Girls march to success!

Story based on Poonam Yadav, LS Raheja College, Mumbai

Story by Mahima Dev

When you meet Poonam, she comes across as the quintessential girl-next-door. From her warm smile, it’s hard to gauge the kind of unfathomable feats she has achieved at a very young age. She was one of the chosen few to march at the Prime Minister’s Rally Parade on the 28th of January 2017. Yes, you read that correctly! One of Vacha‘s early associates, Poonam has had an enthralling journey and come incredibly far, keeping her values intact. She shares with us her story…

Poonam is a second year BA student at LS Raheja College Santacruz and a proud National Cadet Corps (NCC) member. NCC is the Indian military cadet corps with its Headquarters at New Delhi. 

Poonam represents the naval unit in the NCC. 

When the selections for the PM’s Rally began back in August, Poonam was determined to get selected and started practicing religiously for the same. She exceeded everybody’s expectations and made the shortlist from Mumbai. The shortlisted few were then taken to Nashik for the state finals where she qualified as well. The State Finalists were finally taken to Aurangabad where they practiced for 2 months.

The 2 months spent in Aurangabad were grueling and disciplined. Everybody would wake up at 4 AM for warm up and training would start at 6 AM. Post a quick breakfast break, practice would continue again between 8-10 AM. After a half-day break and lunch, march practice would resume at 3 pm until late evening.

During these sessions more and more candidates were sent back home. But the best, including Poonam remained. Finally only 37 girls from Maharashtra remained and 3 representing the naval unit.

They had become best friends by now and proceeded on to take the capital, New Delhi by storm!

The brave girls from Maharashtra stepped foot in NCR in January and met the top qualifiers from all the different states. It was an immersive cultural experience for them and responsibility as well. Poonam met girls from Karnataka, Uttarakhand, even her own state Jharkhand and many more. In totality 300 girls would perform the march. In Poonam’s words, “At first I was representing my college, then city, now state! I felt pride but at the same time responsibility as many wanted to be in my position and I had to uphold my country’s flag.”

During the last month in Delhi, the atmosphere was tense with bursts of fun and laughter. Anecdotes from back home and contact numbers were exchanged. And of course the inevitable selfies were taken too! All midst strict practice and healthy competition.

Finally the day arrived after 4.5 months of intense preparation. It was a sunny 28th January, a huge crowd, press and VIPs collected to watch the spectacle. The chief of Naval Staff, Defense Minister and Prime Minister took front row. The parade began on time and Poonam was overcome with immense happiness because she was doing something she loved- and everything was falling right into place! She donned a speckless white uniform and held her head up with pride. The girls worked like a well- oiled machine and received standing ovations from the dignitaries.

Having fulfilled their “mission,” it was now time to bid farewell to the other girls. There were some tears as well since they had really lived a once in a lifetime journey together. Although everyone knew they would remain in touch.

 Poonam, reflects upon her enriching experience fondly and recalls how at first it felt odd to greet her seniors with a “Jai Hind” but now she embraces it with pride. She talks about how the youth is losing interest in cultural events like parades and thinks more encouragement is required. “All girls must join NCC, women are really respected there. It’s a place for true patriots,” she says.

Poonam hopes to join the army and fight at the borders to inspire other girls to do the same.

We at Vacha wish Poonam all the strength in the world and vow to support her every step of the way!


by Sayali Ghotikar

आता तू मोठी झालीस
ऐक नीट
जोरात बोलायचं नाही
जोरात हसायचं नाही
नीट बस गं. 
नीट कपडे घालायचे
फार कुठे बोलायचं नाही
तरीही काही झालंच “तसं”
कोणाला सांगायचं नाही
अगदी स्वत:लाही नाही’
delete करून टाकायचं एकदम

शेवटी तुझं चांगलं तर हवय ना आम्हाला

(“ती” एकच विचारते)
चांगलं म्हणजे नक्की काय ……?

I Can Do It- Sabah’s Story

Story by Mahima Dev

Story based on Sabah Wajid Ali Siddiqui, 19 years old, First Year BAF at MVM College

While interning at Vacha Resource Centre for Women and Girls, I came across a girl named Sabah. I was impressed by her confidence and gumption, she was never hesitant to put forth her view. I was surprised to learn that she was the same age as I am. She has been with Vacha for 9 years now. Just goes to show how a girl’s strong will and a little external push can create great outcomes. Here is Sabah’s story-

Sabah’s younger days… she has come a long way

A timid smile and resolute voice, Sabah’s personality intrigues you instantaneously. She speaks with striking confidence about her journey. Her ambition acts as the source of her morale, never mind that resources and odds are not exactly in her favour. She soldiers on. Her latest achievement is a research paper on “The Role and Contribution of Small and Medium Enterprises in the Indian Economy” which was published by her college.

At first Sabah found it hard to cope in a college environment. If being a girl of newfound adulthood wasn’t already complex enough, she was suddenly amidst fluent English speakers. Up until the tenth grade Sabah had studied in an Urdu medium school. She was usually the outspoken girl at her old school, but found herself terribly quiet here. She was perplexed as this was all she ever wanted- going to college, pursuing a Bachelors in Accounting and Finance degree. In fact she was already the most qualified person in her nine-member family. What’s more, she’d even received the Shadhika scholarship. What she hadn’t accounted for though, was the language barrier.
After a few days and many awkward attempts at spoken English, she realised that although she was weak at English, no one, not even the teachers could speak Hindi as fluently as herself. Her grasp over economic theory and accounting too, was good. She cinched the opportunity with a speech and dazzled her teachers and classmates alike. That day she knew that she was in no way inferior, all she had to do was muster her courage and play to her strengths.

With her nascent confidence, she was determined to keep her winning streak going. She had heard, in the passing, about a study that her college was about to publish on “SMEs.” She wondered what they were. Abbreviations have always confused her, she turned to her most credible source- Google. This too, was only accessible to her at her college laboratory and at the Vacha resource centre. When she hit ‘search’ she was introduced to a new world that seemed both intriguing and elusive in parts. She delved deeper into the realm of Small and Medium industries in India. She walked through definition, marched through advantages, darted through importance and danced through economic impact. Her mind was aflame- she wanted to know more.

Technology can be a girl’s best friend

Sabah pulled out all stops, she elicited every source possible- teachers, mentors, family, and the ever helpful internet. Many weeks went into it. She even sacrificed a few of her beloved accounts lectures in college to gain practical knowledge outside. She says, “Research and application gave me a much deeper insight into economics and clarified many concepts on GDP. I have learned new words in English also. I think everyone should learn from books first and then apply in real life to fully understand subjects.” Many a time she found her near and dear ones concerned about her. ”Are you mad spending so much time in all this and missing classes too? The teacher said this was co-curricular, that means no marks for all this. Better forget it”, said a classmate. But Sabah knew better. She told her classmate that although the teacher would not award extra marks for her research, she would surely do better on her exams because of it. She toiled on, asking her teachers more and more questions each day. Crunching numbers and data was what she looked forward to the most every day. Because “at the end of the hard work when I get a clear conclusion, it makes me very happy.”

Finally, Sabah turned in her research to her teacher. It was a file that read “Role and Contribution of SMEs in Indian Economy.” Sabah beamed with contentment and pride as she handed it over. A few days later, her teacher asked her to wait back after class. “Sabah, the principal loved your thesis. It has been selected for the college publication. In the interest of the college students, we would love for you to present your thesis at the conference next month,” the teacher said. These words seemed like the sweetest song to Sabah. Her committed effort had finally borne fruit. In the next moment, it dawned on Sabah that she would have now to present her research to an auditorium full of students, teachers, dignitaries and international experts- in English! But she had never let anxiety and nervousness hold her back in life, and she was not going to start now. So she smiled and said, “Sure, madam.”


Sabah hones her speaking skills

The conference day arrived quickly. Sabah had practised relentlessly, yet some nervousness remained, it was her first big address. The event started with the keynote speech by Mr. Vincent Wahrenburg, Head of Environmental Engineering, IRIANS, Berlin and a wonderful address by Mr. Chandrakant Salunkhe, Founder and President, SME Chambers of India. Next up was Sabah. She explained her thesis from beginning to end, about the importance of government support to SMEs, micro scale innovation, women entrepreneurs, and challenges in employment growth with proposed solutions. She ended on a beautiful note, “We must encourage girls to study and run their own small businesses, just like they run their households.” The content made up for any shortcomings in her linguistics. Everyone appreciated her presentation and signature confidence. Mr. Wahrenburg, congratulated her personally.

This experience has been unforgettable for Sabah, she cannot wait to start research for her next presentation. She says, “I love presenting to people because I want my voice to be heard by many. I want to become a lecturer in accounting and economics someday.”


Dreams…….who doesn’t love talking about them! While most of us vividly express our desires, aspirations and ambitions through our dreams, this little girl from Mumbai has only one simple wish to make. But would it always remain a distant dream?

मैं नहीं चाहती

मैं नहीं चाहती, कि कोई बच्चा

रेलगाड़ी का फ़र्श साफ़ करे

नट की रस्सी पर झूलता नज़र आये

जिस्म को गोदने का फ़न सिखाये

शेर के मुंह में हाथ डाले

तपते पट्टों की ईंटों को ढोये,

होटलों और शराबखानों में

अपने दामन से मेज़ साफ़ करे.

सांप को रखकर एक पिटारे में

रास्तों पर भीख भी मांगे,

नाच-गाने सुनकर सबको खुश करे

बूट-पॉलिश में खूब माहिर हो,

माँ के आँचल से दूर हो जाए

बाप के साथ काम पर जाए.

मैं तो सिर्फ़ इतना चाहती हूँ

कि हर बच्चा

बचपन में सिर्फ़ बच्चा हो

ना कोई काम करे, बस आगे बढ़े

मैं सिर्फ़ ये चाहती हूँ कि

सब बच्चे बहुत ज़्यादा पढ़ें

और खूब आगे बढें….

                                                                                                 —फ़िरदौस बानो रफ़ीक शाह  

Excerpts from a book on menstruation experiences by girls

Myths about menstruation are a part of the larger patriarchal structure of control over girls and women. While restrictions on girls during menstruation cut across class and culture around the world, the custom of untouchability practiced against menstruating girls and women is unique to India. Girls and women between the ages of 10-50 years, face untouchability from their own family members during menstruation.
In this book, we have documented girls’ stories of menstruation in their own voices.Puberty, Poverty and Gender

“ This is my cousin sister’s story, of when she got her periods…That day, she had felt a strong pain in her stomach, and when she started bleeding, she didn’t know what it was. She got very scared and told her teacher about it. Her teacher asked her to go home and sent a friend along with her to reach her home.
Once she got home, a difficult time began for her. Instead of placating her fear or showing her any love or even explaining to her about what had happened, her mother kept my sister alone in one room. She had to stay there, alone, for the next six days. On the following day, a pooja was arranged for her and she was given sarees by all the married women in the family. It is true that she was given a lot of good food and other things during those days…but anyone passing by her room would taunt her and harass her…she felt terrible during those days, that is what she told me…”

Source: ‘Puberty, Poverty and Gender- Girls speak about menstruation’ (2014)., A Vacha Publication

Book Review: Rights of Adolescent Girls in India: A Critical look at Laws and Policies. Author Saumya Uma. Published 2012, A Vacha Publication.

‘ This is a timely publication on the most neglected segment of our society, adolescent girls. perceived as a burden by parents, neglected by policy makers, subordinated by patriarchal system, adolescent girls in India hImageave to tread a tight rope walk. The author rightly avers that in India, that experiences of adolescence for girls are greatly different from that for boys…..’ Prof. Vibhuti Patel reviews the book in Indian Association of Women Studies (IAWS) Newsletter of January 20013. Click on the link for the full review:

Creative expressions of adolescent girls on peace and justice

An art workshop entitled “Creative Expressions of Adolescent Girls on Peace & Justice” was co- organised by Women’s Research and Action Group and Vacha Trust on 15th December, 2012. Please visit the link below to get more details:

Creative Expressions of Adolescent Girls on Peace & Justice

A Woman’s worst enemy.

At the start of every workshop, we begin with a session on ‘gendered understanding’, the topic of the workshop notwithstanding. The first day is invariably spent in lively discussions of gender discriminations at home and school, of unfair customs and practices that one doesn’t want to confirm to, of the television, street hoardings and schoolbooks showing women that one cannot identify with.

Discussions on how we ourselves propagate these practices are less lively. Girls cannot understand how they can possibly support beliefs that oppress girls, and thus go against themselves.

Something similar happened in a Videography workshop being held with a group of about 25 girls in the age group of 18 to 21 years. Coming from a lower socio-economic background, struggling to complete their education in the face of pressures to marry / work to support the family, they were very much aware of the restrictions placed on girls. This awareness is much rarer amongst girls from a better-off background, because oppression at that level is much more camouflaged and therefore much more dangerous. Anyway, just as I began to think that our gender workshop had gone off quite successfully, one girl states: “ The biggest enemy of a woman is a woman.”

I waited. Surely, many in this sensitive, vocal group of girls would debate this point.

To my utter amazement (and some horror) all the girls were so vehement in agreeing to this, that for a moment, I was at a loss for words and wasn’t sure if I could even dispel this notion of theirs properly. At this point, Medhavinee, a senior worker with many years’ experience as a trainer, asked the girls,

“Why do you think the mother-in-law treats her daughter-in-law so badly?”

Pat came the reply, “They are just jealous. Women are jealous..”

“Why do you think the mother-in-law is jealous of her daughter-in-law?”

When no answer was forthcoming, the trainer again asked, “What are most fights between them about?”

“About what to cook..”

And then the trainer gave them a succinct, and very effective explanation of what is known as kitchen politics. Since there is such little power given to women anyway, they fight amongst each other over that little power. Each woman is a threat to the other because of this. An example is a woman in the house, whose sole domain of control is the kitchen – or decisions of what to cook. All other decisions are taken by the men – of who will earn, how will they earn it, where will that money be spent, who will study, how much, who will marry, when and to whom and so on. When the daughter-in-law enters the house, this domain of the kitchen is threatened, and therefore the mother-in-law resists her. Thus it is called kitchen politics. Also, the mother-in-law gets some power through her son (in the sense that mothers of sons are preferred over mothers of daughters). The daughter-in-law threatens this power source too.

This same analogy can be applied to many other areas of life, where women manage to gain some foothold but this foothold is so small that any other woman trying to enter it is deemed competition. This is what turns women against women.

And does man have no hand in this? Take the example of the kitchen again. The otherwise powerful man, who has the right to take all other decisions of the house, does nothing to reduce the friction between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. He does nothing to save the oppressed younger (and sometimes older) woman from the other. Why is this so? Why does he suddenly become powerless?

The myth of women being the biggest enemy of women serves the purpose of creating divides amongst them. This is not to say that women don’t oppress other women, of course they do. However this oppression must be seen in the larger context of the patriarchal system. By putting the focus on trivial issues, larger trends of oppression go unnoticed. Men also oppress other men, yet you hardly ever hear someone say, “The biggest enemy of man is a man”.

-Amrita De and Anu Salelkar

Through the eyes of Girls – experience at Kala Ghoda

We have just emerged from the hectic madness that was the Kala Ghoda festival. For eight days, twelve hours everyday, we were manning (womanning) the display we had put up at this annual Mumbai art festival. We were holding an exhibition there, of photographs taken by young girls living in the bastis (slum communities) of Mumbai. We called it, ‘Through the eyes of girls’.

The display seemed to be a meeting point of two entirely different worlds, the world that usually goes to such festivals to ‘see art’, and the world that (very uncharacteristically in this case) was displaying the art. While the former had all come armed with the best cameras to capture all the art at the festival, most of the girls whose photographs were being displayed, had hardly ever held a camera before they took these pictures, and have unfortunately not had much access to a good camera since.

They had been trained as part of a photography workshop held by Vacha, conducted by the Photography Promotion Trust. Being poor girls, they form a part of society that is disadvantaged by class, gender as well as age. Technology, something that many of us take very much for granted, has hardly been very accessible to this group. Facebook, blogging, even Wikipedia – the pride of the Internet that has claimed to make knowledge democratic – remains out of reach of these girls.

For them to display to the world, through their photos, how they see the world, was them subverting this digital knowledge divide. Like one visitor to the display commented, “Thank you for letting us see your world through your eyes.” Many do see ‘their’ world, the world of cramped homes and dirty alleys, but ‘they’ hardly get to show it like they see it themselves. Here they showed their homes, their families, their work and their play – daring people to see them as they are, clearly, without guilt, or pity.

Despite this seeming divide between those displaying and those watching, there were some memorable moments, when some parts of the public suddenly got the point of the exhibition perfectly well. For example, there was a woman (English speaking, well-heeled) who I noticed was reading the description of the display very intently. Then she began looking at the pictures, row by row, pausing at each momentarily. She looked so absorbed that I didn’t want to disturb her while she was watching. As she started to move away, I couldn’t resist wanting to know what it was exactly that had held her attention. So I asked, “How did you like the exhibition?”

To my surprise, she answered very simply, in a quiet voice, “I am very moved. I read the description. Very moving.”

The description had been about how the digital divide excludes poor girls – something this woman had had never experienced. If that had moved her, well, the exhibition was a success.

– Amrita De

Here is a link to an article which appeared in the Times of India Mumbai edition on 10.11.10.

Students  from various colleges volunteer time with Vacha. The article is about a bunch of students from Mithibai College who were with Vacha during the Diwali  break.