One does not easily give up a high-paying engineering job to go after a philanthropic work that pays little. But there are just others who respond to their calling no matter how difficult situations could be.
Such is the case of Brinda Nagarajan from Bengaluru, India, who is an engineering graduate from SASTRA University, Thanjavur. For two years, the 25-year-old worked as a business analyst at a Mu Sigma, a top global bank, specializing in data science and analytics. Her next career move was joining HSBC and its SBI rural development fellowship, Youth for India, which changed her life forever.
As part of the fellowship, Brinda had to face the social realities that enveloped the remote mountain villages of Uttarakhand where she was assigned. There, she conducts workshops to increase awareness about menstruation, among others.
“I trek to the extremely isolated villages and live there with the locals. The taboos around menstruation are very extreme in the areas where I work. These areas follow some extremely archaic traditions, many of which are undocumented anywhere else,” she reveals in a Your Story interview.
She went on to say that in her assignment area, there are many restrictions for women on their periods like not being allowed to touch people, not touch water directly, and not attend religious events.
“This is mostly because they are afraid of the ‘gods’,” she explains. “Menstruating women who have broken these rules are often blamed for lack of rains or for leopard attacks. Animal sacrifice is rampant and is performed to appease the gods.”
Changing what seems to be embedded in the way of life for most women in the remote villages Brinda works in wasn’t at all easy.
She had a hard time discarding the taboos around menstruation in such restricted environments. Until such time that she approached the issue with caution, sensitivity and modern science, together with a book about menstrual awareness designed for the rural audience underway.
Needless to say that she is doing a difficult job, especially that standing for the not-so-lucrative decision would cost her an 80% salary cut.
Despite that, Brinda was still supported by her family. This comes as a shock given that she comes from a Tam-Bram family known for being a rigid class.
“My father is a broad-minded person and is extremely supportive of women and women’s empowerment. I feel privileged to belong to a family where I have always been told that men and women are equal and that I should never restrict myself because of my gender,” Brinda shares.
Her father is a chemical engineering and materials science graduate from the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, who now helps Brinda in making low-cost, 100% biodegradable sanitary pads intended for the communities. It is now project that needs funding along with the book Brinda is publishing.
Having the support from the family is one thing, but approval from others is another. She was ridiculed by a few for her decision to leave the engineering pursuit. “It was hard, but I stood by my decision,” she tells.
That’s not the only struggle that Brinda encountered the moment she embarked in this humanitarian journey. She had to survive trekking the mountainous areas at sub-zero temperatures. She also had to fit in among the locals for them to accept her.
Brinda reveals that much of her time in Uttarakhand’s remotest villages was spent on living the locals’ life.
“I started learning Kumaoni, dressing like them, learning their local songs, cooking on the chulha, working with them in the farm and with the livestock, and literally becoming one of them. Today, I am one of them and we have a lifelong bond,” she says.
But why focus on menstruation, you ask?
Statistics indicate that 88% of India’s 355 million menstruating women have no access to sanitary pads. And about 23% of girls drop out of school when they start menstruating. Brinda feels the need to change that.
Brinda believes that the lack of menstrual education and hygiene management is a pressing issue faced by her country. She wants to offer solutions.
“Having always been a passionate advocate for women’s rights and empowerment, I have noticed that menstruation is a topic that is largely ignored,” she tells. “Considering that this influences 50 percent of the population, the relative focus on the subject is dismally low.”
Social good like what Brinda illustrated needs to come from more people around the world, even if it means sacrificing the lucrative job as an engineer.
Source: Your Story