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Looking Past the Differences: On Racism

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By Nazreen Fazal:

I don’t remember when exactly it was that I started noticing differences among people. As children we rarely think about such things. You can put 4 yea-olds from 50 different nations in a playground, and within 5 minutes you’ll have them sharing swing sets or eating mud together. The only differentiation at that age would be ‘She has a doll, I don’t’. Or ‘She has a lollipop and I don’t.’ At that age one NEVER thinks ‘She looks different’ or ‘He speaks differently’.

Then as we grow up, and family, society, culture and the environment forces us to notice the differences and makes us form our worlds around these differences. The society tells me that I am not supposed to play with the girl in rags. Or it tells me that I cannot identify with those who don’t look like me. I hate to admit it, but I bought it. I thought I’d find it difficult to interact with those who aren’t like me. I made the world into ‘those like me’ and the ‘others’. And then I homogenised all the others. I might sound racist, but I really used to say ‘All Chinese people look the same‘. And I am ashamed I would say something like that even in jest. When I came to Malaysia I had a tough time for the first few days keeping track of faces. When I came to the UK I thought ‘Wow, all white people look the same!’ Then when I’d spent a few days I started seeing differences within them. The girl with the beautiful auburn hair does NOT look the same as the girl with a beautiful smile. The person sitting next to me in class is not the same as the girl across my hall. It is then that I realized what I’d been doing which had made me group them in the first place. When I travelled across the sea and out of my comfort zone (in India) I carried with me a preconceived notion that they can never be like me and I can never be like them. What I’d done was draw this imaginary Venn diagram with mutually exclusive circles. All this was subconscious for me. I always thought that I was fairly open-minded when it came down to accepting difference. But I’ve realized I am not as human as I like to think I am. However, the past one year has made me erase that imaginary Venn diagram and what I have now is two circles which have a huge overlap.

We humans are always scared of what we aren’t familiar with. Anything we don’t know is viewed as unpleasant. So Easterners wrinkle their noses at the mention of ‘Western Culture’, and the Westerners throw around the word exotic (a euphemism for ‘backward’) while talking about the East. We become so busy discriminating on the basis of how our skin tones differ or how our eyes are shaped that we fail to see that if we remove the skin from each of our bodies no one can identify a Chinese from an Arab or an American from an African. We fail to see that inside we are all the same. We all have one heart (except a few), we all have blood running through our veins and we all have this magnificent brain that we refuse to use.

We say we aren’t racist. But the fact is that we just manifest it in different ways. We might be highly educated but we still have this mental block which does not let us accept differences. Don’t trust me? Next time you go to a hospital and you see a list of doctors who belong to some place you don’t and there is one doctor who belongs to your country (but isn’t as accomplished as the others) whom would you choose? I was in this situation and I chose the Indian doctor. It was only when my friend pointed it out to me that I realized how I had discriminated on the basis of nationality rather than qualification.

What’s different is not bad. Give it some time and you might even come to appreciate it. So the next time let’s not say ‘Oh they all are the same’ or ‘They all look the same’. Let’s sit and talk with them, share a meal with them and get to know them. Engage with them and then you’ll realize that you aren’t that different from the person sitting across you. That you share the same values with him; that you have the same fears as her; that their dreams are ours too. And once everyone realizes this we can truly call ourselves civilized.

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  1. aditya thakur

    I used to live in Kullu and i like the place and the people. Then i moved to Shimla and I found the people there a little strange and I thought boy there’s no place like Kullu. Then i moved to Ludhiana and I found the punjabi’s to be a bit strange and I thought boy there’s no place like Himachal. Then I moved to Kolkata and I found the begali’s really strange and I thought boy north Indians are the best. Then I started sailing and I went all around the world and I thought boy India is the best. But actually we are all the same. But I realised it only after meeting more and more different people. I think nothing can unite the world as fast as an alien invasion! Then they will be the different strange beings and we’ll all be just humans.

  2. Nazreen Fazal

    Very true and eloquently put, Aditya!

  3. Arnika

    I am a Delhiite and I hated it when people from other city commented on Delhiite’s looks,attitude, nature. But one day when I wrote over it and shared with a friend, she in turn gave me all the examples that How unknowingly even I do the same. On the basis of personal experiences or preconceived notions, we decide on the whole community and everybody belonging to it. But that’s not true and not even good, there are good and bad ones everywhere. I realize it now and have promised to myself that I would never do that categorization again.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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