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The North-East : A Rather Troubled And A Much Forgotten Part Of India [Part 4: Personal Accounts]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

The Assamese Hindu classmate of mine, mentioned earlier in this series who watched the World Cup final with me and could not contain his elation at India’s victory, is evidently very fluent in Hindi. Yet, he has been a victim of racist remarks that no fellow Indian deserves. It is true that in Nagaland, cats, dogs, elephants and horses have been consumed as food and it must be noted that Nagaland is a region with not much vegetation and Assam is not Nagaland in any case. However, once in a certain conversation, a Bihari classmate took his case rather offensively by pointing to him and saying — “kutte to ye kutte khate hain” (dogs are consumed by these dogs).

On Holi, another Bihari (I am certainly not anti-Bihari, but just bringing out the facts in these particular instances) rather strangely wanted to especially ‘attack’ him with mud to avenge what the ULFA did to Bihari migrants in Assam. My Assamese friend however, had no love for the ULFA, which has virtually withered away and most Assamese people dislike it now, since the ULFA sought extortions from them, forcibly recruited their children and prevented a life of peace, normalcy and development. I have visited Guwahati and took time to extensively tour the very picturesque and beautiful city, including what was supposedly Sage Vashishth’s hermitage, where Lord Ram and his brothers received their education. The tricolour flies high across Guwahati and whoever you talk to is resentful of the ULFA. In fact, I have interacted with a grandson of an ULFA operative who was subjected to an extra-judicial killing by Indian soldiers, but he too was a strongly patriotic Indian, defending India in online debates with Pakistanis. The reason for the Assamese (except some Bodos) being able to move on is that Assam has historically fallen in the Vedic cultural zone, as discussed earlier.

Next, I should mention a friend of mine, whose mother hails from Arunachal Pradesh and has mongoloid features. He too is a patriotic Indian, has lived in Delhi all his life and is very fluent in Hindi. He was subjected to horrible racist remarks by our hostel warden, a Gujarati, who told a Gujarati student who was hanging out with this friend of mine, in my friend’s presence, to not mix with mongoloids who are ‘anti-nationals‘ and ‘dopers’. My friend, however, has never doped and the people of Arunachal Pradesh have shown exemplary loyalty to India and even boycotted Chinese goods since China claims their region and Arunachal Pradesh has not seen any secessionist movement, even though it hardly gets its due in the national imagination and has experienced backwardness in economic development, and again, their Hindu culture has a huge role to play in the sense of loyalty they have towards India.

This friend of mine is a bright student and along with two other students from our university, was selected on a full scholarship for a summer course on international law in China. My friend, owing to his having been born in Arunachal Pradesh, was given a notorious ‘stapled’ visa by the Chinese Embassy, which did not come in the way of his getting his boarding pass from the airline counter at the airport but was offloaded from the aircraft by immigration officials owing to the nature of his visa. He was keen to go for the course and this sudden turn of events naturally annoyed him and he argued a little with the immigration officials, saying that he should not have got the boarding pass at all in this scenario, to which they retorted saying that he appeared Chinese, was Chinese by heart and was hence so eager to go to China. When he narrated this to me telephonically, it set my blood boiling and I experienced mixed feelings of anger and sorrow. He, however, despite having the intent, has not complained against these officials to the best of my knowledge, though he should have to prevent such a horrible thing from recurring with anyone else.

Also, a Rajasthani friend of mine narrated to me that a female friend of his told him that once while she was on the Delhi metro, a mongoloid girl offered to hold an old lady’s bag in the ladies’ compartment and another woman randomly retorted that no help needs to be offered by foreigners. Ironically, she made the offer in Hindi. Aside from the very obvious racism, these smacks of insanity and lack of logic, for even those who are actually foreigners, but human.

I recall having unintentionally bumped into a mongoloid girl in Delhi and on her turning around, politely apologized, and my courteous tone brought out such a satisfied look on her face, as though perhaps too many men had treated her disrespectfully and indeed, I have read media reports of harassment of north-eastern girls in Delhi.

A Tamilian friend of mine from Bangalore currently pursuing a prestigious fellowship in Delhi tells me how a girl from the north-east who has amazing credentials is ostracized or perhaps she has engaged in self-‘otherization’, which is not a happy story either way. I have heard horror stories of discrimination in terms of room allotment to north-eastern students in hostels and a social tendency to not mingle with mongoloids is quite latent in many of us.

I have also interacted with Gorkhas from West Bengal, who, in my eyes, make a very reasonable demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, owing to their cultural and linguistic differences with the Bengalis and they also feel that will be better for them from the point of view of economic development. However, whenever I have brought this up with some of my Bengali friends, they tend to fume and fret because of their emotional connection with Darjeeling, which would inevitably fall in the proposed Gorkhaland and even call the Gorkhas names without looking at the issue objectively, though I have also come across some other Bengalis more reasonable in their approach to the issue.

By not treating our mongoloid countrymen as our fellow citizens, we only alienate them and increase their antagonism. Let us all make an effort at integration, each one of us and on this positive note, I end this series.

[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.

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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.

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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)’.

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.”

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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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