Radhika Sachdeva, Founder and President at Childrenwise, India: Undoubtedly, if we all raise our voices, harmful cultural practices will be discontinued.

“I also believe that even though there are some setbacks in the culture, it is important to not cover it but, face the thing, and make a change instead of just covering it. A lot of times what happens is people just don’t talk bad about the things that are happening because they don’t want to bring up the bad things about their culture. I think talking about the same thing, addressing it, changing it is something that can take our culture forward.”

Radhika Sachdeva is a charismatic leader driven by her vision and passion to take initiative and make a difference in the lives of others. She is the Founder and President of Childrenwise, an organization that focuses mainly on catering for children through education and nutrition programs among others, as well as, founder of Empower and Ace which is tailored to teaching languages like English, Japanese, French through virtual workshops. In addition, to her humanitarian work, she is also a student juggling life as a human resource intern while pursuing a degree in Business Administration.

I had the chance to interact with her and she shared her insights on the beauty of Indian culture and the setbacks that stand out in her community in the present time.

What do you find interesting about learning different languages and getting to know about lots of different cultures? What’s your favorite thing about that?

When we get to know how different people live their lives, that is something that fascinates me a lot. I’m like “oh, I never thought that that is one of the ways to do this thing”, or “I didn’t know that this is also something you can make out of this.”  It’s like in India, we have …… bread, but in France, they have baguettes. The Indian bread is soft even on the outside, and the baguette is crispy on the outside and softer on the inside. So, you know, knowing about different things and knowing their preferences, what beliefs they have.

It is more of a curiosity thing that I want to know more and more. And the best part about the same thing is just meeting new people, meeting new friends, you know, this is also the best part about this interview that I get to meet you and we get to talk to each other, get to know each other. These are the things that I love so much about this.

Is culture shock something you’ve ever experienced, because your work involves working with different people, is that something you’ve had to deal with?

Yes, we have look at how this person is behaving and adjust accordingly. But at the same time, it can teach you a lot of new things and you’re able to make more informed decisions like when you know people of Chinese culture behave, while interacting with them you’d know how you how you can expect this person to behave, how their customs are, and how you can shape yourself in such a way that this person is comfortable while I’m working with them. This also teaches us new ways of being. It teaches you a lot of new things and I really love that.

What do you think are the most interesting things about your culture? Something that makes you very proud of your culture?

Everything about Indian culture is something to be proud of because at the end of the day, it is who we are. I really love the diversity in language, we have thousands of languages in India. We are born in a multi-language country where we have to know different languages. For example; I understand Punjabi, Persian. The best part about Indian culture is the diversity in food, in clothes and languages. In every single state, we have different types of cuisines, and it is so delicious. If you ask me, I don’t know all the cuisines in India, I don’t know all the languages, even my own country is a mystery for me. And I think I cannot explore it all in this one lifetime and I think that is the best thing.

What setbacks do you think are existing within culture at this point in time?

I’ll speak about Asian countries, it is the obsession with light skin. I do not understand this obsession. We are all very unique and if everybody is the same, then there is nothing unique that’ll set us apart from others. I don’t understand this obsession, first of all, why don’t we just see each other as humans; and it’s just a skin color, it doesn’t matter. There is also this obsession with pretty people, there is pretty privilege. These are some hinderances in my culture.

 Even though, now it’s changing since it also depends on what area/community. Like in my community, even if I show up in a short dress, it is completely fine, but in other communities, if I show up in a short dress, it’s literally like I am asking for it. And you know, there is victim blaming, saying it is a girl’s fault. And even today, it is believed that if rape happens, then it is from both sides, not one side.  I mean who asks for it? If somebody asks for it, then it is definitely not rape, it is ruled out as consensual sex. So, these are some hinderances that I feel are existing because of the patriarchy and I’m also a feminist that believes in equal rights. I have to mention it all the time because people take it as toxic feminism and pseudo feminism and I’m just like sick of it. It is just equality!

There are also some practices like there is this thing in Hindu religion which is called being a “manglik”. Manglik is a person believed to have strong influence of planet Saturn and because of the strong influence of planet Saturn on this person, if a man marries a “manglik” female, then the man will die. So, in order to stop this, they get this “manglik” female to marry a tree so that her first husband is a tree and the tree dies instead; and the second marriage, she can get married to a man. It is straight humiliation of the female.

There is also FGM(female genital mutilation) practice that happens in one of the communities here in India, it is very disheartening because you’re just taking away something that you don’t have a right to do. it is the girl’s body, even if she is a small child or you have the custody of that child, you have the guardianship of that child, it doesn’t give you the permission to just invade her sexuality.

These are some of the hindrances that I think are there and we need to talk more about it, so that we can bring a change and let the people know that these are not okay, instead of just hiding it, closing the door, throwing away the keys, that’s something that’s not going to change, that is only going to motivate these people to do more. Because they’re going to think that nobody is there to hold them accountable so they’re just going to do more and more of it.

 This practice is now banned but many years back there was this practice which was called “sati” . what used to happen was if a woman’s husband died, the woman was burned alive with the husband’s body. This was a practice that used to happen many years ago, long before the British came to rule. Even when I think about it, how were people okay with this? A live human being burned with their husband’s body, how were people okay with that? If a woman died, nothing would’ve to happen to her husband. It’s now banned, it is now okay, but I’m still questioning how were people okay with this?  

If there are young people thinking that these hindrances are too big for them to make an impact, what advice would you have for that person?

So, the advice would remain the same, no matter how small your voice is, you have to speak up because maybe you’re a role model for someone and if you’re going to speak up that can motivate the other person to speak up as well. Maybe there is someone who this thing is happening to that is within your own family or within your own community, and you need to speak up for them, so that they can also speak up for themselves. And if everybody is going to speak up about these things by getting motivated by each other. And if everybody is going to speak up, we’re going to have people who are against this practice and you know, a practice becomes a practice when it is widely accepted by people, and when it stops being accepted by people, then it will be discontinued. For example, the controversial farm bill, farmers were protesting it for a year almost because they didn’t want it and at the end of the day the bill was withdrawn because it was not widely accepted by the farmers. So, if we are going to raise our voice, many people are going to raise their voice with us and we can stop a practice, because it is going to be something that we do not appreciate.

 In addition to this enlightening conversation about Indian culture, Radhika also shared the story of her journey from being an intrigued 10 year old that enjoyed teaching kids in her neighborhood how to read and write their names to running a full time humanitarian organization that has over 2000 beneficiaries and is registering centers in regions across the country. You can listen to her story via the audio. 

A message to the readers: "... anyone can start an organization, anyone can start from zero. you just need knowledge, networks and you're good to go. The thing is we're scared of taking the first step, the future is uncertain but if you do not take the first step, there is no future. so, the most difficult part is taking the step, after you take the step, then everything is going to be alright." - Radhika Sachdeva