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A Chat With The Fiery Slam Poet From Nagaland Who Has Taken Over The Internet

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By Lipi Mehta:

Vinatoli Yeptho is a 22-year-old studying law in Kolkata. Originally from Dimapur, Nagaland, today she’s no stranger to the discrimination women from the North East part of India face every day. However when she was leaving her hometown with dire warnings by her elders to be “aware and alert”, Vinatoli tried to keep all her biases aside because she had “so many dreams and positivity”. But in her very first few months at a Gujarat college (where she studied  before moving to Kolkata), she experienced something that was impossible to just “shake off”.

“The students were overly nice,” she recounts.“One evening, a bunch of girls followed me and asked me, ‘Where are you from in China?’ I told them I am actually from Nagaland. And then they asked, ‘Ah, where in China is Nagaland?'” This was the first time Vinatoli had encountered what she had only heard about till now – that people in her own country know little or nothing about the North East part of India. When she told them Nagaland is in India, they seemed “disappointed”. “This was the first time I faced something like this, but definitely not the last,”she told me over our phone chat.

Such experiences continued even when she moved to Kolkata – where it wasn’t uncommon for her to be asked if she was from Myanmar, Japan or China. Sexual harassment of women from the North East especially, as she observed, was disturbingly common on the streets. Moved and disturbed, she wrote and performed “Five Rules For Whomever It May Concern”, a poem that boldly addresses the shame and sexism women have to face for simple, everyday life choices.

And over the last week, Vinatoli’s poem has taken the internet by storm.

“If I wear red cherry blossom lipstick and smile at you, do not take it otherwise. It is just courtesy, not curiosity,” she says as one of the five rules. I was blown away when I first heard her powerful slam poetry. And while chatting with her I realised how her  passion to act against this discrimination is almost infectious. The conversation made me think about how little I myself know about what it means to be a woman from the North East part of India and live in another city, where most of the population knows little about your history or culture.

Immensely inspiring, Vinatoli said she’s determined to continue writing about issues such as anxiety, body shaming, and racial discrimination – issues that we don’t consider “real” enough. “We know it’s happening but we don’t admit it,” she said. And through her work, she hopes to break the silence around just how intense and real harassment is for a woman from the North East, “who’re labelled by so many people, in so many layers”.

And for those quick to jump to conclusions  Vinatoli had a simple request, “If you don’t know, ASK me about my culture. I’ll be very glad to explain. Don’t assume, and don’t judge me.”

Attend ‘Five Rules For Whomever It May Concern’, a performance by Vinatoli at the Youth Ki Awaaz Summit. The Summit is two-day event that’ll bring together 20+ changemakers from across themes who define the voice of young India. To attend, click here to apply!

Featured image courtesy: Vinatoli Yeptho | Facebook
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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.

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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.

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)’.

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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.

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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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