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How Being A ‘Bihari’ Has Made Me Face Prejudice Within My Own Country

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By Sumit Kumar:

Bihar has a very high frequency of crime, but this does not mean that I am a criminal, goon, murderer, or thief. The jailbreak event happened at Jehanabad, my home district, but that does not qualify me as a Naxalite. Bihar probably tops the list for dirtiness in the Swachh Bharat Mission rankings, but this does not mean that my clothes are dirty. Bihar tops the list in terms of illiteracy, but that does not mean that I am illiterate. Casteism is ingrained in the social order of Bihar, but that does not mean that I am casteist. Corruption is high in Bihar, but that does not mean I am corrupt and dishonest.

Man sitting on a parapet by the sea. Mumbai shoreline available in the distance
For representation only. Source: Flickr.

Don’t mock my Bihari identity. Don’t be sceptical about me because of my home state. Bihar is not a separate country, it is the cerebrum of India, which provides one of the highest number of IAS officers and IITians in the country. A Bihari or an entire region does not commit a wrong, an individual does. I hope you are well educated and understand the political, economic, societal and historical importance of Bihar in modern India. I will not be offended if you make fun my regional identity as I have faced enough of it, and any obnoxious comment will be like water on a duck’s back for me. But, one day, if your grandson, or great-grandson for that matter, settles down in Bihar for some reason, he will be abused in the same manner as you are abusing me today. The feeling behind racism does not limit itself to colour, it extends to region, religion, caste, customs, language and other ethnic traits.

No, I am not playing the ‘victim’ card. If you call yourself a nationalist who proudly hails Bharat Mata, you should also respect me, irrespective of my regional identity, because I am also a tiny part of Bharat Mata. But, if you physically expel me from one part of Bharat Mata to show off your regionalism then, sorry to say, you are anything but a nationalist. If you call me a thief, only because some thieves had stolen 10,000 rupees from your wallet, who happened to be residents of Bihar, then I am sorry, you are nothing but anti-rational.

Raj Thackeray
Raj Thackeray.

The frequent attacks on north Indian people in Maharashtra unleashed by local fringe elements under the garb of regionalism abetted by demagogues like Raj Thackeray and others have vandalised pluralism in Maharashtra. Every North Indian has the right to live in Maharashtra as does every Marathi or south Indian, for that matter, have the right to settle in north India. The 2008 attacks on the north Indians by people who had the support of none other than the self-proclaimed Marathi hero Raj Thackeray was a stain on the land of Shivaji.

Referring to people from the north-east as ‘chinky’, ‘Bangladeshi’ etc. in other parts of India clearly reflects the racist mindset existing in Indian society. Not to mention the unabated violence against the people from the north-east in Delhi has made them vulnerable and fearful in their own nation on account of their fellow nationals. Shah Rukh Khan starrer ‘Chak De India’ reflects the racial prejudice against tribals from Jharkhand in one of the scenes in which the girl from Punjab ridicules the duo from Jharkhand because of their place of origin.

A robust democracy stands on the protection of rights of each and every citizen irrespective of his or her ethnic identity. To be fair and honest, we have failed on this front and we will continue to fail unless we, the rational and logical youth stand and fight for the rights of vulnerable ethnic groups. Conducting seminars or conferences or intellectual debates isn’t the only solution. The solution lies in injecting the racial tolerance in the people from very basic level, i.e., schools and the home. The solution lies in making inclusive schools and colleges where students from different ethnic groups study, play and interact together. The solution lies in making people understand that a mistake committed by one individual cannot justify violence against the whole community.

Also read: “I Am Not Wanted Even In My Nation”: A North East Indian Calls Out Our Rampant Racism.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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