Yashika Gowda sits down with us this week to talk about the taboos of periods in India and what she’s doing to help make more women aware about menstruation. This pageant winner, named Mrs. Maharashtra and a finalist for Mrs. India is making waves with her help fighting period poverty in India and paving the way for a brighter future.

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Alice: Great. Well, welcome Yashika. Thank you so much for being here today.

Yashika: Thank you so much, Alice. It’s a pleasure to finally connect with you.

Alice: Yes, I’m so glad we got this connection to work. We were back and forth with scheduling.

Yashika: Great.

Alice: Yes. So, I just wanted to ask you, first of all, you’re in India. Our time difference is very different. We’ve been hearing a lot about India in the news lately and just everything that’s been happening. Well, luckily good things right now are [inaudible]

Yashika: Thankfully.

Alice: Thank God.

Yashika: Correct. A lot of [unintelligible].

Alice: Yes, which is so wonderful. How were you during the pandemic? I hope you and your family were okay.

Yashika: Yes, we are right now. But I would say we all have been victims of the Covid thing that was going on. It was difficult. It’s been difficult for a lot of people who’ve been losing jobs. We got to lose so many things, so many loved ones whom people have lost. Thankfully and luckily, none of such cases in my family and my close ones, but it’s sad. A good thing that happened to me during the pandemic is that I gave birth to a baby.

Alice: Oh, that’s so wonderful. Oh my God, congratulations.

Yashika: I became a mother during the pandemic. Thank you.

Alice: Oh my God.

Yashika: I became a mother during the pandemic and it was equally difficult and challenging because you have that mask all the time. You are already in a panicky state. It was no doubt a much more challenging situation. But that’s something that turned out to be beautiful, that’s the only good thing that happened to me, I would say.

Alice: Yeah.

Yashika: This is everyone knows how the world has been doing.

Alice: Yeah, what a weird time. I’m in New York City so we had our own terrible start to the pandemic. But I’m so glad.

Yashika: How’s everything in your place?

Alice: It’s okay. It feels like it’s coming back alive in New York, finally. Everyone’s a little nervous. But museums are finally opening, theatres are opening so it’s strange to slowly go back to the city.

Yashika: Right.

Alice: Is everything more open where you are now?

Yashika: Yes. It’s opening now. A lot of things feel normal now because the cases have much gone down. Hoping to see things improve. I think vaccinations have really helped because I am also vaccinated now. That’s kind of making a difference. I don’t get to listen to a lot of cases which we used to on a daily basis. We were so scared, we didn’t step out and the baby. We were under housing all the time. It was kind of crazy but now it’s a lot better.

Alice: That’s good. That you can step out of the house and do things, which you have been. Can you tell our audience about what you just won?

Yashika: Oh yes, certainly. So, it’s a pleasure invited with a lot of honor. I would like to tell everyone that I have won a pageant that’s Diadem Mrs. Maharashtra 2021. Everyone, thank you. For everyone who’s not aware of the state of Maharashtra, it’s a very huge state in our country in India. As a state’s name Maharashtra, Maha means great and Rashtra means nation.

We are one of the second largest states in our country with regards to population, with regards to the size. It’s quite a mass event, I have won the pageant that actually represents Maharashtra. Especially now that I’m married, I’m Mrs. Maharashtra. I would like to show you my crown as well.

Alice: Yes, please.

Yashika: This is the crown.

Alice: Uh, oh my God. That is amazing. That is gorgeous.

Yashika: Yeah. So I get to go to a lot of places now. In fact, the day before yesterday I had been to a really well-known brands’ inauguration. But everybody was really happy. In fact, I did not expect that I did actually win something like this post getting married. Because, you know, the kind of things and responsibilities that you get on your shoulders and you get involved into? My family has been supportive. I’ve been doing good.

Alice: Oh my God, that’s amazing. So now, do you compete for Mrs. India? Is that what happens?

Yashika: Correct. It’s mandatory for me. I have to go to another state which is the capital of our country, New Delhi. I have to go there for Mrs. India that is happening next month, in December.

Alice: Oh my God. That’s amazing.

Yashika: Yeah. Keep your fingers crossed. Just hope I get another crown as well.

Alice: Yes. I hope so. That’s so amazing. Congratulations.

Yashika: Thank you.

Alice: How did you start to get involved with pageants in the first place?

Yashika: That is something that I always looked at as a little girl. To begin with, I lost my father when I was just 12. I could not do a lot of things that I wanted to do. A lot of responsibilities. It was just my mom, my sister, and me. I started working pretty early. Generally, in India, people don’t really become independent while in school. We literally depended on our parents. That did not really happen to me, and I wasn’t that lucky. I started working when I was 15. That was when I did my first job. It all started and I could not really do what I wanted to. I always looked up to pageants because I knew these beautiful-looking women out there are actually doing something for society as well. That’s something I always felt makes them all the more beautiful. Yeah, as we all know, we call them beauty with a purpose.

That always enticed me, and suddenly when I was just looking up online, I just [inaudible] now is the time to be I can or with this something like that. And I found this one. I just happened to register myself, I got a call. It was mostly online. Because of the pandemic, it wasn’t very offline. They interviewed me. I had a telephonic round with the panel. They asked me for a couple of videos, my measurements. The routine staff that the pageants have. The criteria that they follow. So yeah, I became the finalist. When I actually got into it, there were such amazing women out there. I was like, “Oh my God. I am a fresher, I cannot make it.” I just went into thinking that it is going to be a beautiful experience. I’m sure it was going to transform my life, it’s going to change a lot that I have in me. I am certainly going to learn something out of it. That’s the kind of mindset I had at that time.

Alice: Yeah. Oh my God, that’s wonderful. And you made it.

Yashika: I know. Quite surprising.

Alice: No. Amazing.

Yashika: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Alice: Yeah. Because I saw everything that you were doing before the pageant. And, like you were saying, beauty with a purpose. Can you talk a little bit about what you were up to with that? I think that’s so inspiring.

Yashika: Sure. Yeah, certainly. So Diadem, the organization in which I had participated strongly believes in spreading awareness related to menstruation. I don’t know if you are aware of it but in the country where I live, menstruation is like the “huge thing” out there. Women are not supposed to talk about it. It’s a big secret. Men shouldn’t know about it even if you’re menstruating. It’s kind of [inaudible] shameful manner. The moment you get here, you’re first feeling and first time when we get to know about it as girls. The first thing that we’ve been taught in our country is that it’s not a good thing. You’re supposed to hide it. There are huge taboos around it. Like, if you touch a pickle, if you touch a jar of pickles, it will explode.

Alice: What?

Yashika: Yeah. Oh, God. If I dare talk about the taboos that we have out here. A lot of things have changed over the period of time, but yeah. It’s still there. A lot of things. If you touch plants, they’ll die.

Alice: Oh my God.

Yashika: Yeah. People just have made it, even in religious and rural areas right now, they actually make women not to eat with them. Definitely, everywhere in India, I’m sure a lot of people follow it. They are not supposed to worship God during menstruation.

Alice: Wow.

Yashika: Yeah. It’s kind of weird because I think especially after becoming a mother. And you know, I have been a victim of PCOS as well if you have ever heard of it. I’m sure you must be knowing PCOS. It’s a disorder. It’s to do with hormones and stuff.

Alice: Yeah.

Yashika: I never got my periods on time and stuff. And then, I just realized that it’s such an important thing. When it is so important, how can it be such a shameful thing for a woman? All of these thoughts came to me for a very long time. I’ve been thinking about it. And when I got into Diadem they had been supporting this entire thing of removing all the taboos around it. Spreading of awareness because it wonders us. There are so many taboos. Women don’t actually come out and speak. That’s a very big problem. Because then they are not aware of a lot of things around it. They don’t know the basic hygiene that’s supposed to be maintained. They don’t know what they are supposed to do with the cramps that they get. The supplements that they can probably have or the yoga exercises that are there. Nobody talks about it because it’s such a shameful thing.

Alice: Yeah

Yashika: People are like, just bear it and just deal with it. It’s kind of really sad. This is why we have actually taken it up and we want to make a change. We want this entire thing to change.

Alice: Wow. That’s amazing. That’s what this podcast is about. It’s about giving voice to those things that we don’t talk about. Periods in America are still taboo. People aren’t talking about it. You’re not supposed to talk about it with your partner. It’s something that’s been more and more addressed. So, that’s amazing that you are able to do that.

Yashika: Yeah. I didn’t know in America as well it’s the same thing. I just thought that maybe my country is [inaudible]

Alice: No. It’s shameful. You’re not supposed to talk about it. We have the taboos like the moon causes your period or you can’t swim on your period. All of those can be addressed like the moon thing isn’t real at all. It’s a thing that we need to talk about. We need to speak about it. Because half of the world is experiencing this.

Yashika: Correct. And like I mentioned, because I was one of the victims of PCOS, I realized that it’s such an important thing. Something that is so important. It actually helps and supports you in bringing a life into existence. When you know it is so important, why do people not talk about it? Why are women made to feel it’s something bad that is happening to them? First of all, it’s not in our control. To begin with. Second, if it’s happening, it’s not a bad thing. It’s actually good for your body, for everyone to realize that it makes you a lot more woman. [inaudible]. We are actually working on it. I’ve been to a lot of remedials where I have been talking about it and trying to spread awareness related to menstrual hygiene. Wherever I can, I’m trying to distribute to the underprivileged. People who can’t actually afford pads, sanitary napkins. Sometimes we distribute those to them. Because currently there are so many options available in the market. Not just those sanitary napkins. You have tampons, you have so many other things right now but people are not afforded it.

In our country especially, people who can’t afford it, are still using cloth. We just don’t know how [inaudible]. In regards to hygiene and stuff like that. That causes a lot of issues. Yeah. Our aim is to actually change a lot of things around it.

Alice: Wow. That’s wonderful. I love what you said about “This is what creates life.” That’s so real. With you having a baby, it just kind of emphasizes that and our need to talk about this.

Yashika: Absolutely. It’s very important.

Alice: Can you talk a little bit more about your city? I’d love to hear a little bit more about it. What’s your favorite part about it?

Yashika: My city is called, it’s Mumbai basically where I’m from. It’s Mumbai. It’s a very popular city in our country. Because it’s said it’s where dreams turn into reality. It’s a city where Bollywood lives like Hollywood, we have Bollywood out here. I don’t know if you know a couple of actors?

Alice: Yes

Yashika: You do?

Alice: Yeah

Yashika: Yeah? Anyone, you can name?

Alice: Priyanka Chopra

Yashika: Oh yes, yes. She is a big name.

Alice: Who was also Miss India.

Yashika: Yes yes. She was Miss World in fact.

Alice: Oh, Miss World? Okay

Yashika: Yeah. It all originates from the city. It’s got a lot of tourist places. I would say the city where I live, is one of the most planned and the cleanest cities in our country.

Alice: Wow

Yashika: Yeah. It’s very nice. There is a lot of greenery around. It’s not too noisy. It’s pretty.

Alice: Oh, that’s good.

Yashika: Yeah. People call it pretty residential. We have one of the biggest malls and all of that. Things are pretty accessible and we have a lot of corporate hubs. I would love to name places, but I don’t know how much you’d actually remember.

Alice: Oh no. Please, tell me more.

Yashika: Yeah. We have Gateway of India out there that people love to see. We have, I would like to name all the shopping hubs that we have [inaudible] is in Bandra and quite popular. South Mumbai is really popular. Where I am from is Navi Mumbai. It’s like an extended version of Mumbai. Multiple tourist destinations. If you ever think of coming out here, I would love to host you.

Alice: Yes. I would love to visit India someday.

Yashika: Beautiful. It’s beautiful. I don’t know if it’s a good thing to say. But in our country, it’s one of the safest cities I would say. Because, people you’ll actually see roaming around even during midnight, at 1 AM, 2 AM,3 AM. We will not be that scared. We know our city is safe.

Alice: Oh, that’s great. That sounds like New York City.

Yashika: Yeah. I’m sure you’ll love it.

Alice: Yeah. Something we always ask on the podcast is, what is your definition of womanhood?

Yashika: I think womanhood is strength. For me, if i had to really choose one word, it’s just strength. The courage, the strength. The thing that we have in us, is amazing. As I mentioned, we can create a life. I think that’s not less than a miracle. I think womanhood should be more cherished in our country. We worship goddess Durga. We worship the goddess Shakti, Devi. The [inaudible] of the goddess is Shakti. Shakti means strength. We actually worship womanhood. We actually worship goddesses a lot in our country. That sometimes becomes a little contradictory. Because while we worship goddesses so much, women are not really treated that way in a few places, in a few parts of our country. That’s what we want to change. We are just hoping that we don’t really get into hypocrisy.

We don’t just worship gods, goddesses, and then on the other hand not treat women properly. That’s not the thing. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but we in India, believe a lot in spirituality, religion, culture, values. In fact, even I belong to a joint family which is quite rare in a lot of parts of the world, it’s something that is very rare I feel. There are 2 families living together. 2 brothers, and their families. I have a total of 7 members at my place. And we are very closely connected.

Alice: Wow

Yashika: Even if it’s about my husband’s sisters, we all live close by. We have multiple get together. So, yeah. It’s a country where we actually have so many, it’s famous for its diversity. Multiple languages, diversity of cultures, and so many things. It’s changing, it has come a long way. But I still feel there is a lot more to change. A lot can be done. Starting from the period taboo itself. I think a lot should change.

Alice: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Yashika: That’s what I feel truly about womanhood. It’s something that needs to be valued, appreciated much more. I have my mother-in-law and another, my uncle’s wife. They are housewives. When I look at them working I feel, “Oh my God, there is so much I have in life and do not appreciate it.” Sometimes you just take women for granted. It’s like you just have to do it. I come across people telling me, “You’re so lucky your husband helps you with diaper changing, cleaning your room, and stuff.” And I’m like, it does not make me lucky. Probably I just found the right guy.

Alice: Yeah. He needs to do that.

Yashika: Exactly. So when I do it, it’s like, you’re a mother, you’re a woman, you’re supposed to do it. But when a guy does it, when a man does it, he just is supposed to probably celebrate it.

Alice: Worshipped. “Thank you.”

Yashika: Yeah. It’s like, “Wow being a man, you did it.” I think the entire old processes need to change because we all are, I am also a working professional. I’m working as a HR professional with Hindustan Unilever. If you know Hindustan as a brand, Unilever.

Alice: Yes.

Yashika: I work for Hindustan Unilever as a HR professional. It’s a lot of things that i have to manage. I don’t think anybody appreciates me for that. People are just like, “Ok, fine you took it up.” But for my husband, if he goes to work and he comes back and he’s helping me out, people are like “Wow. You’re so lucky.” so that has to change.

Alice: Wow. Yeah. Well, It sounds like you’re doing a lot to start to change all of that with this idea of strength and your idea of strength to just even start going to a pageant. To start making those changes. To talk about menstruation. That’s amazing, Yashika.

Yashika: Thank you so much, Alice.

Alice: Another question I have is, do you have advice for your younger self?

Yashika: Oh yes. I would say that that’s also a very common pageant question. So I’m very ready to answer.

Alice: Perfect.

Yashika: I think the only advice I would like to give to my younger self would be, to take life a little more casually and not too seriously because I have been just thinking about it since the time like what I mentioned, I started off very early. I have never been into hanging out with friends, bunking my lectures, putting those proxies of going around. I haven’t done all of that. Now when I look back, I just feel I cannot do that again. Why didn’t I do it earlier? Those small things, where you have to live the moment and not stress yourself out, not overthink. I think those are some of the things I would love to tell my younger self. Just take things a little lighter and don’t overburden yourself.

Alice: Yes. I think i need that advice as well.

Yashika: Yeah, of course. I am sure you don’t know about it, but 3 years back, I had surgery on my ankle[?]. [inaudible] there was just a tumor found. It was a bit painful tumor but thankfully, not cancerous. That’s when I realized a lot of things that actually changed my entire definition of beauty as well. I just felt, having all your organs functioning and in place is beautiful in itself. It’s a blessing. Because you become so dependent and for people who are victims of various types of cancers and tumors, and all of that. You just feel so bad because you have not done anything to face all of that. You just end up feeling bad. That time, I actually realized when I was in bed most of the time, thinking, why am I here and what wrong did I do? I realized that you just don’t know what’s there for you tomorrow which is why it’s very important to again, not stress yourself and overburden yourself. Just enjoy and stay happily. Just live and let live.

Alice: Yes. Oh, that’s nice. Live and let live.

Yashika: Yeah. That’s so important. Be happy.

Alice: Yeah. I think that’s most important. Especially, after this year. Be happy.

Yashika: Yeah and just be content. I think that’s more important as well. It’s important to be content. Unless you have that level of contentment in you, unless you aren’t satisfied with everything, you’ll never be happy. That’s all connected. While you always strive to do better, strive to do the best, find good things, and get the best opportunities. Definitely, you should have that trigger in you. Having said all of that, you should also cherish and celebrate all the milestones in your life.

Alice: Yeah, that’s awesome. You have some more milestones to go. You had a baby this year, you are a pageant winner, and then you’re going for Mrs. India. What’s next for you Yashika?

Yashika: I really don’t know now. It’s [inaudible] Mrs. India has put me into so much thinking. I was just telling my husband. I was also a student in fact. I’m also studying psychology.

Alice: What? That’s amazing.

Yashika: As I told you, I just sometimes take up so many things. I didn’t know pageant is going to happen so I just thought, why not study? Because I’ve always had this inclination towards psychology. It kind of makes me think of how others think and why people have different personalities. Probably I can help someday, somebody. Or change their lives. With that thought process, I got into it. So, I’m also studying. Now I have a pageant. I don’t know what’s next.

Alice: Wow. You have so much going on. A true renaissance woman.

Yashika: Yeah. I do a lot of things.

Alice: Yashika, is there anything else you’d love to add to our listeners today?

Yashika: I think I’ve already spoken so much but something that I would love to tell everyone is that, live every moment with no regret. That’s another very important thing that I feel. You take your own decisions very wisely. Now that you know, you just take it. You’ll be accountable for what you are doing. Stay happy. People ask me questions related to feminism. I personally feel, feminism, has become such a big thing right now. It’s nothing that a woman is asking for. It’s just equality. It’s where you treat both genders equally. I’ve given a few examples during this entire conversation where they are still not being treated equally. That’s something that hurts. Why are we as humans, as men around or as anyone else, I think equality is something that we all should try to bring about in our society. Not just gender. Be it race, religion, or anything and everything. I think equality will make life a lot better.

Alice: Yeah. That’s wonderful. Thank you for leaving us with that.

Yashika: Thank you so much.

Alice: Amazing that you are striving to change that.

Yashika: Yes. I hope I end up making some difference.

Alice: Yes. It was amazing to get to talk to you today Yashika.

Yashika: Thank you, Alice. Likewise. I’ve really been looking forward to connecting with you. In fact, I would like to listen a few things from you about the jubilance as well. Through which we actually got connected.

Alice: Oh yes.

Yashika: I would love to hear from you.

Alice: Yeah. Jubilance is a supplement that helps with the emotional side of PMS. Anxiety, stress, irritability and gloominess. It helps in about 80% of women. It helps them reduce those symptoms by 50%. You can really tell about it during the month. I actually started taking it when I was in college because I had such bad PMS.

Yashika: It’s a real problem.

Alice: Yes. It was really terrible. It just happened that 1 week a month and I would feel crazy. So, jubilance is a new supplement that is there to help women because there isn’t really a solution to those emotional problems. This is a new supplement that can help women, that single week of the month. So you can feel more like yourself.

Yashika: Right. That’s so important. I am so happy that at least someone thought about it. It is something that most people wouldn’t think of.

Alice: I know. It seems like women health is so behind in our study habit. Which is crazy. It seems like, if this was a men’s issue, it would have been sorted out a million years ago.

Yashika: Yes. Really.

Alice: It can be part of the conversation now.

Yashika: Correct. It’s important. You know, that’s how it is. Even if a woman is struggling. We just let her struggle and that needs to change because she shouldn’t be struggling. We should be handheld her. We should help her. We should let her get a little more relaxed and probably not really face so many challenges. Even when I look at women, struggling with their work and stuff like that, I just feel, why don’t you ask for help? Why don’t people help you? Why is it that everything has to be done by the woman of the house.

Alice: Yes. And it’s such a taboo to ask for that help. Or to acknowledge that this is even happening. It was really hard for me to say even the word period when I was growing up but now I work for a company where we’re like “Menstruation”. It’s good to be able to have this voice and to hear from you about these taboos and how we can start to change that by just talking about it.

Yashika: Absolutely. I just hope a lot of people get to hear us, listen to us and that actually brings about a change.

Alice: Yeah. Thank you so much for being on today Yashika.

Yashika: Thank you so much. Really, Alice, it’s been wonderful talking to you.

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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