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The Current State, Success And Future Of The Indian Diaspora in South Africa

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By Arunabh Saikia:

A report by a high-level committee set up the Indian government states that unlike the People of Indian Origin in North America and Western Europe, there is no real interest on the part of the Indian Diaspora in South Africa to acquire dual citizenship. In fact, they are actually weary that such a step would only jeopardize their relation with the African majority, who they fear, would accuse them of divided loyalties.

The above finding is significant since Non- Resident Indians are known to hold the state of dual citizenship in high esteem as it is considered to ensure the best of two worlds for the next generation and open a lot of avenues. The People of Indian Origin in South Africa are, in many ways, greatly different from the rest of the Indian diaspora scattered across the world. A saga of bonding and betrayal, of love and loss, the story of the Indian diaspora in South Africa, stretched over the past 150 years, is one worth listening to. From being indentured labourers, the subjects of an oppressive Apartheid policy of the local government to being major stakeholders in the political circle of the country, they have been through it all.

The majority of the modern Indian community in South Africa descends from people who came in the 1860s from India as indentured labourers. The labourers mainly spoke Tamil, Telegu and Hindi and most of them were Hindu, Christian or Muslim. They were imported because, the local Africans who were an economically self-sufficient lot were unwilling to work for the colonial forces and besides, the colonial authorities thought the hunter and the warrior local African was unsuitable for employed labour. The Indians turned out to be enterprising and soon they went to become a major workforce, instrumental for the sustenance of the lavish lifestyles of the British.

The Indian diaspora, since their arrival, were subjected to varying levels of racial and social discrimination. Gandhi, when he came to the country in 1893 to represent an Indian business firm in a lawsuit, was appalled by the gross discriminatory treatment meted out to the people of Indian origin. He helped the community offer organized resistance and is known to have played an active role in the formation of the Natal Indian Congress- a development that is widely known of have unified disparate groups of people of Indian Origin spread over the country.

Though the Indian Diaspora, in equal measures as their African counterparts, had borne the inhuman and degrading torture of the white regime in Apartheid’s infamous Robben Island, they were often viewed with suspicion by the local African population. Observers say that this resentment stemmed from envy; for the Indian Diaspora had overtaken the locals as far as economic self-sufficiency went and happened to hold positions of considerable commercial influence. But as would be admitted by the locals even now, this behavior was not based on sound logic as the People of Indian Origin in South Africa had suffered as much. There are written records which substantiate the fact that the Indian Diaspora was aggressively involved in the fight against the evil of Apartheid- something recognized by the very revered Nelson Mandela himself. But unfortunately, the representation of the Indian Community in the post-apartheid government was rather poor and that is believed to have disillusioned the community.

The local population’s opinion of the Indian Diaspora has often, over the past century and a half, somersaulted from the very positive to the extremely negative. Though the resentment has not always been based on sound grounds, the resentment towards a foreign community flourishing in their motherland is more than understandable. Amidst all of that, the Indian Diaspora and the local community, have by and large, fostered a relationship of mutual respect and tolerance, and the people of Indian Origin in South Africa are extremely proud South African Citizens, a notion that they wear happily on their sleeves.

The general belief is that the Indians have just added another colour to the myriad hues of cultures and values that South Africa stands for as a country. The Indian Diaspora in South Africa is aware of the ethos and culture they inherit on the basis of being Indian progeny and they stand by them with full vigour, while at the same time assimilating cultural elements of the land they call home. The success of the community and the future too is contingent on how they strike a balance and embrace the multi-cultural melting pot that South Africa is, and at the same time stay proud of their roots- a task that should not be tough for a community that has taken bad and good times with the same spirit and, yet, never lost the zest for life.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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