“If you want to work for a cause, don’t think too much. Just get up and do it!” This is the fiery persona that Taranjit Kaur brings through in all aspects of life—whether it is social work or her art. While she may be known to a lot of us through her now-viral, honest and cutting poetry on the condition of women in India and around the world, it is her social work during the Covid-19 pandemic that brings her here on Giving Circle.
Taranjit is an actor, writer and poet by profession. She has worked in many films, some of which have won world famous accolades including an Academy Award (Oscar) and a BAFTA (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nomination. Shortly after the lockdown was announced in March, Taranjit was in the middle of a film shooting in Delhi. When she returned to Mumbai one of her friends, filmmaker Devashish Makhija, asked her if she wanted to volunteer her time for relief work. Taranjit, who always had a social bent of mind, agreed to get onboard.
The group began raising funds to provide groceries and other essential items to the slum-dwellers in the suburb of Mumbai. After a few days, however, Taranjit began wondering about the women whom they were serving. If grains and soap were essential items, what about sanitary pads? Was someone taking care of the menstrual hygiene of these women? Immediately, she and co-founder Chitra Subramaniam, got together and decided to appeal on social media for people to donate sanitary pads for underprivileged women. They were also joined by co-founders Mayuri Joshi Dhavale, Gillian Pinto, Niiya Niiya, Monica Rajeja, Surya Balakrishnan, Devashish Makhija and Shillpi Singh. The idea was to keep the process cash free (therefore no cash donations, only pads) and to keep human interaction at a minimum so that the risk for the donors and acceptors would be minimal. And so, an address was given for delivery of these pads. Thus, the very first PadSquad was born.
Shortly after the post went online, women from over 22 cities and towns in India joined the cause. More than 20,000 pads were donated by individuals in a matter of just four days! “It was an overwhelming response. We could not have expected it,” says Taranjit brightly. As of today, there are 50 official Squadders in Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Indore, Bhopal, Guwahati, Kalimpong etc. who are taking this initiative forward. “Since the donor only has to get the pads delivered to our address, they can do it from anywhere within India or abroad.” And so, there is someone in Canada who is also campaigning on behalf of PadSquad. “All this could not have been possible without the efforts of Chitra and the other co-founders,” says Taranjit.
Being eco-friendly is an essential part of PadSquad’s philosophy. Therefore, their emphasis is often on biodegradable pads. PadSquad has collaborated with NGO StoneSoup, that supplies re-usable pads for those who are comfortable using it. “How can I take care of a woman’s menstrual health while taking care of the environment, is a question we always ask ourselves,” she says. Right now it is being tried in Mumbai and if successful, it will be rolled out elsewhere. “This is the only way to reduce menstrual plastic waste,” she adds.
The use of social media has been central to the inception and continuation of PadSquad. “It has made me realise that social media can also be used for good. It has been a useful way of reaching out to like-minded people who are willing to help.” Through social media, handled by Surya Balakrishna, PadSquad has been able to distribute nearly 3 lac pads all around the country so far. They have also been able to make connections with other NGOs to take menstrual hygiene and education to those who need it most. For example, they are in talks with an NGO in Bangalore to offer a free gynaecology helpline to women in the city.
Working to better the lives of women is not new to Taranjit. She has been an advocate for the cause for as long as she can remember. “The condition of women is different all over India, and all over the world as well. Since I believe in equal rights, I wanted to do something that these women could relate to and something they would feel empowered by. As an artist, I get to speak about it. As a social worker, with PadSquad, I can act on this belief. I consider it my social responsibility.” The defining moments for Taranjit came when she started taking drama workshops at her sister’s studio in Kolkata between 2010-2014. “There were a lot of women who had been through domestic violence, both emotional and physical, who used to come to the workshops. I would interact with them on a daily basis. At the same time, I was examining my own challenges as a woman to continue in my career,” she explains. “When you have been physically abused as a child, the trauma stays with you. We could not talk to our parents about it back then. There is a need to speak about the things that we don’t share or complain about,” she adds. “They Lived-Happily-Ever-After (one of Taranjit’s poems) is not something that happens for every woman, and families need to understand that.”
With PadSquad, Taranjit has been working extensively in the area of Siddharth Nagar in Andheri, Mumbai, for the last few months. Along with Bilal Khan’s Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, which provides volunteers, she is supplying essential items, toys, tarpaulin for the monsoon and of course sanitary pads to the underprivileged. Initially her family was reluctant as her going outside put them at risk of Covid-19. She too felt apprehensive at first. But as she saw the effect of her work on the people she was helping, she became more emboldened and now has her family’s full support. She plans to continue working in Siddharth Nagar at least till the end of 2020, or until the time the residents can take care of themselves.
Forever passionate about her cause, Taranjit makes an appeal to us all. “Do something about the causes you are passionate about. Do it in whichever space you are. Do it through your art form. If you working in an office, talk to the people around you. Ask about their issues. Find out which organisations that can help them. Help our tribe grow!”
Giving Circle is inspired by people like Taranjit who have taken actions to back their belief that one small step can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. If you too want the tribe of like-minding social workers to grow, then please join a Giving Circle or create one of your own.