Pride not Prejudice: Monika’s family now takes pride in their lack of caste prejudice

“My name is Monika Sharma. I’m a Brahmin from Balodiya ki Dhani, a village in Jaipur district. In my village, women don’t walk outside when they have their period because there’s a belief that they will get possessed by ghosts. We keep them segregated. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen or near my brothers. I hated how that made me feel.

So, when I joined CORO’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program in 2017, I decided to tackle social taboos around reproductive health and menstruation. CORO inspired me to break the rules. I started entering the kitchen during my period. Initially, my mother would scrub the floor each time. Eventually, she got exhausted and gave up.

Next, I formed youth groups across three villages. These groups were made up of adolescent girls and – to the horror of everyone – boys. It was unheard of to talk to young men about urine infections, sanitary towels and menstrual cramps. Social pressure mounted against teenage boys attending these sessions, but I stood firm. The boys kept coming even though they were too shy to speak.

I chose to work in villages with a lot of high-caste families. So, besides taboos around menstruation, caste discrimination was also rampant. My family was very proud of being Brahmin. They practiced untouchability. If a lower caste person visited our home, we’d serve them on separate plates and seat them outside the house. After I completed my training with fellows from different castes, I realized this was cruel and started opposing the practice.

Gradually, the community came around on the issue of reproductive health. Public rallies and regular follow ups resulted in the appointment of a counselor in the local health center, and the aanganwadi is now stocked with free sanitary pads. Today, girls do everything during their period, except enter the mandir. I’ve become an influencer in my villager. I can gather 300 people in a single hour. Now, women want their daughters to be like me.

The most radical transformation, however, took place at home. Today, my family welcomes guests without enquiring about caste; though, intercaste marriage might still be a step too far. However, some members of my family have taken drastic steps to distance themselves from caste privilege.

When my niece was born, I went with my brother to register her name on the birth certificate. He put down his full name but when the time came to enter hers, he just wrote ‘Saavi’. The registrar even prodded him to write, ‘Sharma,’ but he was adamant that she would have no caste.”