It was October last year when Anoushka Jolly — a 14-year-old from Gurugram — walked into the studio at Film City, Mumbai, to a room full of ‘sharks’ awaiting her pitch.
Reliving the moment, the ninth grader says that the jitters she felt before stepping into the room evaporated as soon as she sensed the judges’ interest in her project.
The pitch in question centred around an app called ‘Kavach’, which she explains would simplify the process for students and parents to report instances of bullying in school and have them addressed at the earliest.
Not only did Anoushka walk out of the room that day with a valuation of Rs 50 lakh, but she says that she created a wonderful network that held her in good stead in the months to come.
When she isn’t juggling her time between the usual school curriculum at Pathways School, she is focused on giving sessions to students across India and touching upon subjects such as bullying and mental health. And the rest of the time, it is Kavach that gets the attention.
Ask her why she does what she does and she has her answer ready — “personal experience”.
‘I was a victim of bullying’
The idea to come up with a system to tackle bullying stemmed from the angst that Anoushka felt from a very young age.
“When I was in the Class 3, I was bullied by my closest friends. It started in small but noticeable ways. I was forced to clear their plates after lunch and made fun of for my unconventional looks, my curious nature, and simply for being different. I would feel left out,” she recounts.
These acts of unkindness were often followed by waves of sadness, anger, hopelessness, and a drop in Anoushka’s self-esteem. When her innocent mind couldn’t quite grasp why she was feeling these emotions, she decided to speak about it to her parents.
“They’d always encouraged me to come to them with anything I was going through. So, when I told them about the happenings at school, they alerted me at once to the fact that this was bullying,” she says.
Together, the family came up with a plan.
The next day at school, when the kids asked Anoushka to clear their plates after breakfast, she started to obey them. But on her way to the sink, stopped short, looked them in the eye and said, “Let’s clear our own plates from now.”
The bullies were taken by surprise at this retort.
Slowly but steadily, Anoushka says, things got better. “It was a matter of standing up to them. They were surprised that the same girl who had bent to their will all along now said ‘NO’.”
But while the bullying ceased, the unease Anoushka felt did not. In time, this culminated into an idea that took her right to the sets of the business reality television series — ‘Shark Tank’.
And in October 2021, Anoushka walked in to present an idea that she says was “a game-changer.”
An idea, a pitch, and the start of a business
Recounting how the Shark Tank opportunity presented itself, Anoushka says it was unexpected. “When I saw an ad in July 2021 calling those interested to appear for auditions, I was reluctant since I was just a student.”
However, she never liked letting an opportunity get out of hand, so she decided to go headlong into it. She says, “Following the first round of online forms and the second interview round in Delhi, my pitch was accepted and I received a call to present it in Mumbai.”
Anoushka says, “Kavach, for me, was a dream that I wanted to turn into reality. I explained to the judges that I wanted the app to be a kind of mechanism through which bullying could be monitored on a real-time basis in schools. When cases of bullying are reported by students or their parents, the school will be able to view the data on a dashboard. This is meant to give schools a holistic idea about the metrics of bullying and how it can be tackled.”
Following her pitch, Anoushka received applause, adulation, and a handsome valuation. This fuelled her zeal to continue the awareness-based work she had been engaged in since 2019.
‘The journey has one goal: to eliminate bullying’
Following the episode of being bullied, Anoushka decided to share her experience with other students and spread awareness about the topic. In class 5, she began making her way to schools across India and conducting sessions on bullying and mental health.
Anoushka says that the duration of each session is an hour. She adds, “I start by sharing my Class 3 experience and then move on to advising students on ways they can tackle these issues. I give them practical situations and highlight how they can find their way out of these.”
Students not only benefit from the awareness modules but also from practical activities.
“When it comes to mental health, it is a broad topic and so it’s best explained with activities,” says Anoushka, adding that these activities include chart making, role plays, etc.
She further says that the content of each session is tailored to the age group she is addressing. “Some sessions are aimed at primary school students from Class 3 to 5, while others are for students from class 6 to 8. The examples that I cite in each of these sessions vary,” she says.
For instance, Anoushka explains that older students can be spoken to about suicide and mental health issues, but for the younger ones, you can’t just jump into these topics.
“In their case, the sessions focus more on what is bullying, how to identify if you are being bullied, what is mental health, how to know if you are not feeling okay, how the two are linked, etc,” she says.
An important emphasis in every session is laid on empathy.
“I feel the world would be a better place if we were sensitised to the plight of others,” she says, adding that she often hears back from students and parents months after a session telling her that it helped them in some way or the other, and it gives her a sense of fulfilment.
Class 8 student Shubham from St Giri Senior Secondary School, Delhi, where Anoushka recently took a session, says he and his friends learnt a great deal.
“Many students from my batch shared their incidents about experiencing bullying and we learnt from each other. We found it really amazing that Anoushka has created an anti-bullying app all by herself that will help students get help,” he says.
Another student — Savi Kaushik — says her takeaway from the session would be the dangers of cyberbullying. “I got to know how we can stay protected while working on internet sites, how to have safe passwords, opening safe links, etc.”
But while Anoushka’s sessions have been a hit, she says there is a long way to go before the goal is achieved.
“Until we manage to eradicate bullying completely, I’d say follow the three-step approach I learnt — seek help, work on building your self-esteem, and surround yourself with people who hype you up.”
Edited by Pranita Bhat
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