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Tribal Communities Of India: Lend A Helping Hand

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By S. Nivedya:

As we sat in the beach to see the rolling waves come and go, a lady clad in a red saree a part of which she wore over her head and carrying a flower basket crouched down beside us and offered to read our future. We politely declined. She persuaded us repeatedly telling us how wonderful it would be to peep into the future and know what is coming for us. Not the least bit interested, we refused. She sighed loudly gathered herself and her flower basket and walked away complaining under her breath. I wondered if she could read her own future or the future of her children and grandchildren and tell them the truth or would she have to lie? Is she making a living that way? This woman is no beggar, she belonged to a family she was proud of, she is not the only one either, she is a tribal woman, she is an ‘adivasi’.

India has always been proud of itself for the wide diversity, of the land, of the culture, of religions, languages and cuisine. But this sort of diversity is something we cannot be proud of- diversity in communities. There is a part of the human race in India we have shun away and still accept as part of our population, giving them a name in the constitution and promising them privileges. But on deeper investigation there is no specific criterion for identification of tribes except for their geographical isolation, backwardness, shyness and their distinctive culture, language and religion. That is no way to identify our fellow countrymen.

Some of them dress differently, they have a strange dance to celebrate, they draw marks on their face, they have a strange dialect and most of all they like to stay in the confines of the forest, living in co-existence with nature when we wait to tear it down. We want to drive them out of their homes and into the city, force rights upon them and levy taxes.

During the Zamindar age, the tribals were labourers forced to buy land from them and cultivate crops. They were bound to fall hugely in debt. Eventually they become bonded labourers, working under the zamindars to pay off their debt. When the father dies, the son stays bonded by default.

A tribal child wanted to study in a school and egged his parents to put him there. In school however he couldn’t communicate with his fellow classmates because he spoke a different dialect. He was laughed at. He was asked to learn the medium of instruction to be able to understand the lessons taught. It took him time, he fell behind, he failed. He was framed illiterate. His community heard these stories and shied away from formal education. Statistically they may come under the ‘illiterate’ category but these forest dwellers know more than any learned scientist how much our earth is in danger of annhilation.

But they could hunt, they could climb trees, the oldest in the tribe were the wisest who knew every rock, tree and creature. The rising population and the pollution interfered with their lives, they began acquiring diseases they’ve never had before, those that the herbs they found in their forest couldn’t cure. They became weak and yet they lived.

Many of the tribals have left their forest abode to come to the towns. They try to find work for themselves, build homes and become part of the population. They ask for their rights to vote, to be part of the parliament, to get into schools and seek education. If not for the name we gave them, they look, work, breathe and live like us. If we don’t see the distinction with our own two eyes then why make them? Its the same blood that runs through all our veins.

A helicopter flying above the Andaman and Nicobar islands after the fateful December tsunami caught footage of tribals in an area that was once thought to be uninhabited. However, the violent tribals did not allow the helicopter to land and the life of the tribal community remains a mystery to this day, so does the secret of how they survived the tsunami.

Researches say that the aborigines were the first humans to colonize India. Ironic how their own children are shunning them now. Analysis of adivasi DNA has concluded that they contain genes which could enhance immunity on cloning into human genes. Come the days of danger to human life, these people would be the survivors, rising to the top.

It is the duty of every citizen of our nation to accept these people as our own brothers and sisters like we promised in the pledge we take every single day and give them a hand in standing up to what they truly are-heroes.

Not only do they open our eyes to the reality of the world but hundreds of them contributed to achieve what we cherish most today, the very thing that brought about a Constitution that tries to define them – our freedom.

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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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