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Outsiders At Home: Where Should The North-East People Go?

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By Waled Aadnan:

It has been a couple of weeks since north-east students Loitam Richard and Dana Sangma lost their lives due to alleged cases of racial discrimination. These deaths have sparked off major debates regarding the step-motherly attitude that North-eastern Indians have to face when they leave their region for other parts of their own country in search of better opportunities in education and work as well as a more peaceful and opulent environment to live in.

Facebook, that ever-handy tool of the social vigilante, provided the base for a massive movement. A group “Justice for Loitam Richard” already has more than 2 lakh members. Petitions have been signed in large numbers demanding unbiased investigations in the two cases. Protests have taken place in various cities of India and the world. The Indian media forever shy of covering events relating to the north-east, has pitched in too.

The broad debates that these issues have flared up have exposed the misunderstanding and ignorance that most mainland Indians breed towards those hailing from the North-east. Just a year back, a project report on ‘North East Migration and Challenges in National Capital: City’s silent Racial attack on its own countrymen’ released by the North East Support Centre and Helpline (NESCH) revealed that 78 per cent of the North-East population in Delhi, numbering nearly two lakh, is subjected to several kinds of humiliation because of their appearance. The situation isn’t drastically different in other parts of the country. So it was not surprising when the allegations of racial discrimination towards Richard and Dana were immediately brushed aside by college authorities and police as a result of persecution complex. It is indeed time for the nation to wake up to the presence of people from the north-east in “mainland India” and to make concerted efforts towards overcoming the racial and cultural divide that leads to prejudiced ideas regarding people from the region.

The reasons for this cultural divide are several and complex. Throughout most of history, the eastern extensions of the Himalayas and the Brahmaputra Valley remained independent of the rulers of north India and even cultural dissemination was limited. For this reason, the north-east finds little mention in history textbooks. The result is that Indian children grow up with little knowledge of the north-east, besides marking Kaziranga and the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills on a map.

This pained relationship is not even a surprise given that the imperialist manner of the north-east’s integration into the Indian Union after 1947. The case of Manipur is one worthy of note. Reconstituted as a constitutional monarchy by the Manipur Constitution Act 1947, the kingdom was forced to merge with India two years later. Mr V.P. Menon, the reputed civil servant invited the King of Manipur to a meeting in Shillong to discuss law and order in the region. Instead, the King was held in house arrest and forced to sign the merger agreement. The agreement was never ratified in the Manipur Legislative Assembly which was dissolved instead. As the sun set on the mighty British Empire, it rose on the Indian imperial powers over the people of the north-east.

For years thereafter, this imperialist relationship was on display on several occasions. On 4th-5th March 1966, the Air Force was deployed to bomb Aizawl to suppress the Mizo National Front uprising. This remains the only instance of the Air Force being used on its own civilian population by the Indian Government. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act continues to wreak havoc in the lives of ordinary people of the region. These wounds remain fresh and unhealed. No extent of vertical development and paternalism can obliterate the wrongs committed by India during a rule whose legitimacy cannot be judged by voter turnouts but by the abysmally low infrastructure indices of the seven states of the region and the mushrooming of secessionist terrorist groups.

It is true that the discrimination of north-easterners in India’s metropolitan cities is not unique, but neither is it a myth. Indeed, the inherent contradictions in Indian society lead to prejudices, biases and discrimination against everyone who looks different, lives differently or speaks a different language. Whether it be a ‘Bihari’ migrant worker in Maharashtra or a rich Marwari businessman in Kolkata or a student of Nagaland in Bangalore. What makes the case involving north-easterners one of grave concern is that in their case, all three of the above criteria are fulfilled.

On May 4th, the issue was discussed in Parliament. Replying to a calling attention notice by Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram stated that the Centre accorded “highest importance to development of North Eastern region as well as prevention of atrocities against Schedule Tribe and will not countenance discrimination in any form.” However immediate justice would be done to both Loitam Richard as well as Dana Sangma if the investigations into their deaths are handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with a mandate to speedily nail the culprits as well as look into the culpability of the two educational institutions in failing to prevent their deaths and then subverting the truth in attempting to save the culprits.

But as far as the larger picture is concerned, it is time that the north-east was treated with due respect for their individuality, cultures as well as their role in a wider Indian society that respects the inherent differences among people of different regions of the country so that “Unity in Diversity” does not become just a hollow slogan that we are made to chant in school classrooms. In this regard, it is important to note that although the imperative is on the Indian State to ensure the safety and dignity of north-easterners and on the Indian people to overcome their racial prejudices, efforts need to be made by the north-eastern community too to ensure that these incidents do not lead to a fear psychosis, mindless India-bashing and ghettoization of people from the region in India’s major cities. Ghettoization not only fails to bridge the cultural divide but leads to more prejudicial treatments from other communities. The road to a harmonious co-existence is a long and painful one, but a beginning in that direction is in order.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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