patriarchy by stepping out and telling the world that a renaissance has begun.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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