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The Abuse and Discrimination And Yet I Call Myself Indian!

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By Ankur Sohanpal:

A recent ruling by the government of India makes it amply clear that anyone addressing the people of India, distinguished by Asian or South-East Asian physical countenance and a culture unique to the north eastern region of India — as ‘Chinks’, would be a proud recipient of 5 years in prison.

I have to admit that I have, in the past, used this term quite a few times myself (although I never use it now — out of sensitivity, not forced compulsion). To me, this was no different than being called ‘bandh-gobhi’ (cauliflower) for being Punjabi. I was a plump child when young, and my cousins apparently derived pleasure in calling me ‘Moti’ (meaning fat). They do so to this day, the tones of their voices still varying over a range of expressions, including derogatory. I learnt to live with it, and found my own ways to be pointedly derogatory with each of them in return.

During the first few months of my undergrad education, I lived in a hostel which was predominantly populated with girls and women from NE of India. I admit that while there was a certain cohesive tendency within their circles of ‘stick with your own kind’, I was made a part of their groups nevertheless — sans any form of notable discrimination. This reflects the resilience of a people who have been historically made victims of random violence, administrative, economic and infrastructural neglect from the Central Government. I would playfully abuse them for their SC/ST status that made it easier for them to attain admissions in premier institutions, while helping them fill forms and frame their official letters, and they’d make fun of how I’m to go crazy at approximately 12 o’ clock. Not much different from regular light-hearted banter based on different cultural backgrounds. I sometimes even found that they made better friends than other more typically Indian classes of people.

The point that I am trying to drive at is – our society has been historically cultural-biased. From where I come from, south Indians would be ‘khattas’, Bengalis would be a class of submissive, scared and perpetually sick individuals, and Punjabis were supposed to be laughed with/at. The way I see it, the problem of being called ‘chinks’ is not based on race — it is more regarding a cultural difference. However, people have always (give or take a few anomalies) known where to draw a line. The fact that for the case in hand, people in India have grown accustomed to cross this line and enter the shady area of heavy-handed discrimination, is a direct consequence of the economic and social neglect meted out to the NE population by the authorities in the first place. How much has been done about the many instances of CRPF abuse to civilian population of the region (representing 3.8 per cent of the total population and approximately 4.6 per cent in Lok Sabha), I find, is a critical determinant of how the region is placed on the government’s priority list. Banning a name from usage is hardly going to fix anything.

Do I then approve of this most recent half-hearted attempt by the government? Half-heartedly.

The number of people migrating from NE India to other more economic (constitutes as a reason for a minor proportion) and educational (is a reason for major proportion) centric parts of India was 414,850 in 2010. There is a lack of good educational infrastructure to provide higher studies to students who typically like any other youth of India aspire for the best. Moreover, there is a lack of sufficient infrastructure to facilitate economic growth — a thing needed most desperately in times of upwardly mobile prices of basic necessities like food as well as all other commodities. This makes underserved, under-educated people from this region give themselves more easily to harsh conditions outside of their native states — just so they have some money rolling in. This makes men more susceptible to get caught up in bonded labour, and women more susceptible to sexual harassment.

The change in this trend would obviously come from making the area more economically independent — and to ideally become economically prosperous, even, given its strategic geographical positioning. Once this is achieved, it will then be interesting to observe how the attitude of the rest of abusive India — which feels it has the right to kill (the Richard Loitum case) and to discriminate (Dana Sangma case — where whether the insults were sexually discriminative in nature or not, has not been ascertained) against people with lesser aggregate economic privileges than their own mainland aggregate, will change.

The point here is to curb the violence and high-levels of (sometimes sexual) discrimination directed at students and citizens of the North-Eastern states of India. What the government has effectively done by this is issued an unofficial notice to the rest of India — we have vested economic interests in this region, we do not want rebellious groups in the regions to escalate their activities, so please behave, and if you don’t we might (or might not — it’s still too early to tell) send you to jail. That’s equivalent to giving a hungry child a small crust of bread, instead a full meal. Moreover, there is a large section of people which believes that the enforcers of law are themselves staunch believers of their superiority and hence the right to violate. This is clearly not the right approach.

What would work is a combination of capital punishment for the recent crimes committed, a hefty fine (to the tune of upwards of a quarter million INR), and a well-thought out economic upliftment strategy (without further implementation-al delays). Government’s decision to carry out this three-pronged approach would be the correct response to this, not banning names.

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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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