This law aspirant from UPES is a human rights activist, social entrepreneur and author
Anushka, a 4th-year law student at UPES, is a true embodiment of ‘Shakti’. Overcoming her personal struggles, she has founded an organisation called ‘Naari’ to end period-poverty, written books and research papers on women-centric issues, received praise from the New Zealand Prime Minister for her work and is now serving as the President of the West Bengal Human Rights Council
The plight of rural Indian women fighting the deeply entrenched stigma of menstruation has been well documented.
Over the years, several voices in various forms have amplified the conversation on the financial incapacity of women in some parts of the world to afford menstrual products. One such young leader is UPES student Anushka, who is studying B.A. LL.B. with specialisation in Energy Laws. She is using her education and advocacy skills to create awareness on women-centric issues by engaging communities in discussions and assisting women in every way possible.
“I want to work towards ending all kinds of discrimination and abuse inflicted upon women,” Anushka says.
There is an energy and eloquence in the way she speaks, which makes a profound impression. One wonders how an undergraduate student became so impassioned about the cause of women empowerment.
“There was a triggering moment when I felt that I had to stand up not only for myself but all the girls and women out there,” she says recalling a traumatic incident of her life. “I was in an abusive relationship. This person pushed me to the brink of breakdown. I flew back to my hometown in Jamshedpur. With the support of my father, I pulled myself together. I went to the National University, Singapore, and presented my paper titled ‘Criminalising of Marital Rape in India: A Distant Dream’ for which I received the ‘Young Researcher Scholarship Award’. I also wrote a book on the same topic, which got published in 16 languages across the world.”
Not only did Anushka come out of this disturbing episode, but she also found the strength to help other victims of abuse. “I started speaking about it on various platforms such as ‘We, The Young India’, ‘Logical Indian’, and several newspapers. Soon after, I got flooded with messages from victims, who started sharing their experiences with me. They felt inspired to break the silence, and I realised that I was not alone in this journey. Since then, I became determined to work towards this cause and began reaching out to more and more victims,” recounts Anushka.
“During this process, I came across another startling realisation – the problem of period poverty in India. Many women use cloth repeatedly after washing it during their menstrual cycle. I knew that it could lead to infection. I had to do something about it. Hence, ‘Naari’ was formed to create awareness about menstrual health and hygiene in rural areas, provide sanitary napkins to the underprivileged women as well as expedite the responsiveness towards this concern in urban India.”
Anushka co-founded this organisation with her friend Sanghamitra. She says, “We started with 15 women. Today, we have distributed sanitary napkins to more than 7000 women across rural India. The funding has been done using my friend’s savings as well as the royalty that came out of the two books that I had written.”
However, sensitising people on a stigmatised subject such as menstruation was not an easy task. Anushka says, “Even in urban middle-class families, women and men feel uncomfortable talking about menstruation openly. Fortunately, I was brought up in a family where it was not a taboo topic. I used to gather women in rural areas and make them understand the consequences of using cloth instead of a sanitary napkin. Initially, they were hesitant but soon they opened up. Earlier we had to go door-to-door distributing the sanitary napkins; now they voluntarily come to us.”
Anushka also serves as the President of the West Bengal Human Rights Council, under the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where she deals with cases of human rights violation of women and children. “We create awareness, provide pro bono legal help, and conduct seminars and webinars at all levels. We try to provide women with all kinds of assistance – medical, psychological, and physiological. I go and meet them if the situation allows, or talk to them over a phone call.”
Ask her about her most memorable experiences during this journey and she chirps, “There have been many. The first one was when my debut book ‘Because Being Together is Enough’ was released by Padma Shri Premlata Agarwal. She is the first Indian woman to scale the Seven Summits, the seven highest mountain peaks of the world. During the release, when she came on the stage, she said something, which I can never forget. She said, “When Anushka came to my office, I asked her why you are inviting a mountaineer to release your book and she told me that I was an inspiration for her. Today, after listening to her, the way she sees the world, her perception, Anushka has become my inspiration.”
“I remember how my parents had swelled with pride that day,” she recounts joyfully.
“The second was when I got the opportunity to go to the National University, Singapore, on a full scholarship. Among the sea of participants who had completed their PhDs and Masters, I was given the ‘Young Researcher’s Scholarship Award’. It was a proud moment for me.”
Apart from that, Anushka feels grateful for leading a council of human rights that has over 30 members, including interns and volunteers. However, the memory that tops the list is the day she received a letter from the New Zealand Prime Minister Ms. Jacinda Ardern.
“The Prime Minister had responded to a set of questions that I had asked her on issues that women leaders face, and how she deals with them. I had written a long email to her, and surprisingly, she had addressed every single point in the message. She praised me for the work that I have been doing for the women in the country. That was a big boost to my confidence. I admire her, and I wish that I could become a part of what she is; that’s the kind of feminism I crave for and want in my country. The way she handles her personal life, her kids, and her professional life, an entire country, is inspirational.”
How does she plan to amplify her movement? “I want to end period poverty through my organisation ‘Naari’. The situation exists on a large scale, so it will certainly take time. I am working towards empowering more and more women each day so that they can take a stand for themselves, understand the importance of being financially independent and do not bear any violence, discrimination, or abuse in any field, be it personal or professional. That’s something close to my heart and that is also one of the reasons why I am studying law.”