Challenging Unwritten Rules in South Asian Culture, One ‘Pink Ladoo’ at a Time

pink ladoo
[All photos by Sundeep Hans]

by Sundeep Hans 

My parents were ecstatic when I was born… or so I’m told. By virtue of being the first child, I was special — but there was no celebration of my arrival. They were happy, but nobody was in full Punjabi celebration mode. There was no party, no drinks (well, maybe a few uncles had a peg or two), and no ladoo!

Here I was, this bundle of joy — the first of what would ultimately be four children — and nobody thought to deliver some ladoos to celebrate? I made them both parents, for crying out loud! My sister was born a year later — definitely no celebration — so there was a pattern.

In many South Asian cultures, particularly in North India, the family of a newborn delivers ladoos (traditional South Asian sweets made of flour and sugar) to all their friends and family. Traditionally, however, only male births have been celebrated in this way. If you have a baby girl, at best you might expect a lukewarm “congratulations” followed by almost feverish reassurances that the “next time it will be a boy, you’ll see,” and at worst you might be besieged by people who could be mistaken for mourners, sadly “tsk tsking” at your fate.

When my brother was born a few years later, the celebration was epic! There were parties, champagne, whiskey, and ladoos. Tons and tons of ladoos. Ditto, ten years later when my second brother joined the party. I remember that because my grandma made them in huge batches at our house. Seeing box after box packed lovingly for delivery, my sister and I asked how many boxes they had filled when we were born. I remember feeling outraged when we were told that no ladoos were delivered at all because “we only do it for the boys.”

We were little kids, but even still, we understood the unfairness of this tradition. Both my sister and I issued our joint indignation at the unjust treatment we were given at our birth. We didn’t let up, either. We kept asking ‘why’ every chance we got, but there was never a good enough answer. It didn’t make sense to us, especially since in our religion, Sikhism, the belief in universal equality is one of the most important principles of the faith. In fact, gender equality is enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (our holy scripture).

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But the much-talked about, global initiative Pink Ladoo Project aims to break the gender biased custom prevalent in the South Asian community. It is celebrated on Oct. 11 every year to coincide with the  International Day of the Girl ChildThrough the delivery of pink ladoos (as opposed to their usual yellow color) to all families of newborns, both boys and girls, the goal is to plant the seeds of change in the community, literally “one ladoo at a time.”

This year, the project had its Toronto launch at two hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area — Brampton Civic Hospital and Etobicoke General Hospital. These two hospitals are a part of William Osler Health System (Osler) and serve a diverse population, which includes a large South Asian community. As the community and clinical partnerships lead for Osler, I had the pleasure of liaising and coordinating with team Pink Ladoo Toronto.

pink ladoo

The army of volunteers, both women and men, were decked out in beautiful pink shirts were at both sites. For the whole week, they supplied our staff, physicians, patients, and families with a steady supply of delicious pink ladoos. People came out in droves and hung messages in support of gender equality on the ‘support trees.’ The week-long awareness campaign culminated on Sunday, Oct. 16, with volunteers visiting the women and children’s units at both sites and delivering pink ladoos to all of the families of newborns. It was a tremendous success, and it was profiled in the local news agencies, both print and monline. It gained a lot of traction on social media as well.

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The conversation about gender equality that the Pink Ladoo Project started is proof that culture isn’t this static thing. We don’t have to rigidly hold on to something because “it’s always been this way.” We can change it. By asking why we can challenge these unjust customs because nobody can reasonably justify injustice.

pink ladoo

I’ve seen this at work in my own family. The relentless barrage paid off because fast forward to about two years ago when my sister had a baby girl (my parent’s first grandchild), my parents were the ones asking “when will we do the ladoos” and “how many ladoos should we order?” We all celebrated this new life entering the world — and everyone celebrated with us!  If the unfairness of a cultural practice is so blatantly obvious, it’s time for some self-reflection.

Learn more about the Pink Ladoo campaign at


Sundeep Hans was born in Toronto, raised in Brampton, with a slight detour via Punjab. She has a great job, where her work involves collaborating with clinical and community leaders on initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion in the region to reduce barriers for health care access in vulnerable populations. She has a Master’s degree in Global Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, a Bachelor’s degree in History from the University of Southern California, and is almost finished with her post-graduated certificate in Ethics. She loves to read, travel and talk to anyone every chance she gets. You can follow her on her blog and on LinkedIn

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Introducing Vaksana: Guyana’s First Sustainable Women’s Retreat

Menakshi Babulall

Sustainable development practices can be utilized as a model for addressing gender inequities worldwide. Empowering women with the resources to gain opportunities, learn skills and collaborate in a safe and welcoming environment is crucial to women’s growth and development as individuals. 

After witnessing the first-hand effects of gender-based violence growing up in Guyana, Menakshi Babulall founded the Canadian nonprofit A Different View Project (ADVP) to promote and implement sustainable development methods across Guyanese communities. Vaksana, which means “nourishing/refreshing” in Sanskrit, is a branch of ADVP exclusively aimed at developing Guyana’s first eco-friendly women’s retreat center.  The retreat will offer wellness activities, training services, regenerative farming and community outreach programs. 

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Babulall was inspired by Guyana’s rich rugged beauty as a child. Her dual passion for preserving the environment and aiding underserved communities contributed to her studying International Development at Toronto’s York University before launching a public service career.  This eventually led her focus back to Guyana. Babulall talks to BG about her journey as the founder of ADVP, the progress of Vaksana and her perspective on sustainable and ethical charity work.

How and when did you create ADVP? 

“ADVP was founded in 2016 with the vision of empowering communities and fostering sustainable development. The idea stemmed from my desire to create an organization that could address pressing social and environmental issues through innovative and collaborative approaches. One thing that fills me with immense pride is ADVP’s unique ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, including those from the diaspora, to create impactful projects that make a tangible difference in people’s lives while also providing them with an opportunity to connect with their homeland.”

ADVP has worked on projects within Guyana’s fertile Pomeroon-Supenaam region, a vast expanse of hills and villages that dot the Essequibo Coast. Past projects include building a centralized outdoor recreation space for families and facilitating peer tutoring groups for children affected by COVID-related school closures. They also engage with the children of Queenstown Village through storytelling and interactive activities to nurture their passion for the environment. Overall, the focus of ADVP’s projects is geared toward education and sustainability while developing meaningful and positive relationships with the local community. 

Babulall’s remigration to Guyana during the pandemic to oversee Vaksana was a humbling experience. Living in rural Guyana allowed her to witness the benefits that wellness and eco-tourism can bring to a community, but also highlighted entrenched socio-economic struggles. It heightened her senses of resilience, adaptability and empathy; all key facets she believed essential to an effective leader. She soon realized the importance of cementing Vaksana as a catalyst for positive change in the region, particularly as a safe haven for women and gender non-conforming individuals who may face discrimination.

Explain the concept behind Vaksana

“The idea of Vaksana was born out of extensive research and a deep-rooted passion for creating a transformative space that combines wellness, eco-tourism and community development. The journey began with a vision to create a place where individuals could experience holistic well-being, connect with nature and promote sustainable living.

Vaksana’s foundation is built on three essential elements: tourism, community outreach and regenerative farming/agriculture. These elements were thoughtfully chosen to ensure a holistic approach to personal growth, community empowerment and environmental stewardship. By integrating these pillars, Vaksana becomes a powerful force for positive impact, both within the retreat center and the wider community.”

Vaksana is an ode to Babulall’s Indian heritage that was originally displaced and irrevocably transformed upon arrival to the Caribbean. Like its namesake, individuals have the opportunity to reclaim and reinvigorate themselves. Future plans for Vaksana include a kitchen/restaurant alongside sustainable farming, a workshop/training facility and a multipurpose room offering wellness classes such as meditation and yoga in consultation with a behavioral psychologist and holistic therapist. Collaborations with local businesses and partnership with the University of Guyana ensures that Guyanese citizens are actively involved in every aspect of the project, providing employment opportunities and allowing them to take on leadership roles.

What is the current progress of Vaksana, and where do you hope to see the project in one year? 

“As of now, Vaksana is in an exciting phase of planning and development. We have made significant strides in securing the land and are eagerly awaiting the approval of the lease for our carefully chosen site. Our dedicated team is diligently working on the architectural design and construction plans to bring our vision to life.

In one year, we envision Vaksana having completed its initial construction phase, with the retreat center standing proudly amidst the natural beauty of Guyana. We anticipate being fully prepared to open our doors and welcome our first guests to experience the transformative journey that Vaksana offers.”

Babulall believes in transparency regarding the difficulties faced with running a non-governmental organization. She has overcome several obstacles such as limited resources and bureaucratic hurdles by seeking collaborations, leveraging available resources and engaging in open dialogue with members of the community.

When asked about the misconceptions of running an NGO, she replied, “Many NGOs actually strive for financial independence by implementing income-generating initiatives and fostering partnerships that create long-term sustainability. Another misconception is that NGOs are not as efficient or effective as for-profit organizations. In reality, NGOs often have lower administrative costs and are driven by a strong sense of purpose and commitment.” 

She also disagreed with the belief that NGOs only focus on aid/handouts and says, “Many NGOs prioritize community-driven development approaches, working with local stakeholders to identify their needs/strengths and supporting capacity-building initiatives that enable communities to thrive independently.”

By debunking these perceptions, NGOs such as ADVP can continue to attract like-minded individuals to participate in the diverse work they undertake to address social challenges and advance a more equitable future.

How would you suggest those get involved in ethical public sector/charity work?

“I would recommend starting by identifying your passions and areas of interest. Research and connect with organizations that align with your values and goals. Volunteer your time, skills or resources to make a tangible impact. Stay informed about social and environmental issues and advocate for positive change. Collaboration and learning from others in the field are also crucial for personal and professional growth.”

What is your ultimate goal and future plans for ADVP and Vaksana?

“My ultimate goal is to continue building ADVP as a leading organization in sustainable community development, promoting social and environmental justice. With Vaksana, we aim to establish a renowned wellness and eco-retreat center that serves as a model for sustainable tourism, community empowerment and holistic well-being. We envision expanding our impact, fostering collaborations and creating positive change at both local and global levels.”

Guyana’s raw and authentic lifestyle has left a profound impact on Babullal as an individual and a leader. While embarking on the Vaksana project has not been without roadblocks, she is grateful to have gained the strength to confront difficult realities head-on in hopes of creating a safe place for individuals to learn and flourish. She has found contentment in the beauty of Guyana’s lush surroundings and hopes that others find its premise rejuvenating and inspirational. 

To learn more about ADVP visit their website here or follow them on Instagram.

To donate to the Vaksana project, visit their GoFundMe page.

Featured Image: Menakshi Babulall | Photo Courtesy of Menakshi Babulall

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