It was a deep plunge right into the world of social development from the diametrically opposite corporate sector for Dipti when she got married to Saurabh Kashalkar in March 2016. She immediately joined him in expanding the work of their NGO Upasana, which aims to bring sustainable solutions to life in rural as well as urban segments.
From there on, there has been no looking back for the website development and social media marketing professional. She has lapped up the development sector like nobody’s business. “We realised that Upasana needed to expand its horizons, and began work on it,” says Kashalkar as she tells us about her menstruation campaigns. “I first started with distributing eco-friendly menstrual pads to underprivileged women on the outskirts of Mumbai. We began with the Dahanu region in Palghar district and eventually reached the tribals in Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon too,” says the 31-year-old who has not just this one talent.
The organising committee president at Upasana NGO has been biking for her cause too. “I didn’t plan it this way. I had just bought a Pulsar for a brother but I started riding it since he was injured. Soon enough, I rode to Hyderabad for our menstruation campaign and that’s how it began,” says Kashalkar, who has now shifted her campaign from menstrual pads to cups.
“I was approached by a foreign company that manufactures menstrual cups to distribute their product instead of the pads. But I did not want to do it just for the sake of promoting their product. So I decided to try it myself first. Having used it for two months, I realised it was a great alternative to pads, so I now only distribute cups to the underprivileged women I meet,” says Kashlakar, who kickstarted her Menstruation 2019 campaign with the aim of ‘cupverting’ 2019 women from using pads to cups.
She soon began receiving invitations from several schools and even corporates where she now promotes sustainable solutions to living.
Along with distributing the menstrual cups, Kashalkar also educates women about menstrual hygiene and women’s health wherever she goes. In India, she says, there’s resistance to cups owing to our misconceptions regarding virginity. “People believe that using tampons and menstrual cups can break a woman’s hymen which is absolutely baseless. So we educate people over this. Also, at least three of 10 women these days face some issues with regard to their cervical and menstrual health. Some have Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), while others have infertility and even uterus cancer cases are going up,” she says, adding that the situation becomes worse for underprivileged women who cannot even access healthcare in such cases.
“The reasons are varied. Some have financial issues, others believe in some superstitions,” says the biker who believes that she therefore has an advantage that many don’t. “I am a woman who knows what these issues exactly are and can travel whenever and wherever I like to help fellow women seek medical help and choose the right menstrual options,” she explains the reason behind why she chose to do what she did.
The Mumbai girl says that she does all of this free of cost. “Individual donors help us. So many people want to aid women empowerment in our country. Very few, however, realise that this is part of empowerment in such a direct way. Healthy and fit women can do wonders for their own well-being as well as for their families. The ones who get the logic agree to donate,”she elaborates, adding that the NGO now wants to tap into the CSR sector for their funding requirements, the immediate one being of Upasana NGO’s next big venture.
It is an all-India bike tour, she tells us. “In a group of five to six people, the NGO has planned a tour across the country to campaign in every state and distribute menstrual cups to women in remote corners. We will ride for a day and then put up in some place for two to three days of campaigning. Our entire plan is already in place. Only funds are awaited,” she says.
Apart from menstruation, Upasana NGO runs a number of other campaigns — all in line with its goal of sustainable living. Wheels For Education and Apna Kisan are some of them.
Wheels for Education is a programme where old bicycles that are no longer in use are collected from housing societies in the city and donated to kids in remote villages who have to walk long distances to school. The highlight though is that these cycles sometimes need repairs. “For this, we tie up with a local cycle repair person in the village who gets to earn a few bucks and also helps in case the cycle develops some issues later,” Kashalkar explains the ‘total empowerment model’ as she likes to call it.
The Apna Kisan campaign which is yet to kickstart, is about empowering farmers in Dahanu. The idea is to connect consumers directly with the farmers. “We are speaking to housing societies regarding their vegetable requirements. We will then have one farmer visit one society once a week with the preferred set of vegetables directly from his farm. This will help people get fresh veggies and will save the farmer all the middlemen costs, thus benefiting all stakeholders involved,” says Kashalkar, summing up the immense work of Upasana in making sustainability mainstream.