Chhitra Subramaniam is a creative producer, content development and production executive who has worked in films, television and advertising with organizations such as Ram Gopal Varma’s Factory, Percept Picture Company, Viacom18, Turner International and Wiz Films. She is currently Senior Vice President at Kross Pictures (a South Korean production company). While her profession is media, her passion was always community service.
Since the age of eight, Chhitra Subramaniam knew that she wanted to do something in the service of others. “I remember even as a child I would show my hand to a palm reader and ask when I would be opening an orphanage for young girls.” This need to be in service of others carried on into adulthood. In 2015, Chhitra along with her friends formed the Samovila Foundation, an Animal Shelter which is on the outskirts of Mumbai, which takes care of unadoptable or badly injured animals. But it was the pandemic and subsequent lockdown in March 2020 that spurred her into further action and made her the community service hero that she is today.
“The situation was really bad for so many people. I knew there was much to be done and I wanted to help people somehow. I started by following people who are into social work and that’s when I came across Ujwal Thakkar. He has now become my mentor and I am so lucky to have someone like him to guide me,” she says. It was through Thakkar that Chhitra was connected to Venkat Krishnan of Living My Promise and the man who started Give India, for whom Chhitra volunteered on creating excel sheets. Chhitra then executed the much appreciated ‘Mission Suraksha’ 16 Vanity Vans for the Mumbai Police force with the support of Producers Guild of India, Ketan Rawal and Project Mumbai.
The Vanity Van project was a simple and elegant idea which was designed to serve women cops and other frontline workers during the pandemic. “When the pandemic struck, I thought to myself, where are these women going to go to relieve themselves?” To counter the lack of hygienic facilities, Chhitra put up 16 vanity vans across Mumbai, equipped with sanitizers, masks, and biscuits. Chhitra was involved in the day to day running of this initiative, literally and figuratively. As a result of this project, Chhitra soon became known among the people involved in community services. Parallelly, Chhitra, along with eight others, namely Taranjit Kaur, Monica Raheja, Surya Balakrishnan, Niiya Kumar, Mayuri Joshi Dhavale, Gillian Pinto, Devashish Makheja and Shilpa A Singh, co-founded Pad Squad, an initiative to provide menstrual hygiene to those in need through collection and distribution of menstrual pads. After distributing more than half a million lac sanitary pads (cumulative number across India by all Pad Squadders) and establishing 50+ Pad Squadders across the country and abroad, Pad Squad was invited to be a part of the Joy of Giving Week or Daan Utsav. “For the Daan Utsav, we decided to launch a campaign called Pad Peti for Every Beti. The idea was to change people’s consciousness towards the menstrual hygiene instead of just focusing on donations.”
Two months before the Daan Utsav campaign, Pad Squadder Arunima, from Mumbai, had put a carton in her building to collect pads and had received more than 5000 pads in donation in no time! Taking Arunima’s example, Revati and Priyamwada from Bengaluru conducted the same activity in 12 buildings to much success. “Not everyone wants to give money,” explains Chhitra, “But buying a pad for 20 to 30 rupees and donating it is appealing. It ensures more reach. This is why the campaign was such a super success.” Based on the success of this activity, Chhitra and the other co-founders of Pad Squad, decided to launch it as a national campaign during Joy of Giving Week, from 18 September to 8 October, 2020. The phrase Pad Peti came from Bilal Khan (Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan), Pad Squad’s mentor. The tagline and poster was created by Riddhi K Shah, a fellow Covid Soldier nominee. “The idea is easy, simple and sustainable and anyone can do it,” says Chhitra. “The box is placed in your building lobby and anyone can just drop pad packets. It raises the consciousness that every woman deserves good menstrual hygiene.” At the end of the campaign, more than 1.50 lac sanitary pads were collected and are being distributed in and around Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Jabalpur, Hubli, Indore, Sundarbans, Kolkata, Palghar and Kalimpong.
Going forward, Pad Squad endeavours to go deeper with their efforts to provide menstrual hygiene through sustainable solutions such as menstrual cups, cloth reusable pads and breaking taboos when it comes to menstrual hygiene. “It is my belief that if the woman of a house is kept strong and health then the entire family stays strong and healthy. And if the family stays strong then the community at large stays strong,” she says. Apart from Pad Squad, Chhitra is deeply involved in Shramik Sammaan, a Livelihood Project started by Bilal Khan (Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan), Anil Hebbar (CEO of Helping Hand Charitable Trust) and human rights lawyer, Lara Jessani, under which 74 livelihood projects will be initiated to bring income and dignity to the migrants that lost their livelihoods during the pandemic. Actor Manoj Bajpai is the Ambassador for this cause. Under this project, various items are being manufactured locally and sold in markets outside of the villages and towns where these items are being made. One such project is in Lembuchera village in West Tripura, where 20 tribal men and women are being trained to make eco friendly bamboo bottles. Similarly, there is another project is in Dera Nayak Basti, Faridabad, where women are making double layered cotton masks which is being sold. “It is my chance to alleviate someone else’s pain,” says Chhitra, “And in the process, it makes me feel fulfilled and satisfied as well.”
She also continues to be a supporter of the Community Kitchens efforts, which were started and are being run by Bilal Khan, Lara Jessani and Anil Hebbar, as well as collection and distribution drives since the start of the pandemic.
Because of her selfless contribution during the Covid-19 crisis, Chhitra won the Covid Soldier Award by The Better India and ATE Chandra Foundation. “When Covid-19 struck, something woke up in me,” she says. “All you need is the willingness to take action. As soon as you do that, lovely people join hands and you are able to make a difference in someone’s life. If we can take care of someone at this time, then I think that we will overcome all of this together. And we have to. This time has happened for us to change and see how we can look after each other. Help somebody, anybody. Give and you shall receive!” she concludes.