On a Friday morning of what should be a free day for students to unwind and recover from their Happy Thursday hangover, outgoing University Student Government (USG) President Pram Menghrajani sits on one of the benches in Gokongwei lobby, signing documents handed to her by a fellow USG officer.
As soon as he walks away, Pram turns and says, “Right now we (the USG) are not paperless. As you see, Yabut was showing me documents that I have to sign. That’s a lot of paper and it contributes to environmental deterioration.”
Pram is no stranger to advocacies. As USG President, she spends a considerable amount of her time lobbying for different proposals and changes within the University such as renovations of facilities, improvements in enrollment schedules, and representation in the Board of Trustees and Academics Council, among others.
Already nearing the conclusion of her term as USG President, Pram shares that the impending end gives her a mix of emotions. “I’m happy because I’m finally gonna be able to say that I’ve survived. At the same time, a bit…what do you call that feeling?” She pauses and ponders.
“You’re reminiscing and you’re trying to look back at the different challenges you’ve overcome. At the same time, certain challenges and shortcomings you’ve had as president and part of the USG in general.”
An adviser’s wisdom
For Pram, her journey as a student leader wasn’t just limited to the USG. “Being a Lasallian Ambassador officer (LAMB) is my passion. Orienting people, touring them around, that’s really my passion,” she explains.
She shares she has a certain hugot about being a LAMB officer because she was a transferee and missed her own LPEP. “I was sort of shy to approach certain people and ask them, ‘Where do I go? Where’s the USG? Where do I get a locker?’”
But the turning point was one instance in her LAMB training when her adviser, Ms. Christina, told her about the goals of LAMB. “She told us LAMB’s not for us to stay in for as long as we can. Instead, our goal should be to effect change in different organizations.” After that training, Pram realized for a fact that she can instill her knowledge from LAMB into the USG and effect greater change there.
A month after she got elected as USG Vice President for Internal Affairs in 2014, Pram left LAMB to pursue her future in the USG.
On feminism and fake Indian accents
“I am a no-nonsense type of woman. If you know the #StrongIndependentWoman on Twitter, I try my best to associate myself with it,” Pram says with conviction. “I’m in that point of my life wherein I’m just trying to discover what’s out there for me.”
Born to an Indian father and a Filipina mother, Pramela Dleep Menghrajani explains that in Indian culture, women have to change their first names when they get married. “We also can’t use our mother’s maiden name. Dleep is the first name of my dad. So, my name is Pramela, daughter of Dleep Menghrajani,” she elucidates.
She shares that for Indians in general, having your father’s name gives you status in the community. “It’s really patriarchal, which is why I love Philippine culture,” says Pram. She narrates her experience of going to a women’s conference in Denmark last May where the Philippines was really looked up to because, in the country, it is easier for women to break the glass ceiling in the workplace.
“In the Philippines, we don’t really have barriers in women in government, women in power. I’m happy because women can dream of achieving higher positions here when they grow up,” she notes. She also adds that married Hindu women cannot wear color anymore once their husband dies.
Nevertheless, Pram says she’s happy to have a feminist father who always encouraged her to go for whatever she wants. “Whenever he tells me, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ I remind him of what he told me about going for what I want. He and my mom supported me in my decisions, in whatever I wanted to happen. We are also training my brothers not to be chauvinistic because it’s just continuing the patriarchal society that we have in India.”
Pram also recalls the time she experienced being judged for being Indian. “I remember going to the market once when I was young and seeing some vendors go, ‘Ay, may bumbay!’ and whisper about me, things like that.” She explains, however, that she’s never experienced discrimination while studying in St. Scholastica, Ateneo, and then DLSU. “Of course my friends tease me from time to time, asking me if I cook and eat curry, but I don’t eat much of that,” she adds in jest.
Regardless, Pram mentions proudly that she pretends to have an Indian accent sometimes to fool people. “I think it’s a talent that not everyone knows!” Pram retells a story where she faked an Indian accent while introducing herself on the first day of PERSEF1. “Everyone was laughing like, [saying,] ’May bumbay tayo sa class, nanggaling talaga ng India!’”
Pram also notes that after that day in class, her classmates would make fun of her every time they’d see her around campus. “Pero they ended up campaigning for me for General Elections, so it’s pretty funny how that class started,” she recounts. From time to time I try to fool 115 people; some of them laugh, though sometimes they ask me if I’m really from India.”
3.0 out of 4.0
Pram says she’d give herself a 3.0 over a 4.0 in terms of performance as USG president.
“I’ve attended all the meetings that were called for; for times that I didn’t, I sent a rep and made sure there was a letter. I didn’t leave the country for anything personal as well; it was a sacrifice because I love traveling. I told myself I’ll only travel if it’s related to academics or USG,” she shares.
Pram also explains that she only gave herself a 3.0 because of the things they failed to secure. “We didn’t secure representation in the Board of Trustees and Academics Council.” Pram laments that those were the two of the many things she promised to fight for this year. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to win the vote for representation in the Academics Council because they were told they already have the Dean of Student Affairs. “As for Board of Trustees, we weren’t able to start talks with them because we were only in the research phase,” she adds.
Nevertheless, Pram says that she and her Executive Board can only stay in the USG for too long. “I feel like someone’s next, someone’s ready. Someone better could fight and lobby for more changes and improvements in the University.”
Pram also assures that the USG is good for next year. “We just need to collaborate with the students. The admin’s willing to listen and we have the money for it. We just need ideas, and the ideas come from the students.”
Wearing her green USG shirt and lanyard, the outgoing USG President shows no signs of slowing down. “I used to have all the time in the world. Now I’m excited for the free time.” Pram leans back in her seat and with a sheepish smile, says excitedly, “I plan to work out!”