Megha Sharma Bhagat Helps Underprivileged Girls Defy Gravity And Fulfill Their Dreams
- IWB Post
- July 11, 2018
The co-founder of Project Defy, Megha Sharma Bhagat is the Fairy Godmother that every woman in India needs. Her goal – to help young girls live their dreams.
Megha, a young and passionate human rights lawyer, took it upon herself to guide young women to embark on their adventures with Project Defy’s latest initiative, the Waking Dreams Fellowship. Megha envisions a world where financial burden does not become a hurdle in the life of women and the things they could have accomplished.
I quickly muse to myself that Megha is sort of like Gandalf, a wizard knocking at your door, ready to take you off on an adventure of a lifetime.
Let’s begin from the beginning. What was your childhood like?
I come from an army background. I experienced the life of a typical army brat, often traveling and changing schools. I was, in theory, raised in an open environment, where I had access to all the best resources. However, the traditional thinking of my parents made my situation quite conflicted. I lived in a paradox, where I had all the exposure, but I was tied down by the constraints of conservative ideas and patriarchy.
And therefore, I struggled a bit with self-doubt and had to fight to make my own choices as a young woman.
What was your career aspiration as a child? Did you end up fulfilling it?
I was in 9th grade when I realized that I wanted to be a lawyer. But making that decision and acting on it was a battle for me. My father had wanted me to become a doctor, and therefore, I ended up, quite unhappily, taking up Science in 11th and 12th grade. After two years of flunking in exams, my dad finally realized that I wasn’t meant to be a doctor and I enrolled in law school.
But even now my fight wasn’t over. At college, I knew I wanted to specialize in Human Rights Law but because I was probably the only one opting for this choice, the university opposed. They thought of it as a waste of their resources. However, I knew what I wanted to do, and I didn’t give up. I fought the system and specialized in Human Rights.
How did you end up starting Project Defy?
Project Defy began in 2014 after I came back from the United States, where I was chosen as a Masters Social Innovation Fellow. I came back to India and met Abhijeet, the co-founder of Defy. He and I were both passionate about the idea of choice based learning, and we both shared our frustration with the current education system. Therefore, when Abhijeet came up with the idea of Project Defy, I ended up investing and joining as the co-founder.
Was your work inspired by a personal experience in life?
Oh, I think all our choices are an accumulation of personal experiences that led us here. Our choices define us, and I was sick of other people making those decisions. As a woman, we are always told what to do and what not to do. I was tired of men being the naysayers. And therefore, I took matters into my own hands and fought for my choice to study Human Rights.
But I also realized that I was still privileged. I had had the best education, the best opportunities, and the access to fulfill all my needs. But there are women out there who have none of this and are doubly oppressed by our system. And it is for them that I thought that Project Defy was worth working on.
Who is your female role model?
(Chuckles) I think this is a fascinating question for me. Because I don’t have one.
Why is that?
Because the only person that I want to look up to is the one I see in the mirror every morning. I don’t believe in putting others on a pedestal. I believe that it is our duty to inspire ourselves.
That’s an amazing way to look at things. Speaking of inspiration, tell us more about the Waking Dreams Fellowship and what you hope to accomplish with it?
The idea for the Fellowship began when I took 500 girls from marginalized areas in Bangalore to watch a movie called Poorna, about a young girl who climbed Mount Everest. After the movie ended, when I discussed the movie with the girls, they all were inspired and motivated. And some of them said that if they had had the money and support, they could also have accomplished something similar.
That thought stuck with me, and I realized that what stopped women from achieving was a lack of opportunities and resources. So the idea of the Waking Dream Fellowship was born, where we asked the girls what they would want to do, to share one crazy dream they had, so we could provide them with the support to fulfill it in the next one year.
One of our girls wants to learn the violin because she intends to perform a musical about the lives of Indian widows. What a beautiful dream, things that sometimes even you and I are incapable of thinking of. Therefore, we have taken it upon ourselves to raise 1.2 lacs for each of our girls, so that nothing comes in the way of them and their crazy dreams.
Have you ever struggled with gender discrimination and sexism in your professional life?
Absolutely. Everywhere that I have worked, everyone that I have worked with were all instrumental in spreading sexism of one kind or another. I was judged for the way I dressed, the way I look. People comment on how I don’t talk or dress like a person working for an NGO should. Honestly, after countless instances of casual sexism, discrimination or mansplaining, you just have to learn to tune it out, and that’s what I do.
You’re helping so many young women accomplish their crazy dreams. But what about yours? What dreams do you have?
Oh, that’s a great question.
My crazy dream is to write a book. I want to pen down all my life experiences and all that I have learned from them.
Another dream is to finally find a man, who understands what equity means, as opposed to equality. But I think that that dream is not any closer to being fulfilled (laughs). I think that’s the dream I’ll die with.
First published on Aug 24, 2017.