I was around four when I witnessed my mother being pressured to have an abortion because she was expecting her second daughter. Certain relatives felt that she would be a liability. Fortunately, my mother resisted the pressures and delivered my younger sister, Ananya Banerjee, in 2003. Her birth gave me a purpose in life.
This incident opened my eyes to gender discrimination around the world. My sister and I have indulged in activism from a young age. Our parents got the TV disconnected when I was 3. For 14 years, I never watched TV or went to the cinema. Our parents only encouraged both of us to dedicate our lives to a cause, read, and interact with people.
My father happened to initiate the 'Save Daughters' or 'Beti Bachao' campaign in 2004. This step ignited a spark in me as well, and I never looked back. I recited poems in Hindi and English at public places, performing road shows, street plays, visiting villages etc. I'd mostly participate in these activities because that was the 'normal childhood' for me, and I didn't feel I was doing something different or extraordinary.
Activism Is My True Calling
I realised that there was a strong connection between females and nature. In 2009, I made a short documentary called 'Earth in Flames' with my parents. Also, I went on a 4500 km road expedition across India. This was the beginning of the 'Save Daughters, Save Earth' campaign appealing to save the two lifelines of humanity. I participated in plantation drives and other conservation activities. In 2015, Ananya and I wrote a letter to PM Modi outlining 14 pragmatic solutions to curb female foeticide.
In 2018, I went on an exchange programme at the University of Sheffield in the UK. I volunteered for 'Change Lab', where I engaged in 100 hours of social service. That same year, I went to Malaysia at a Harvard conference where I met Rohingya refugee children. I enjoyed giving back to society, educating and advocating for the causes I strongly believed in. With so many challenges around us, the youth need to be involved in the process. I believe we are the future leaders and the present ones with so many young changemakers setting examples.
On my return to India, Ananya and I founded a free mobile school called 'Suhiksha' in rural Haryana. We taught children coming from underprivileged backgrounds to provide holistic education to them. During the pandemic, we launched a series called 'Revolve 2021' to encourage discussion about mental health. Recently, we organised 'March for Mental Health'- a walkathon in Karnal, Jaipur and Delhi. More than 300 people joined us, all for one message- to end the stigma around mental health and encourage help-seeking behaviours. Ananya is a passionate mental health advocate, and thanks to her, we now also work towards this cause.
We also launched 'Project Buland' this month on menstrual hygiene awareness, where we distributed 7,000 pads to adolescent girls free of cost across government and low-income private schools in Karnal.
Agents Of Change
I received the Diana Award from the UK in Princess of Wales, the highest accolade for youth in social action. I also got the Young Global Changemakers Award from the Germany Secretariat, becoming the only Indian to receive it this year among 16 other awardees globally. Ananya has also been selected at KidsRights Challenge (Netherlands), CDF Global Changemakers Fellowship, Dexterity Global School, Global Changemakers Mentorship, etc.
I am the only Indian to have taken over the office of a Senator at the Australian Federal Parliament. I became the MP for Greens Party in the chair of Senator Larissa Waters. I also got to speak to the Leader of Opposition and PM Scott Morisson. The party leader read out my speech on climate change where I also mentioned bushfires.
A major issue is the lack of foresightedness in our thoughts, actions, and decisions. The solution is to become an agent of change and realise our power to influence change. I am grateful to have done the work I have and that my passion, values and actions align. I hope to continue to be in the service of people and club my Security Studies degree and social work to work with the United Nations. My dream has been to be a Happiness Ambassador and facilitate the empowerment of as many people as I can, and become a better person in the process.
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