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The North-East: A Rather Troubled And A Much Forgotten Part Of India [Part 1: Introduction]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

Born and brought up in New Delhi with my stomach full and being an adherent of the majority religion, i.e. Hinduism, I have never had to question whether or not identifying myself as an Indian was worth it, but beyond West Bengal (excluding its Gorkha-majority region), lies a part of India, which has experienced economic backwardness and cultural alienation of a colossal nature. When people from there come westward, they also feel racially discriminated against. The national media itself exhibits this racism time and again, recent examples being – not giving due coverage to Assam being engulfed by devastating floods or earlier, when there was a more-than-hundred-day blockade in Manipur due to ethnic clashes because spot-fixing by cricketers of another country (Pakistan) was getting front page coverage; and besides even history textbooks exhibit the prejudice by overlooking the rich history of this region.

To complicate this even more are the secessionist insurgencies that have cropped up owing to this feeling of neglect and discrimination and have forcibly recruited even children in their ranks (children also ‘voluntarily’ join for monetary incentives to feed their families or to avenge human rights violations by security personnel or out of genuine convictions to separatist ideologies). The extortions by them have taken a toll even on the local populace, the pro-India section of which feels threatened to hoist the national flag or sing the national anthem, and the counter-reaction is that the Indian security personnel (like their counterparts in any other conflict zone in the world) resort to human rights violations like rapes, fake encounters and forced disappearances, misusing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This act has also been misused extensively in Kashmir and against which Irom Sharmila from Manipur has been fasting for the last ten years (there is also a Bollywood movie Dil Se which shows human rights violations by Indian soldiers in Assam).

To add to this is the issue of Bangladeshis coming into their lands and claiming their resources (this is most relevant for Assam but not confined to it alone), and being welcomed with ration cards for petty vote-bank politics, and further still, in the case of Arunachal Pradesh, where the people universally identify themselves as Indians, the threat from China.

I am a patriotic Indian and feel compelled to understand with an objective mindset why some others feel alienated or in general reluctant to wear their Indian nationality as a badge of honour. I have written extensively on this very portal on the problem in Kashmir, not so much from the Indo-Pak standpoint but from the standpoint of the Kashmiri people themselves, and this is going to be a series on our countrymen from the north-eastern region.

This is not to say that I believe in exaggerating the problems of those who perceive themselves as victims or turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings by many of them, but a change of perception can be brought about only with a sense of understanding and engagement, not by building up a sense of jingoism about one’s own tolerance that tends to breed among the worst kinds of intolerance.

This series is personal for me too, for some of my dear friends happen to be from the north-east, from Darjeeling, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, and I have heard stories from them that have pained me a lot, and the villains of these stories are not always non-north-eastern Indians but often militants from their own communities too.

This narrative of mine is intended in the direction of strengthening our resolve to make India a better place, a place where every Indian feels as much a part of this rich geographical and cultural mosaic that India is, and what could be a better occasion to start, considering that we celebrated Independence Day this month?

The subsequent articles in this series shall examine in greater detail the reasons for the economic backwardness and cultural alienation in the north-east and how these have manifested themselves to become causes of secessionist movements, the issue of immigrants from elsewhere in India and abroad and even true-life instances of discrimination experienced by people I know or witnessed by people I happen to know.
[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi and has co-authored two short books, namely’ Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World: A Socio-Legal Perspective’. He is currently working as a research associate in the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a reputed Delhi-based public policy think-tank. The views expressed are personal. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]

 

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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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