Meet The SHEROES: Rupande Mehta
1: What problem are you trying to solve? What opportunity are you taking up?
I am trying to help solve the problem of domestic violence and family abuse. In addition, I am also engaged in creating greater awareness overall on the issue of gender inequality.
2. What do you do to solve this problem? Your business/role/goal or story for the solution.
I help those who suffer from domestic violence (DV) and family abuse. Although I serve both men and women, research shows us that DV disproportionately targets more women than men. I help women with access to resources, counseling and other information so they can live their lives devoid of violence. Further, I hold corporate workshops, trainings with school and college students on the subject of DV so we can create a more aware society that knows how to approach and help those who are affected with this menace.
I am also a writer on the issue of gender inequality and generally write about current issues and my past experiences.
3. What inspires you every day to do what you do?
There are two main inspirations for me to carry on my work:
1. My daughter, Kiki – I want to ensure her experiences are completely different from mine and she and girls her age do not have to experience sexism the way I and my generation has. I also want to ensure the world she grows up in is more tolerable, equal and does not doubt her based on the color of her skin or her gender. I want to help create a world where she is judged only on her mental aptitude.
2. My personal experiences – Having experienced abuse in multifold ways, I want to work towards a society that is more tolerant towards the girl child, does not view her as a liability but as a breathing, living person capable of making her own decisions. I want to help destroy patriarchal attitudes that are practiced only to hold women back and help transform our society as a place where both Shiv-Shakti are equally celebrated.
4. What was your childhood ambition, and how did you share it with family and friends... eg did you play doc, play teacher, sang to any audience you could gather?
I wouldn’t call it ambition but as a child my favorite game was playing teacher. For hours on end, I would scribble chalk and teach my class on the living room window. My funniest part was to write on the “blackboard” and turn around to realize all the students had left my class.
5: Your schooling, college: was it targeted towards what you hoped to be... did you become what you 'studied' to be, or did you change course and chart a different path?
My schooling was a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA. Today I am a social worker, an advocate and a writer. So, no I did not become what I studied. In fact, as time went on and I realized I was in a hopelessly dissatisfying career and professional life, I quit the corporate sector (after 10 years) and started working as a social worker. Soon after, realizing that in order to make a dent in this field I ought to have a formal degree, I enrolled for an MPA and am expected to graduate in 2017.
6: How and when did you chose your field/hobby?
My hobby has always been to write. I was 5 when I wrote my first poem and never looked back. Overtime I have written short stories, several other poems, articles for various news outlets and a biography (not yet published). Writing has served me in times of pain, happiness, melancholy or depression. Writing is my outlet to express my anger, grief or happiness with my life. I did not choose my hobby; my hobby chose me.
6: What were the personal hurdles you had to cross - i.e the reaction of friends and family?
How much time you have for this question? ?
There have been innumerable hurdles in my path: my parents are very conservative and although agree with a woman’s right to education, hold very traditional beliefs otherwise. They also have a very serious temper and were never afraid to show it when they were dissatisfied with me for having male friends, not doing their bidding, wearing something they disapproved of, having sleep overs, staying out past 7pm. My rebellious streak and their controlling behavior meant there were frequent explosions in the home, shaping my future in more ways than one.
My attitudes are very liberal but over time I learned to keep them to myself. I, however, expressed some ideas like – finding a husband who can cook, not taking my husband’s last name, hyphenating my child’s last name to include mine but was generally met with ridicule.
I was also ridiculed by extended family and friends for having dark skin, because girls have to be fair and pretty, being lanky (I was tall and skinny) and being a “carrom board”. Although such comments made me sad, growing up, I did not understand them for their full scope. Over time, they made me angry and want to change the fabric of our society for promoting such out rightly biased discriminations and expectations towards girls and women.
7: How did your peers react to you? As a young educated woman, were you at an advantage, or disadvantage?
I would say an advantage. Despite what people said about me, I was very confident and generally came across as such. I was in the 8th grade when I first talked about leaving India and coming to the US to study and live a life of freedom. People generally dismissed it but over time when they saw me working and achieving just about everything I had said I would, they realized I meant business and was sincere in my efforts. My closest friends always saw what I could do and encouraged me to follow my path and while some family still has a hard time coming to terms with my independence and education, overall, my peers have accepted me and respect me much more today than they did growing up.
8. What were challenges you faced and how did you overcome hurdles?
I was abused at various junctures in my life – first when I was 5, a 55-year-old man molested me. Over the next 15 years I was physically, psychologically and emotionally abused by my parents and over the last 5 years before I left India, I was physically, sexually, emotionally and psychologically abused by my ex-boyfriend. Such dramatic violence for the first 21 years of my life altered my perception of a normal life. My parents were overprotective of me and that led to me trying to break rules by hook or crook. The excessive violence also meant I looked for love outside the home and, unfortunately, fell in the arms of an abuser who raped me many times (leading me to undergo two abortions before I was 20 years old). So in terms of hurdles, there were innumerable but I could encounter them because a voice inside me always told me this is not what life is meant to be. Love does not have to hurt and life is beautiful and worth living; not wasting your days crying in pain because something, somewhere was deeply wounded.
So my #1 way to overcome hurdles was a strong belief in myself that I deserved more, that there is more to this world and that someday I would attain it.
When I finally did attain it, I did not know how to handle it. My past was gone but it had left many scars behind. Although I knew what I did not want, I did not know how to get what I wanted. So therapy ensued and that led me to working very hard on myself to rid me of beliefs and attitudes I considered “normal”. This cleansed some but not all of my wounds.
After my daughter was born, my definition of what was normal re-surfaced again. Prior to Kiki, I had no experience with children and was not much interested in them. When she started to grow up, I started to subconsciously deal with her the same way I was dealt with. I was emotionally nasty to her but with my husband’s help, very early on, I realized my faults. As a result, I found a new counselor and started sessions with her immediately.
Today I can say I am a happy balance. The seesaw still shows me my highs and lows and although I don’t know if I ever will be fully “cured” every day I try and try harder. Some days I win, some days I lose bitterly but I tell myself there will come another day and with it another chance to improve myself. Some days it is very hard but Kiki and Andrew deserve nothing less.
My past also shaped my professional life. After a deeply dissatisfying career in the corporate sector, I quit my job and started working for a local non-profit as a DV counselor. Today, I work as a DV consultant helping victims of abuse and training the various other elements in our world to live aware, sustainable and equal lives.
9: What do you see changing for women professionals in India? How would you encourage young women to consider entrepreneurship as a viable profession/ vocation. Please share your top 5 tips.
The environment in India has changed tremendously since I was growing up. Women are fighting for their voice, their right to be heard, to safe spaces and equality across all dimensions.
In order to consider entrepreneurship, I would go back to basics and tell women to:
Always believe in yourself, no matter what someone has told you your worth should be or that you will never amount to anything
Be fearless but also do not be naïve. Safety for women in India is still a pending question so while there may be certain aspects of entrepreneurship that call for you taking risks, take those wisely and always remember to have a backup plan
Never be afraid to ask for help. Once you do and share your story, you will be surprised at how many people relate to you and actually respond favorably
Never be afraid if someone calls you names. Aggressive women are often given labels, whereas, aggressive men are called ambitious. Never let such names faze you
Do not apologize if it is not your fault; especially as an attempt to appear less threatening or less smart
10: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Once I started working with women, I realized the loopholes in existing laws and procedures for women’s safety. In order to close the gaps, I started preparing for a life in public safety. In 10 years, I see myself holding public office and working towards women’s rights, racism, children’s welfare, mental health, opioid abuse and other social issues. My aim is to create an inclusive society for all – no matter our differences. Only an inclusive world can be a just and peaceful world where we proudly celebrate not only what binds us but also our differences. AT the same times, I also see my consulting work evolving and taking a life of its own, widening its scope to include other areas of social justice; in addition to violence against women.
11. What do you do for fun?
I am an ardent reader and also love spending time with my family. Kiki and I also bake, cook and love watching her favorite cartoons.