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A Jamia Student Shares Why Their Canteens Are Special (Apart From The Yummy Food)

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By Towfeeq Wani:

My friend Maria says that a university should not be judged by its classrooms, laboratories or libraries. It should be judged by the spaces outside the classrooms. It is the space outside the classrooms where students begin to take control of their lives. This is where students interact with others, develop their thoughts, try to make meaningful changes and above all, discover themselves.

Dastarkhwan

Dastarkhwan, a canteen in the university is one such important space in Jamia Milia Islamia. I have been frequenting this place for almost two years. I usually go with friends  but sometimes I go alone as well. The word dastarkhwan is used to refer to the cloth on which meal is served in the Islamic world.

One will find a picture of the Vice Chancellor inaugurating this canteen hanging on the wall. There are some faculty members, dignitaries and students around him. However, this is not the reason it is famous in Jamia. It was inaugurated on January 16, 2015 by Salma Ansari, wife of Vice President of India Mr. Hamid Ansari as a part of Jamia’s ‘Outreach Programme’ and ‘Women Empowerment Initiative’. This is a canteen inside a university campus which is run exclusively by women. It is operated by the Ekta self help group.

Around forty women from Jamia Nagar area are associated with the canteen today. Before the inauguration, Jamia’s Outreach Programme arranged for their training to ensure an effective business plan and entrepreneurial skills.

Each woman working here has a different story to tell. The earning helps them to lead a dignified life. For some, it is about supporting their higher education while others have to support their families. What bonds them together is the fact that all of them have had it hard in life. When one sees them smiling behind the counter, there is a willingness to pay the extra ten rupees they charge for a plate of chicken biryani. It is 10 rupees cheaper in the central canteen. The quality of the food is better than many cafes and canteens in the campus. Dastarkhwan doesn’t just attract students from Jamia, but people from outside as well.

I have been visiting this place with my friends right from the day of its inauguration for the lovely and lip smacking kebab-paranthas that are served in the evening.

Somehow, this canteen always reminds me of the Castro Café. It’s perhaps because of the design that one remembers the latter. It might also be as they shut down the Castro Café only recently in 2014. Dastarkhwan became the next hit spot in the campus.

Castro Cafe

Thinking of Castro Café makes one nostalgic. It is situated in the lush green lawns near Nehru Guest House and M.F. Hussain Art Gallery. This semi-open air café first came to the notice of the outside world in 2008 when it was featured on the cover of ‘The Modern Architecture of New Delhi’. The book described this café as ‘a blur of the inside and the outside through a space that is never enclosed.’

Jamia Millia named this café after Fidel Castro some time in 2004 as a tribute to one of the foremost anti-imperialist leaders of modern times. It used to be the favourite hangout spot for students, especially in the evenings. Its popularity in campus surpasses that of Dastarkhwan by miles. When it was declared in May, 2016 that Castro Café would be reopened, students were celebrating and cheering. Everyone was waiting for the exams and vacations to end.

However, two batches of students stand detached from this café and have no memories associated with it. So, it might take some more time to become the favourite hangout place once again.

Even then, who knows, Dastarkhwan and Castro Café might complement each other, since they are situated in two different campuses of the varsity, separated into almost equal halves by the road leading to Jamia Nagar and the newly constructed metro line overhead.  Speaking of this road and the metro line, there is a rather small gate near the old library that is never open. During the day, it might be the most dull and boring spot in the campus, but as soon as the clock strikes six in the evening, a tea vendor sets up shop there and stays there till about midnight. He sells the best quality tea available inside the varsity. When all the other cafes and canteens, small as well as big, close a few hours later, the sales of his tea shoot up as the number of students keep on increasing. There is hardly any topic in the entire world which is not discussed at this stall.

It isn’t just food that they serve in college canteens. There are endless memories with friends in the canteen as well. This is where everyone interacts, trying to think of making a difference and sometimes even discovering a new part of themselves.

Image Source: Dastarkhwan J.M.I/ 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.

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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.

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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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