India Fellows Empowers This Young Woman to Break Free from Societal Norms

Kerala is well-known for its rich culture, scenic landscapes, and mouth-watering food. However, the state is also famous for having the highest literacy rates in the country. Reports suggest that 96% of men are educated and so are 91% of women.

Meet Sanjana Jayakrishnan who grew up all her life in this surreal state. She is proud to be raised in Kerala not only for its beauty and literacy rates but also for its matrilineal culture. 

She says, “Our culture has been progressive over hundreds of decades and our families practice a matrilineal culture that shows immense respect towards women. Matrilineage prioritizes women over men and the inheritance/property is passed down a mother’s lineage. While growing up I believed that I was untouched by patriarchy and so was the state.” 

Despite living in a progressive state, Sanjana found herself in several situations where she wondered ‘how did being a girl make her different?’ Some of these situations include playing a sport that was not popular among women and choosing clothes that were termed inappropriate among others. 

Limited by society 

After completing her education, Sanjana entered the corporate world to begin her professional journey. A few years into the job, she met new people and was exposed to multiple opportunities. This made her realize that the opportunities she was provided with were limited because of social conditioning. 

Sanjana says, “I found myself asking questions like, what am I doing with my life? What value am I creating, and who am I creating it for?"

Around the same time, she was inspired by the social sector but had no clue about how to navigate through that space. But the compassion she had to create social change led Sanjana to quit her job and join India Fellow – a fellowship for young Indians willing to work at the grassroots. 

The objective behind India Fellow is to create a platform for young Indians, engage them in nation-building, and find their leadership potential. For the same, fellows are made to undergo an 18-month-long journey which includes training, mentorship, reflections, and hands-on work experience with a grassroots organization working on various social issues.

A shining future

During the fellowship, Sanjana worked with Chaitanya, an NGO working towards the economic empowerment of over 1,25,000 rural women in central India. Spending several days on the ground, she interacted with women from the poorest regions of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. She tried to understand their perspective of empowerment and potentially alter their worldly views of life. 

Sanjana working at the grassroots level. 

Sanjana was financially supported with a stipend to take care of her living expenses and food. According to India Fellow’s website, the program is designed sensitively so that all key stakeholders – fellow, host, and team members take part in it to keep the program thriving.'

After completing her fellowship, Sanjana was left with a holistic understanding of the sector and crucial skills to become a leader. Further, she co-founded WISE - a nonprofit with modern approaches and traditional values that align to revive the power of rural women’s collectives. 

Sanjana says, “I supported projects for several nonprofits working in the domain of livelihood, health, education, and skilling, impacting lakhs of lives. Today, I'm strengthening my practical experience with theoretical knowledge by studying a course on public policy at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.”

Today, looking back, Sanjana realizes how far she has come and how much she has changed. The only word to describe her journey is ‘Liberated’. She feels liberated from the shackles of societal norms and the monochromic ways of mainstream life. 

One leap of faith gave Sanjana a gateway into opportunities, exposure to various cultures, and access to a network of like-minded people, who probed her to dig deeper and explore herself. 



Roshini Muthukumar

Roshini Muthukumar, a native of Chennai, started her career as a content writer but made a switch to journalism to pursue her passion. She has experience writing about human interest stories, innovative technology, entrepreneurs, research blogs, and more. Previously, Roshini has done internships with The Hindu, Metroplus and worked as a correspondent with The Better India.