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Discrimination Against Students From North-East Is A Problem, But This Is A Bad Solution

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By Azra Qaisar

In 2014, a young man, Nido Tania, from Arunachal Pradesh became the victim of a hate crime in New Delhi. The young student’s death led to a series of protests in the capital and across many regions of India. The incident sparked many debates about hate crimes and discrimination faced by the people from the North East of India, which led to the Delhi Government forming a North East cell in Nanakpura, in south-west Delhi, and a helpline number 1093. However, this leads to an important question. Are these measures helping or doing more harm?

northeast

Celebrating The ‘North East’

One of the ways that Delhi is attempting to stop discrimination is by celebrating the ‘culture’ of the region. This celebration of the region’s ‘culture’ comes with its own set of problems. It leads to exoticization of a region and its people which leads to the phenomenon of ‘othering’. When you celebrate just a particular region in a country it brings in the dichotomy of ‘us’ v/s ‘them’.

Secondly, these festivals have a fault in the way they represent the region. The North East of India, just like any other region, is comprised of innumerable people from different tribes, different religions, different communities and thus, different cultures. These festivals barely manage to cover most of them. Many people even take an issue with just celebrating the North Eastern region.

What is the purpose of these fests? Is awareness and understanding of only these eight regions is important? Shouldn’t other cultures and regions be celebrated too? When you have it just for the North East that becomes a problem”, says Amelia Melva from Shillong, a student of political science.

The Government of Delhi also tried to create awareness to curb ignorance. It called for an inclusion of the ‘North Eastern culture’ in the curriculum of government-run schools. The Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, asked the people from North East to help design the syllabus and also tried putting them in touch with the education department. Here again, the same problem arises. There is no one culture of North East India. Also, it does not make sense to educate students about one region in depth and ignore the rest. It adds to the problem of ‘othering’. Another problem with how representation is going to work is that only the good side will be shown. The other side – which is comprised of conflict, internal and external – is eliminated and not talked about.

The North East Cell – Why Is It Problematic?

The Delhi Government tried to help the people from the North East by creating special cells, but these cells are the beginning of a new problem altogether. Labelling a cell as ‘North East’ is homogenising a large body of people and seeing them as a single mass of people. Rabika Gurung, a student from Sikkim, studying in University of Delhi believes that the North East community needs to understand that these cells actually isolate the people rather than integrate them. “People can’t alienate themselves and then expect not to be alienated by the rest. The whole idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ has to come to an end”, she says.

Instead of having a separate North East Cell in colleges, a cell for anti-discrimination can be created. It would cover a broader range of issues and also succeed in not isolating one particular region.

It is indeed true that people from the North east of India face discrimination but if that has to be stopped, celebrating ‘cultures’ or creating special cells would not go a long way in helping. Attitudes need to be changed. Calling people “Chinky” has to be stopped. These measures at making people feel at home in their homeland is something that needs to be thought about. Will integrating the people of a region, into a country that’s their own, actually be helpful in the long run?

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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.

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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 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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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