Pritam Potdar is an Asia Safe Abortion Partnership Youth Champion from India. As a regional coordinator for the nongovernmental organization SAMYAK located in the state of Maharashtra in western India, Pritam has coordinated several projects to promote gender equality among men and boys, and improve community-based sexual and reproductive health interventions for adolescent girls. Pritam is 25 years old.
The following is a recent interview with Pritam conducted by IWHC Program Officer Jessie Clyde.
Could you describe the community where you’re from?
I live in a small town, Saswad, situated in Pune, Maharashtra. It’s a historical place associated with the great warrior king Shivaji Maharaj. It is also well known for its archeological structures and temples.
I am the second daughter in my family and that’s why my parents and grandfather treated me as a boy. I used to dress up like a boy until I was 10 years of age and after that my school compelled me to wear a “girl’s uniform.” It was the first experience of my life where I realized that our society gives different treatment to girls and boys.
How did you become involved in advocating for sexual and reproductive rights for young people? What drew you to the movement?
In my adolescence I got connected with a group of activists who used to work with children, and that experience exposed me to various issues related to marginalized people. I also got in contact with MASUM, an organization based in my village working on women’s issues. I attended many workshops organized by MASUM and slowly started facilitating sessions with adolescent girls to give them information about reproductive health. MASUM gave me a feminist perspective.
I realized that every woman around me suffers from discrimination and it is normalized in their life; no one feels that it is a violation of their rights. I have seen many of my school friends drop out of school, families offering dowries with their daughters in marriage, women forced to continue their pregnancies until they have a son. At the same time, I was struggling with my own family about my choices and my ways of life and I realized that it is very difficult for women to live according to their choices.
I was not very passionate about working on women’s issues until it became a part of my own experience. When my family started opposing my work and banned me from going out of the house, when I experienced teasing in college, then I decided to devotedly work for women. All of it started with my own experience of discrimination and violation of my rights.
Can you tell us a bit about the organization you work with?
I am working with SAMYAK, an NGO based in Pune. SAMYAK is a communication and resource center on gender, masculinities, health, and development. Its vision is a gender-equitable, violence-free society that safeguards the human rights of all individuals, especially children and women, to lead fearless and meaningful lives. We use innovative communication strategies, materials, and programs to reach different groups in society, including men and children.
And can you tell us about your new project that came out of the Youth Champion workshop? Specifically, what are you hoping to accomplish or change?
We did a study with private, authorized abortion providers to see why they are denying services to women. Its aim was to understand the complex impact of anti-sex selection programs on access to safe abortion in western Maharashtra. The study revealed that many private medical practitioners are denying abortion services because of fear [of breaking the sex selection law].
We documented 12 case studies of women who were denied abortion services by authorized service providers. These studies reveal that due to the denial of abortion services, many women continued their unwanted pregnancies and some tried other ways to terminate and then faced many complications—which impacted their physical and mental health as well as their social and economic status.
We realized that this issue is getting more serious, and now private medical practitioners have stopped doing almost all second trimester abortions. On the basis on these findings we started to work with private medical practitioners, health activists, and the media to create a platform for all to come together and advocate with the government to separate anti-sex selection campaigns from access to safe abortion services. We have also initiated a hotline, on pilot basis. The hotline gives information to women about contraception and safe abortion, including contact details of safe service providers.
Can you tell us about any stories you’ve heard that have been useful in your advocacy?
I would like to share a story of a woman I met during our research. She belongs to a very poor, low caste family. Her husband works as a construction worker and she works as a domestic worker. Her eldest daughter, who is 12 years old, takes care of the house and siblings. Last March she got pregnant and realized it after two months. She went to a public hospital situated in her town and asked the doctor for an abortion. The doctor told her, “You already have six children, how can you be so careless? We don’t provide abortion services. People like you are responsible for the increase in the population.” After that she went to a private hospital but the doctor said it would cost 8,000 rupees, which was not possible for her. She went back home and discussed it with her husband. He didn’t take responsibility and told her to deal with the problem as he didn’t have time. After that she decided to continue the pregnancy. She said, “The doctor refused to do the abortion because I did not have money to give them. We are poor people, no one cares about us. They just want money. People like us don’t have other options—either we live with our problems or die because of them.”
During my research I met many women like her. All are different but the issue is the same: due to a lack of access to safe, affordable abortion services, many of them had to continue their unwanted pregnancies.
What is your greatest dream for your community or country?
I would like to see a discrimination-free and safe society where everyone—especially women—can enjoy their rights, and live according to their choices.