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State of the Indian States!

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By Ritwika Sharma:

How many times have we been part of a conversation, dismissing certain habits as being peculiar to a state or territory of our own nation, but alien to our own selves? How many times have we explicitly made a firm realization of the fact that we our two different, maybe even conflicting entities; one that represents the state or region that we belong to and the other, miniscule albeit identifiable entity of being an Indian?

Unconsciously, we do that all the time. An individual belonging to a place in North India is genuinely sympathized with if he/she lands up a job in any of the southern states. Poor child, how will he survive? What will he get to eat? Accustomed to daal makhni and roti, he will be reduced to the width of the paper-thin dosas that he will get to eat over there!! People in the Delhi University, the supposed Mecca of diversity when it comes to educational institutions in India, cannot abstain from referring to the students from the Northeast as chinkis. Derogatory, it might not be. Distinctive, it certainly is.

Now is the time when people from one place in the country are fast moving to places far and wide in pursuit of employment or for educational purposes. Does it not seem ironical in such an event that there should be such disparity and a sentiment of distinction between residents of different areas? As a matter of fact, the very territorial division of our nation is on a basis that defies all logic. The ever-increasing number of states and the persistent demand for even more due to social and political groups is justified under the garb of administrative convenience when in actuality, it was and still is on a largely linguistic and cultural basis. Who can forget the agitation and violence that ensued way back in 1952 that witnessed the creation of Andhra Pradesh, the first state to have been carved out on a linguistic basis? If not anything else, it paved the way for other language-based groups to justify their demands. The problem seems to continue with demands for separate states from various linguistic and political factions emerging every now and then.

The problem of such a division of the country manifests itself in ways more than one. For a nation so abundantly endowed with natural resources, why are various states constantly at loggerheads with one another for some or the other resource? Why are water disputes so rampant that even our Constitution has a separate provision that deals with water disputes? Did the framers of our Constitution anticipate that the states would be at variance with each other for something like water that they made it amply clear by inserting a provision dedicated to this inimitable object?

The issue does not seem to end here. We have been a nation that let refugees from across the border enter without the blink of an eye at the time of partition. Nearly 60 years later, an autowallah would drop you at the Delhi-UP border but would refuse to ply in the neighbouring state irrespective of your urgency to reach your destination or the amount of money that you may be willing to offer, the Chief Minister of a particular state would accuse migrants from another state for having “overcrowded” the capital city, the leader of a political party in a state would not mind beating even students black and blue just because they are from a different part of the nation. Is this the true picture of “unity in diversity”? Or all the saccharine-quoted talks of the nation being diverse yet unified is a sham?

A single, isolated reason cannot be accorded to this problem. The initial linguistic division of states, the leaders of a state providing for various means by which to cater to the needs of the inhabitants of their state (read: domicile-based reservation and the likes); these are mere examples of the Indian nation being subject to inherent divisions. If not anything else, such incidents present a lousy picture of the Indian populace, one that depicts us as a nation vulnerable to resorting to violence against our own brethren. As the demand for a separate state of Telangana gained momentum, and subsequent support, various identity-based groups, namely those advocating the carving out of separate states like Gorkhaland, Harit Pradesh, Maru Pradesh and Vidarbha clinched it as an opportunity to press the Central Government to consider their demands. The rationale for such demands notwithstanding, the spurt of activity that pursued after the Telangana movement is noteworthy!!

What can be the reason of such worthless divisions in contemporary society? If a summary view were lent to the issue at hand, not many of us would support such divisions in the society. Thus, the answers that occur to me may not be factually correct. In an attempt to be different from one another, the easiest way charted by people around is to represent oneself from an altogether different part of the country so as to become characteristic of that particular part. It has become almost normal to characterize majority of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers as Biharis, the merchant class as Baniyas andMarwaris, the sharp ones (and supposedly, good at math!!) as the South Indians, so on and so forth. I would abstain from listing any more of such characterizations as that would inevitably mean that I am myself a firm believer in the aforementioned!! But more than belief, these descriptions stem from observation. Far from being an exaggeration, these are some pragmatic examples of what is happening around us.

For a nation so generously bestowed in its culture and traditions, why do such distinctions have to dilute the magnanimity of our diversity? Maybe, we are moving fast towards eliminating the already blurred line of distinction between diversity and disunity!! We have, by now, gotten so used to these innate peculiarities. And we do not really seem to mind till it genuinely, and severely, bothers us. For once, people did not bother themselves with the agitation against North Indians by Raj Thackeray and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) till the time students in the various institutions in the upcoming educational hub of India, Pune did not become their target. Thus, we prefer to remain in our comfort — zones till the time our distinct identities do not send us in a quandary. It is only when these distinctions pose a problem that we are perturbed and the thought of a united nation actually concerns us.

Ours is a constitution that confers single citizenship to its citizens. However, we are in the midst of bestowing ourselves with a separate citizenship, albeit informally, of our respective states. Individuality should not be suppressed. But when it transgresses its boundaries and threatens to divide a nation and its people, it tends to border towards disunity. Such contemptible divisions need to be done away with as soon as possible. Till then, what Shah Rukh Khan said in the much appreciated movie Chak De India holds absolutely true, “Kuch nahi badla hai. Hum pehle bhi states the, ab bhi states hain!!”

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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