This interview is part of our When She Leads Under Lockdown series. Learn more.
COVID-19 continues to keep the young women of Shadhika isolated from friends, school, and their NGO community centers. In this interview, sisters Sanjuckta and Pranjuckta discuss their experiences since the lockdown and how they’re supporting and encouraging each other. Sanjuckta and Pranjuckta live in Kolkata where they participate and work with our partner site Jabala. Sanjuckta and Pranjuckta were interviewed by Vaishu Manjunath, Marketing Associate, and Upasana Saha, Program Officer.
Can you please introduce yourselves and tell us something about you?
Hi, my name is Pranjukta. I did my degree course in Commerce. Now I work with girls at Jabala as a mentor, and it’s something which makes me feel happy. I’m quite a shy person. One thing keeping me happy and busy during the lockdown is working as a Shadhika Making HERstory intern. It’s really great to be a part of that group and to learn so many things. I’ve made friends through the internship.
I’m Sanjukta, and I work for Jabala. I’m a people person and very fond of working with people through social work. At Jabala, I work as a peer leader helping children with their education. I also mentor them and try to help them navigate their problems. I manage a girls group and look out for what they need.
What are some of your daily routines impacted due to the lockdown?
Pranjukta: I used to go to Jabala’s center to mentor the younger girls. It was really great to listen to them, make suggestions for them and see how they overcome their difficulties. Now due to the coronavirus lockdown, I’m not supposed to leave the house.
Sanjukta: I also used to go to work at Jabala’s center, but this Covid-19 lockdown has really affected my daily routines. Now I spend most of my time at home playing with our siblings and watching movies. Moreover, our community was sealed for months, so it was difficult to talk to anyone around the neighborhood.
What are some experiences that make you both laugh?
Pranjukta: We both love to play with our little brother. He likes to play dress-up in our colorful dresses, and we think he looks really cute. We all laugh together.
Sanjukta: As Pranjukta said we laugh when playing together with our little brother. We also laugh at some of our favorite indoor games and movies. We both love watching horror movies and also movies with a female lead. Pubg is the game we love to play indoors. We play badminton too, but only when we get a chance to play outside.
Do you both share any common hobbies or like doing something together for fun?
Pranjukta: Yes! We both love eating street food and we have lots of street food places near my house so we go there whenever we feel like eating something tasty. We usually eat momos which are steamed dumplings, and phuchkas which are crispy, deep fried snacks with spicy fillings–a specialty in Bengal.
Sanjukta: Yes, we both really enjoy going out to eat together. We always get more to take home for our family. Our most favorite thing together is to go street shopping in the markets near Esplanade and Gariahat for clothes and accessories. I love being around my sister.
Are there any common dreams and skills that you both share?
Pranjukta:My sister and I share the dream to see every girl in our community educated. We also dream about travelling the world together. We both love traveling and exploring new places. Our dream is to visit the Kedarnath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the Himalayan mountains of India.
What stands in the way of girls getting an education in your community? Why do you think it is important for girls to be educated and independent?
Sanjukta and Pranjukta: There is so much chaos in our community. Most girls are from low income families and experience gender discrimination as well as family pressure to be a child laborer or marry early because of poverty. If the girls in our community get a proper education and know their rights, they can stand for themselves and make their own decisions. If girls complete their studies, they’ll have a much higher chance of getting a job. This is important so each girl can support herself and can manage her own expenses.
What is one thing you’ve learned from your sister?
Pranjuckta: My big sister is a talkative person. She always likes to meet new people. I have learned how to communicate with others from her. I would like to improve my communication skills to be just like my sister.
Sanjuckta: One thing that I have learned from my younger sister is to be positive in all situations and to have hope.
What challenges have you experienced during lockdown? How have you supported each other?
Pranjukta: We have faced many difficulties with the Covid-19 lockdown and Cyclone Amphan. We are not able to visit and connect with other girls in person. At the time of Cyclone Amphan, we lost electricity and cell phone service. We couldn’t reach out to our friends or other girls who go to Jabala’s center for a few days, but we contacted them as soon as we had service again. Work around the house has become hectic for my mom, so I help her in the kitchen making food or washing dishes.
Sanjukta: Losing mobile service during Cyclone Amphan created many difficulties. We were also not allowed to go out of our house because we live in a containment zone. It is still difficult, but day by day we are finding a balance.
What are your career plans and how do you plan to achieve them individually or through each other’s support?
Pranjukta: I want to get a job in the banking sector, as well as continue helping my community. I studied Business Commerce at university and am doing things for my community with the help of Jabala and Shadhika. I hope I’ll be able to achieve more in the future.
Sanjukta: I have always wanted to have a job in social work. I was pursuing a degree in Hospitality Management, but needed to stop my studies due to a sudden tragedy in our family. I love to help others. I am committed to serve my community and will always try to make it a safe place for girls to live with the help of Jabala.
What’s the best part about having a sister?
Pranjukta: The best part for me is sharing each and every thing with my older sister without any hesitation. As girls we both understand each other’s struggles and successes.
Sanjukta: Having a sister is like having a best friend. We both live in the same community and same house so she knows what I do, how I feel, she’s a bundle of positive vibes and I love to be around her.
How do you support each other as sisters?
Pranjukta: We help each other in every possible way. Whenever I need any kind of help, I go to my sister because I know that she will give me strong advice and help. Having a sister is like having a best friend for life. We reach out to each other and find solutions. And I’m blessed to have her in my life.
Sanjukta: As Pranjuckta mentioned we are and will always be available to support each other in every possible way. Whether we need emotional, mental,or physical support, we have each other’s back all the time. She might be younger than me or I might be older than her but we are like best friends. We share everything and whenever I’m in trouble, I go to my sister and look for her suggestion. If she comes to me for some advice or any other ideas, I will be there for her at any cost.
What problem—either yours, or something in your community—do you both wish you could solve?
Pranjukta: We want to see all the girls in our community to be educated and independent. Girls should not be dependent on the men in the house, and they should decide what they need.
Sanjukta: Yes, I agree. Both of us wish that all the girls in our community get proper education as they need to be independent in their lives.
Why is it important for you both that girls in your community are educated? Why is it important for you to help make this happen?
Sanjukta and Pranjukta: If they get a proper education, there’s less chance to be forced into early marriage, they can be economically independent, and they could find equal respect from the community. They’ll be able to support their family just like their brothers or even better.
It is important for us to help because we can lead them and can help them understand why studies are important through our own experience. Because we live in the red light district of Kolkata, we know that education can decrease the potential of early marriage and generational sex work in our community.
What is your relationship like as sisters?
Pranjukta: We are best friends. We fight together, we shop together, we travel together and mostly we are like minded. Since the COVID-19 lockdown has started, we have become real besties for life.
Sanjukta: We share a strong bond, and I think we are more like friends than sisters. I love my younger sister more than anything.
How has your relationship to your sister changed/grown since lockdown?
Pranjukta: I think our relationship has grown up. We have had a lot of time to spend with each other during lockdown. Before, we each had our own work and didn’t see each other as much. But during lockdown we have more time to share things, watch movies, and read stories together. We have even spent an entire night talking on the rooftop under the moon and stars.
How would you define sisterhood?
Pranjukta: Sisterhood is such a blessing. I truly feel it. If you have a sister then you don’t need anyone else. My sister is my best friend.
Sanjukta: In my opinion, sisterhood is like when you know there’s at least one person who will always be there whenever you need help and support. We have similar goals and support each other towards our futures.
What was your experience like growing up around Jabala and other supportive female role models?
Pranjukta: Growing up around Jabala was really important and has helped me be who I am today. I want to see more female leaders in my community and in my country. We have a woman as our borough chairperson. Her name is Aprita Dasgupta. A borough is a group of wards (neighborhoods) in a particular area, and the chairperson is an elected official who manages their area. Our borough chairperson really takes care of our ward. She listens to us and co-operates with the girls at Jabala. Women are perfect for everything, especially leadership.
Sanjukta: Jabala definitely plays an important role in my life. The role models around me always taught me to take a stand for my rights, to raise my voice, and always try to help others as much as you can.
This interview is part of our When She Leads Under Lockdown series. Learn more. COVID-19 continues to keep the young women of Shadhika isolated from friends, school, and their NGO community centers. In this interview, sisters Sanjuckta and Pranjuckta discuss their experiences since the lockdown and how they’re supporting and encouraging each other. Sanjuckta and
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