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Why Should I Restrict Myself To One ‘Culture’ When My Heart Belongs To So Many Cities?

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By Deepika Srivastava:

deepika-padukone-still-from-yeh-jawani-hai-deewani_13643660300Writing this article at 21 feels like penning a chapter of my autobiography, or chalking out a mental map of my numerous thoughts. This article comes from a girl who has her roots in Lucknow, was born in Delhi, has lived in Gurgaon, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru and aspires to take up her first job in Kolkata. Kolkata seems the obvious choice. The Lokmanya Tilak route must be completed.

The girl is left numb when asked the most basic question: “Where do you hail from, tumhaari mitti kaunsi hai?”  She shies away from saying Lucknow as she has hardly been there though it is her ancestral place. Delhi – Nayi Dilli – is a city formed by migrants, and it is difficult to originally hail from there. Most of the time she gets away with Delhi, but that’s not what her heart says. She herself doesn’t know what her heart says. She hasn’t yet found the place which gives her that sense of belonging, which she can talk about with pride, that culture which she can don and walk around with pride.

She is an active participant and an active dancer during Navratri in Ahmedabad; she danced till she broke her bone during Ganesh Chaturthi in Bengaluru; she just can’t stop enjoying the parathas at ‘Parathe wali gali’ in Purani Dilli; Lucknowi chikankari kurtas have flooded her wardrobe; and she just can’t wait to blow the shell in Kolkata. Despite loving and respecting all these equally, she doesn’t know which to call her own. Will she ever know?

This is perhaps the story of the many service class people who have embraced the booming cosmopolitan culture with open arms. And it does creep into our everyday life, sub-consciously and super-consciously. After all, we migrate and become a part of the culture of that place. Even if we don’t, our social life ensures it happens. We dance, we play merry, come back in the night and then the lights are out. Have we embraced that culture or simply accepted it for societal reasons? What does it mean to embrace, and what does it mean to accept? We accept the numerous acquaintances in our daily life, but do we embrace them all?

The dictionary says that to embrace is to hug, or accept with an open heart. Most of the non-Gujaratis in Gujarat and many across the world have embraced Garba and Dandiya. But, is it a part of their culture? How do they make it a part of their culture? Do they want to make it a part of their culture? If so, what is culture?

The word culture comes across as a paradox. On one hand, it is associated with art, literature, music – things which seem accessible only to the elite. On the other hand, it is a part of one’s daily life – phrases like work culture, consumer culture, beer culture have been doing the rounds since one can remember. It is pristine yet utilitarian, exclusive yet inclusive, evolving yet constant, understood yet misunderstood; amid all of this, clearly a paradox, a paradox whose death, whose non-existence would make us all totalitarian beasts, the paradox which makes us human.

Since the advent of the information age, there have been numerous discussions, numerous debates about how the current generation is losing their culture; how culture is gradually waning, yet, how profound the influences of one’s culture are. It is worth wondering how something as intangible as culture can wane, or how something as constantly evolving as culture can be lost, or how something as subjective as culture can remain uninfluenced.

Embracing cultures – these two words have frankly had me boggled. At the surface level, it sounds quite simple, but as the shovel digs deeper the coarser gravel is unearthed. We all have indeed embraced other cultures on some level in this global age, but still have a long way to go. While we talk about embracing other cultures, it is far more important to understand and embrace our own. Culture and identity are synonymous. It is important to stand tall in the crowd. So what if one is a migrant? He too can have, or develop his own culture. Not staying connected to one’s roots due to inevitable circumstances doesn’t mean that culture is lost, it means that the culture has travelled, it has undertaken a new journey, it has evolved.

Culture is like DNA, unique for all. Each individual evolves differently and so does his/her culture. This holds even more significance today when every other person is tagged among the diaspora. Some of the diasporas are looking to form their own community within the larger cross-cultural community, to protect their identity, to protect their culture; the cultural affinity arising from a common place of belonging. It seems the more probable and accepted way to go. It gives immense comfort, but it would be more comforting to wear your own culture, your own identity like that sacred black thread and be an integral part in the cross-communion, where all cultures, all peoples evolve together. The nature of culture is to evolve, just like people. Our motherland has truly embraced all cultures equally, it is high-time we did too.

And that girl who doesn’t know which culture to call her own, which place to call her own, she could just say, “Hi, I am Deepika, I am an Indian.”

This article has also been published on the writer’s personal blog.

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  1. Nimisha Ranganath

    Out of curiosity, do you not have any take-aways at all from Bengaluru? The food, the language, nothing?

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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.

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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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