While Changeloomers Suruchi (anchor) and Harshita (co-anchor) are working to promote girls’ rights through social media, they can’t stop talking about the gender discrimination that they have faced in their own families since a very young age.
Both Harshita and Suruchi come from privileged families of the Harda district and live in Harda city. And though this has helped them in attaining quality education from good schools and college of the district, they faced strict restrictions over movement and expression from their families.
“I wasn’t asked what subjects I wanted to study after my 10th standard. My father chose them for me. And the pressure to perform well was always so high that even after being one of the top five students in the class, I was constantly taunted and pushed to do better at small things. I felt depressed during my higher secondary years”, confesses Suruchi.
This stark inequality and violence against women and girls have bothered them since a very long time. Harshita puts this reality into words by sharing one of the instances from her family, “My brother who is twelve years old leaves the house by telling my mother that he is going out and will be back soon but I had to give even the tiniest of details before going anywhere.”
Thus started their struggle against the misogyny and gender based violence that exists in the society. By using their skill and interest in writing, the two Changeloomers made creative posters and wrote poems on gender equality, and directly reached out to an audience of more than 30,000 on their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages. They even published some original researches on social media like during the campaign on nutrition, they went around the Anganwadis of Harda to get data on the weight of girls and boys under five years of age and it showed severe discrimination in the nutrition provided by families to girls and boys.
In addition to this, they conducted workshops with around 700 children in five schools of Harda and talked about the concept of gender and sexual violence with both boys and girls. One of their five team members, Durlabh, explains, “Our team took sessions on violence and harassment in the schools with the students. When a girl is harassed, she usually keeps quiet and does not share it with anyone because she feels embarrassed and scared. Through activities and games, we established that it is never their fault and it is extremely important to raise their voice in case of any kind of harassment and fight for their rights.” Durlabh goes on to share that these sessions in school were a great learning opportunity for him and had started raising these topics for discussion at his home with his mother.
To this, Suruchi also admits that the journey was indeed a turning point in her life, especially her personal life, “I joined this fellowship with the purpose of gaining exposure and confidence as I was called immature among my friends and family. But it turned out to be greater than that. My perception towards myself as well as the world changed drastically. I wanted to write but I didn’t want to listen to anyone or read much. But now, I give importance to a person’s story and listen intently because we always learn something new from it.”
She goes on to share that her family has also witnessed a huge transformation during the course of this journey, “They are more supportive now. I gained the courage to tell my father that I do not want to go for bank coaching anymore but want to pursue M.B.A instead. For the first time, he agreed and told me that I should do whatever I want to do. The fact that they allowed me to go to Bhopal for UNICEF’s conference with Harshita was a big proof for me that I have built my parents’ trust. My father’s words have changed. Now, he says that I trust my daughter more than anyone else in the world.”
Harshita corresponds to Suruchi’s feelings and adds, “I came home at 12am from a college event and nobody even asked who dropped me. The recognition that we got for our work from the media was the biggest reason for the strengthening of that trust among our family members. I feel glad that this exposure has given me the opportunity to create that space of understanding and freedom in my family for my other female cousins and even my younger brother with whom I apply all that I learnt in the sessions on child rights.”
The duo feel more confident about their capabilities now. Harshita, who joined the programme with the motive of honing her speaking skills marks their moving speech on the Navratra event in front of 500 people as the proof that it happened for her. They regard this campaign on sex-selective abortion during Navratra as the biggest celebration of their journey and agree that they have started raising their voices against every judgement and injustice that society puts children, youth and women through.
“Now, whenever I witness any violation of child rights, I raise my voice against it. Like I go and talk to the owner of the shop when I see a child working there. Moreover, I have started reading more on gender and sexuality. Now, when I meet a kinnar (transgender) in train, I see them with more respect without any judgement and fear”, claims Harshita.
Suruchi concurs with Harshita and ends the conversation by narrating a story about her attempt to stop her mother and her friends from gossiping about other woman’s personal life and from questioning her character.