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Does The Indian State Have The Political Will To Solve The Issues That Ail North East India?

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By Rachna Baruah:

The last trip to my hometown struck me with an epiphany. I was standing on the cloudy roof of my office as I casually glanced through the horizon. I noticed, for the first time, the timid beauty of this humble place.

Assam

Despite my birth and considerable time of adolescence being spent in Guwahati, I had never bothered noticing or even appreciating the beauty of the lush green valley. It was at this recent moment when I was struck by profound awe of the place. So, I decided to go downstairs and search a little on the Northeast India. To my utter surprise, the scenic pictures could be credited to have been taken in some virgin land of the great Europe. But as reality strikes, it is not an all’s well situation there. During my stay, all I could think of this place was as a temporary refuge before my further studies. And I am not the only exception.

My generation and the one which well precedes me, had the same thoughts. When I was younger, I distinctly remember the Anglo-Indian culture still lingering around everyday life. But as time passed, I saw the changing and ever evolving society. This society, unlike others, degraded instead of developing. While there has been growth but the small changes of development is hardly visible. Also, growth does not suffice for development. There has been growth in terms of illegal immigrants, corruption and a decaying moral system. This, as I speak, is not a unique problem of my hometown but may speak out for many other towns and cities of the Northeast.

Northeast India is that part of our nation which has direct connections with the international border like no other state. It comprises of eight states namely Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Sikkim. Connected by what is called as the “chicken’s neck”, northeast is a part of India for it’s patch of the neck, which is around 21-40 kms wide. These 26 kms on the average defines us north easterners as Indians. The cultural diversity is immense and often distinct from the mainland. While the region is excessively gifted with nature, flora and fauna, it could never sow the seeds of basic infrastructural development. I might be inept to comment about the detailed financial segregation and implementation on the region, but what I can be right about is the natural feelings of the people there.

As a north easterner myself, I see things there differently compared to others. While others may see Northeast as an exotic land of Chinkis and primitive tribal people, I see a society which longs to be accepted by the fellow mainlanders. While others see this region as a hub for drugs, sex and rock music, I see the youth frustrated without any future. While others see the land as that of tribes still living in tree houses, I see competent minds hoping for a developmental miracle to happen.

What this region lacks is proper allocation of resources in the correct social institutions like education. Education plays the foremost role in uplifting a society out of its plaguing menaces. Northeast, though sees the presence of a few sprouting institutions, has the lack of premier institutes which actually may create employability. The various menaces in this region are the tiring army conflicts since 1950s, secessionist tendencies, insurgency, lack of educational institutions, skyrocketing figures of corruption, illegal mining and corruption in Forest services. The list can go on and on but instead of focusing on what weakens northeast, I want to focus on what can be done to strengthen it.

The foremost initiative, as I mentioned, should be allocation of resources in educational institutions and creation of a Special Economic Zone. The region is gifted with bio-diversity, hydro-potential, minerals like oil and natural gas, limestone, dolomite, coal, graphite, quartzite, sillimanite etc. which has either been manipulated by illegal hands or not been utilized to their fullest extent. Further, the region should focus on the natural beauty that it has been endowed with. Northeast and its ethnic heritage can be an exemplary example of flourishing tourism. Instead of most derelict heritage sites submerging into oblivion, immediate initiatives to restore them are required. Further, it is time India actually activated and implemented the ‘Look East Policy’ to acquire more tangible profits of globalization and at the same point nourishing the North East with the development which she needs.

The problems mentioned above are not the only ones which actually plague the North East and certainly cannot be articulated in a mere cluster of words. Despite of the problems, the region has reasons to celebrate, like Mizoram’s literacy feat is commendable, but we still have a long way to go. We all want to reconstruct the dynamics of the region and create a better future for those who have long suffered the pangs of depravity. But can decades of political instability reach a future of brighter possibilities? How would you address the pertinent issue of North East?

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  1. Nanditha

    Having been to the NE of India, I can relate to a lot of things you’ve mentioned. Under the picture-perfect landscapes and burgeoning tourist arrivals lies a lad mired in despair. Where I went, landslides were the norm of the day. Roads had been worn out and yet, stood the same without any signs of repair in the vicinity.Shanty huts with little kids with desperate,forlorn looks with a shocking hollowness that could instantly relay their pain to others. I hope the NE sees the light of that day when it would see some hope beyond all the loud talk of uplifting its people and resources.

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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.

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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
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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