What were you doing during your teenage days? Hanging out with friends, trying to fit into college, getting your first tattoo, or worrying about what’s next?
While most teenagers tick any of the above, there are many others who have a different purpose in life. Many young girls across India are increasingly working towards empowering communities through their innovative work.
From creating awareness on menstrual hygiene to helping those with mental illness, these confident young ladies are using their courage and creativity to ensure that India has a brighter future. They may be young, but their passion for making a difference speaks louder than their age.
Here are five stories of young Indian women who are changing the lives of people near and far.
Uttarakhand-based Ridhima Pandey grabbed headlines in 2017 after filing a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the government in the aftermath of the Uttarakhand floods.
She was among the 16 young activists who had filed a complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child against five respondent countries, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey, (indicative of the largest emitters in the world) as a way to protest the lack of government action on the climate crisis.
Ridhima was featured in the BBC’s list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2020 recently.
In September last year, the 12 year old, in a hand-written letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had said that her worst nightmare was going to school with an oxygen cylinder, and requested the PM to make sure that “an oxygen cylinder doesn’t become an essential part of the life of children, which we may have to carry on our shoulders everywhere in future”.
Apoorvi Bharatram grew up seeing her sister battle clinical depression. She had observed that access to quality mental healthcare was a problem, especially in government schools, despite the importance of counsellors and psychiatrists.
Watching someone she loves struggle with a mental illness, led her to launch the Happiness Project with an intention to spread positivity and happiness, encouraging vibrant school environments that prioritise wellbeing and mental health of every student.
It follows a three-step model which helps gauge the happiness quotient of students in government schools and trains teachers as para-counsellors as well. It assesses students in areas of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and body image issues.
Since the launch, Happiness Project has been creating critical conversations about mental health, gradually challenging the stigma around it within the schools she serves.
Rupali Bhimraj Gaikwad
A 10th class student, Rupali Bhimraj Gaikwad’s family lives close to the Ashram Schools in Pingalwadi, Nasik, which is an Adivasi settlement. Along with Rupali, this school has proved to be a boon for a number of children in her Adivasi community.
While infrastructure remains critical, cleanliness and health of the children are equally immediate health concerns. Scientific knowledge about hygiene, health and menstruation was scarce in this area.
Along with UNICEF, a number of other institutions started creating awareness campaigns. Rupali made an effort to understand these nuances in great detail. One day she felt confident to speak up and brought changes to her own life.
Today, she talks about menstrual health and hygiene to her school friends, other girls in her Adivasi community, her mother and women of her mother’s age. She takes a lead in keeping her classroom, her hostel room, house and community clean. She formed a group while talking about the importance of cleanliness. When these children sit together for group discussions, they talk about everything: right from cutting their nails to washing their hands after defecating.
Kaajal Gupta was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as a youngster. While Kaajal sought professional help, she was also acutely aware of the lack of information on OCD, and how people who have it feel scrutinised and embarrassed by their peers.
She thus wanted to create awareness about this mental health condition. Her app Liberate: My OCD Fighter, which came to being in May 2018, aims to educate users, connect them to a therapist, and ultimately normalise therapy.
Liberate provides various resources, including exercises such as cognitive behavioural techniques and exposure response prevention tools. The app also functions as an interactive platform that allows the user and the therapist to communicate with each other through weekly emails to stay on top of their progress.
While we all know the hard lives of rag pickers, only a few understand them. Sanjana Runwal was one of them. Sanjana, a student of Bombay Scottish School in Mumbai, took the responsibility to bring a change in their lives.
Through her organisation, the Clean-Up Foundation, the 16-year-old has carried out several initiatives to better their lives. From distributing raincoats and gumboots for free, to arranging nutritious meals on Diwali, and even getting sponsors to fund the education of their children, she has done it for them.
Her most recent campaign was on menstrual hygiene under which she installed a sanitary napkin vending machine in a public toilet in Bandra.
(Edited by Anju Narayanan)