Meet the Durgas
Priya is the Lead for Gender Justice and Persons with Disabilities Clusters within The Azim Premji Philanthropy.
Priya has worked with The Philanthropy for over four years now in various capacities – Finance, Programmes, Portfolio Lead and now Cluster Lead for two of the largest clusters.
A Chartered Accountant by Profession, Priya has spent the first few years of her career at Deloitte, EY and Infosys. She has also worked as a Financial Analyst in one of the start-ups of Nadathur Holdings. She soon realised that she has more interest in development issues and spent about 10 years with the British Government in India, working on Healthcare and Life Sciences as a National Lead.
Priya holds deep empathy and connects with the vulnerable particularly with women and girls who are survivors of gender-based violence and abuse.
An avid reader of the different waves of Feminism the world has seen, student of a Masters in Gender and Women's Studies, TEDx Speaker and traveller, Priya tries to learn Carnatic music (intermittently) in her spare time. She feels she is able to follow every dream purely because of her dedicated fitness walks, exercise and the Universal Energy – Reiki!
Dr Shanthi Varadarajan holds a doctorate in communicative English and is a Retd Professor& Head of the Dept of English, RBANM’s First Grade College. She has gone beyond the walls of her classroom to work in various capacities in the college such as women welfare adviser, coordinator for NAAC visits in college, editor of the college magazine, UGC Add-on course coordinator, syllabus designer for communicative English, Chief examiner, paper setter and reviewer in Bangalore University etc, thus contributing value to her work through her empathetic, indulgent personality that has been widely acknowledged in her close academic circles.
While maintaining a good emotional rapport with her students, she urged them to stretch beyond the literature to explore real-world social issues, examine the underlying politics intertwined and experiment innovative hypothetical methods, thus enabling them to experience the true philosophy of life.
Being a central figure in several activities gave her opportunities to interact with a diverse set of people, essentially girls from the economically underprivileged strata of society, most of them being first-generation learners who constantly encounter inconceivable challenges like drunken dads, mothers working as household maids to educate them, truant brothers, societal and familial compulsion to drop out of college because of economic reasons. As intriguing and baffling as they may have been, Dr Shanthi realised that drastic measures needed to be taken to break their shackles and to emblaze new trails to strike a major transformation. Her endless discussions and encouragement contributed in a small manner, but it was an arrow in the dark and it left her wondering HOW WHAT and WHO would stand up in the vanguard to combat these struggles with the strength it demanded.
Answers to some heart-wrenching questions arise mystically in life and Dr Shanthi found hers in the form of DURGA, in the form of her daughter, Priya. In her she sees a manifold, ‘Vishwa Roopa’ externalization of all her societal women-centric commitments and in her, she sees the conviction driven spirit that transformation demands. Dr Shanthi accepted her role in Durga with both her hands and is now an integral part of the movement.
Uma Sudhindra is an entrepreneur, writer & an analyst in political science & international relations. With 16 years of corporate experience in human resources and 11 years as an entrepreneur, she has constantly worked on researching & understanding issues pertaining to democracy, use of technology for better processes in organizational governance (be it corporates, political or education) and entrepreneurship for the youth.
She runs a travel & tourism company, Go Magic Trails, that focuses on niche areas like military tourism, sports tourism and heritage holidays. They conduct tourism-related events in unusual places in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland & Tripura.
Besides her work with Durga, she is associated with an Ex-Service Men organization and helps in providing skill building for retired defence personnel and their families. Uma has been part of three think tanks that work on issues & policies pertaining to national security.
A regular speaker & faculty at various educational institutions, Uma is also on the Board of Governors for Indian Institute of Management, Visakhapatnam. She has been involved with youth awareness programs & guides certain social engineering groups that empower the youth to get involved in local governance.
Meenakshi has been an integral part of Durga from the first session she attended in 2013! And this relationship has culminated in how Meenakshi thinks, ideates, creates, voices, argues, pushes, pulls, negotiates and even pleads! She has grown with Durga and now wears many hats in the organisation. From leading corporate workshops as a facilitator to managing programmes deliverables to sitting on POSH committees to maintaining relations with government and quasi-government agencies, Meenakshi covers them all in her stride.
Meenakshi is a person with many facets that come to the fore depending on who is interacting with her. She is an avid reader, listens to every genre of music and enjoys cooking as a stress-buster. She loves the play of energies and helps people balance their energies through Reiki (The Universal Energy). She is a Grand Master and teaches Reiki too to interested people. Crystal healing, Angel Therapy and Redikall therapy are the other healing modalities she practices. She has published a book of short stories and writes poetry, articles and posts on any topic she fancies. She loves observing people and is deeply curious about the workings of human emotions and spends her writing trying to capture those various essences. Meenakshi has been volunteering for the Spastics Society of Karnataka for over 6 years now and enjoys her days in the school on activities that delight her! And in her aim to help the handloom sector, she also runs a small enterprise called Ishtar.
Architect of Safe Spaces
Every woman and girl wants a space which is safe, non- judgmental and lets her be herself. Monika’s dream is to create that space within campuses and in public spaces. Along with the team, she strives towards fulfilling her dream. Monika is a second-generation Durga and had anchored the first generation of ‘VOICE labs’.
Durga and Monika have journeyed half a decade together which makes it a very special bond for her. “Durga has shown me a way of life. We had our shares of adventure and fun in these years. We always have each other back. With her, every day is meaningful and learning,” says Monika.
Monika writes blogs, poems, and stories as writing has been her go-to hobby. Anything with knowledge excites her; so, she is either reading or attending a course. Other than being a Durga, she is a teaching buddy to children in the age group of 15-18 who are stressed most of the time. She helps them, stands by them as a friend and mentor.
Thejaswini is an engagement catalyst for positive reinforcement of women’s safety in adolescent children and women from vulnerable backgrounds. She hopes to create safety across various communities.
Earlier to this, Thejaswini has donned several hats at Durga during her 3+ years with the organisation. She has been the impact measurement officer - understood different aspects of women’s safety, the accountant - managed data, finance and handled accounts, the facilitator - engaged with bus drivers, conductors and depot staff in the effort to sensitize them and reinforce the need for their role in women safety as active bystanders. She has been part of news media, radio, and in conversations with social entrepreneurs for her work on women’s safety.
Thejaswini, an MBA graduate in HR & IT, had always wanted to be an HR person in corporate. But with her past experience as HR Recruiter, she realised her interest lies in interacting with people. That was what brought her to this field of work. She likes music and dance and encourages her kids to pursue their interests which are quite similar to hers. When not at Durga, one would find her engrossed in art activities.
Nagendra engages with college students to create gender equitable and safe colleges called 'VOICE labs' and mobilizes volunteers to convert street vendors into active Bystanders who can lookout for a woman in distress.
When not at Durga, you can find him at function and party halls. No, he won’t be partying there but would be collecting excess food to feed empty stomachs. Nagendra is a 'Hunger Hero'.
He’s a Mechanical Engineer by profession with a business development interest, possessing digital marketing skills and investing his time to build a better society. Due to his experience in the development sector, he has been able to develop 'Smart Stick', a product which helps blind people (patent-pending technology).
Nagendra also runs a few initiatives which work towards Sustainable Development Goals mainly SDG2 and SDG4. Through his thoughts, plans and actions, he strives to work towards the betterment of the society.
Fondly called as Raji, Rajyalaxmi deals with office Administration, Accounting & HR work. Her love for accounting and processes makes her strict about each and every transaction. She is the principal at Durga who makes sure that each employee follows organisation policies.
When not at Durga, you will find Raji at her home experimenting with new recipes, spending time with her kid and indulging in crafts. She enjoys making handmade accessories and decorative items.
Raji is a music lover and reads a lot of children's storybooks and articles.
Children’s thoughts, values and actions are the building blocks of the future. Abirami’s engagements are with children from various premises like schools, shelter homes, observation homes. Through these engagements, the children learn new-age life skills like empathy, respect, sensitivity, become equipped to take control of their safety and others’ and actively deter harassment. As a social worker by profession and passion, Abirami is the programme coordinator and one of the facilitators for this cluster of engagements at Durga.
Abirami leads a life driven by passion, trying to contribute to positive changes in society at each step.
She is a certified Scuba Diver, First Aid & CPR Provider and a marine conservation enthusiast, very keen on living an eco-friendly lifestyle. Her interest in travelling and adventure helps her explore different cultures and people. Being a motorcycle rider makes this exploration challenging and exciting. She also likes to try various dance forms from time to time. She is a proud NCC Cadet (National Cadet Corps), and gives credits to NCC for a large part of what she is now!
Vishala adds words to Durga’s actions. She anchors the fortnightly engagement - Durga Listens, a safe space where one can speak the unsaid and listen to the unheard.
After realising that IT is not where she belongs, Vishala changed gears and pursued her Masters in Communication at School of Communication, Manipal University following which she worked at Viacom18. She has 3 years of work experience as a screenplay writer and a brief experience as a digital features writer. She joined Durga with a desire to create an impact through her words in the social sector. The governing point of her decisions has been ‘Ikigai’, a Japanese concept of living.
When not at Durga, you’d find Vishala trekking hills and mountains, exploring quaint towns, conducting Travel and Mental Health Meetups with ‘We Are A Community’, reading short stories, writing some, and dreaming of becoming an author (someday).
Meet our Partners
Antara works with the learning and documentation team, her work involves close coordination with the programme teams at Durga.
Antara has been working passionately with women’s concerns for four years. She has been involved with women’s work in various capacities- academic research, community engagement in rural spaces, capacity building with stakeholders, social engagements with college-going students and communications and marketing of livelihood generating products developed by women from low-income background and persons with disability. As a college student, she has volunteered for different organizations working towards a safer city for women and girls and inclusivity of differently-abled people in Guwahati, Assam.
A sociology student for life, very inquisitive in nature, especially about the intersectionalities that affect women at various stages of her life. In her spare time, she loves to read, her favourite genre is literary nonfiction and fiction. When overwhelmed, her outlet is her canvas for she loves to paint. Antara identifies her spirit animal to be a dog and she hopes she can adopt one in her life. She loves to photograph nature and believes that there is a symbolic meaning to everything that one comes across in life and especially nature around us.
Sarah hails from a multicultural background, and brings with her 25 years of diverse professional experience spanning across the domains of aviation, tourism, training, public diplomacy/advocacy, outreach and writing. She has written 500 plus articles for various mainlines, regionals, and portals including for The Guardian, The Hindu, The Tribune, Deccan Herald, YourStory and others. Currently, she is helping NGOs and start-ups in the domain of outreach. At Durga, Sarah contributes as a consultant – scoping and outreach. She uses her voice against injustice of any kind – be it towards humans, animals, or/and the environment, and has worked with community radio stations at large. Besides this, Sarah paints in her leisure time and has published three anthologies of poems. She is also a Paul Harris Fellow.
Born in Kerala and raised in singara Chennai, Anugraha, in a career spanning over 7 years, has served as a Lead Systems Engineer with a corporate enterprise before taking on the responsibility of a Senior Content Producer in a broadcast media network. At Durga, Anugraha brings with her a good mix of experience in leading teams, liaising with clients, curating content, and building partnerships. A cup of strong tea or filter coffee is all she needs to get any task done. Apart from work, Anugraha likes to pen down her thoughts on how her experiences have moulded her. You'll find her scrolling the phone reading blogs or checking travel pages.
As one of the facilitators in the Building Blocks Team, Simi works effortlessly with participants of diverse age groups and equips each of them to grow beyond gender.
Through myriad hues of life experiences all day every day, some days when you hear the word Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot over the 122.925 MHz radio band Simi is the qualified aviatrix; some other days when you see her doffing her helmet and yelling Chapeau to a fellow rider, she is a skilled cycling addict; sometimes she is shaking the perfect martini and managing an establishment with orchestrated precision from her vantage point.
Then there are days you might see her playing roles ranging from carefree full belly laughter to intense non-glycerine-d tears at a film shoot.
But the best days are when she knows she has contributed to making a tiny shift in someone's life for the better. She strongly believes in the quote by Human Rights Activist, Waris Dirie, "What happens to the least of us, has an effect on all of us."
Margaret hopes for a world of Enlightened beings.
Margaret is the Youth Engagement Strategist and works with the VOICE team. She has been working in the field of Education and Youth for more than five years. Margaret believes that the youth plays a crucial role in building a society and bridging the gaps. This onus should be felt first and then acted upon. Keeping this in mind, Margaret has worked with more than 2000 individuals across India and Germany in building their capacities and redefining life skills.
Margaret's fascination with human behavior and the social impact gave her opportunities to work with varied NGOs working towards the holistic development of an individual. She is a self-taught juggler and music helps maintain the equilibrium in her life.