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The Racism We Encourage In Giggles: Why Letting Things Slide Is Only Dividing Us Further

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By Ezra Rynjah:

With Christmas just behind us, let us not forget its meaning this festive season. The story goes that on Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem and there was no room for them to stay in so they had to stay in a barn where Jesus, the Christian human incarnation of God, was eventually born. This is repeatedly looked upon as an example of the humility of God to have manifested himself (gendered as in Christian tradition) as a human to be born in such lowly conditions. I, however, would look at this from a perspective that recognizes a more human experience – the couple had to leave Jerusalem and find shelter in Bethlehem where they were refused admission into regular rooms at the inns but were instead looked upon as inferior beings, worthy only of the barn in which to have their child. Doesn’t this remind us of the interlinked issues of racism and immigration where the ethnically different outsider is discriminated against?

racism

This brings us to several questions – when does racism or ethnic violence gain notice? Is it based on the number of people who have been killed? Is it based on the ethnicity in question? Does it depend on the intensity of the violence? Delhi, in the past year, became a centre for discussing the issue of racism in the context of certain instances of violence that were carried out against people from the Northeast India. Mumbai has been the centre of such debates for the longest time. The Israel-Palestine conflict is another case in point. What often happens is that instances of violence against a member of a minority community are flashed in the news for a day and are forgotten such as the case of a Manipuri student being beaten to death in Bangalore in 2014. Currently, Assam is also facing violence on ethnic grounds but even that is losing ground in the mainstream media. If one may notice, violence on the basis of ethnicity is something that is condemned when it occurs with certain intensity. If it garners international recognition then we prick up our ears and our hearts bleed in sympathy but it is rarely addressed on a level beyond public condemnation.

Let’s not forget that such violence stems from an idea of difference within humanity. It creeps in when one community attempts to distinguish itself from another on the basis of physical features, religion or caste to name a few. This is not to say that differences are not to be celebrated. The diversity of cultures and people that exists within the world is what makes it most interesting! However, these differences are exacerbated by different political entities that seek to manipulate the emotional investment people make in such distinctions. Is it so difficult for anyone to recognize electoral politics utilizing such issues of identity or ethnicity to gain votes? Have we not witnessed this before in the communal politics practiced in India such as in Gujarat in 2002 or Muzaffarnagar in 2013 or even the exodus in Bangalore in 2012? Here is where it gets violent. Differences become a four-letter word. Those who are different are decried as being outsiders who are encroaching on land and resources. They become a rallying point for others who are not different in the same way.

So when we recognize this, what is it that one can do, one may ask? It may seem inevitable that we as a human race are fated to exist as creatures in conflict with our neighbours. The answer lies in tracing the origin of ethnic violence on a personal level. The idea that the microcosm and the macrocosm are reflections of each other may be true in this case: when we let a racist remark slide and we don’t speak out against it, it adds up. It may start with a seemingly harmless joke but it soon affirms itself. It occupies territory and expands itself like a malignant tumour, spreading hate as more and more racist slurs bunch together to the point that stereotypes form, differences establish themselves and before we know it, we’re in a pea-soup-thick racist atmosphere that’s as volatile as the one preceding the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, USA. This may be an exaggerated claim but the trajectory is true.

What we could do, however, is to notice not only the differences that exist between people but also our common experiences as human beings in our individual quests for meaning. The difficulties and the joys are things to look out for but the smaller things matter too. For example, that buzzing in our ears that makes us stop and wonder if we’re the only ones who can hear it or the annoying itch right in the middle of our backs that we just can’t scratch or the irrepressible giggles that we have at the most inappropriate moments. These are experiences that can resonate beyond notions of class, ethnicity, gender or any other manifestation of hierarchies. Perhaps when we recognize this, we might be able to recognize the humanity that exists in all of us and there might eventually be more laughter than violence around us.

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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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