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Why North Campus Students Love Hanging Out At A Tibetan Refugee Colony

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By Bipasha Nath:

Being a college student has many perks. Making each day a little different from the previous one becomes a crucial part of college life. Seminars, plays, events and exploring new places around the city – and even outside of it – with friends, and friends of friends – such things go into making college life an experience unlike any other. Food and fashion become an integral part of this exploration – and talking of those, one cannot leave out Majnu ka Tilla (MKT).

Majnu ka Tilla is known as the ‘mini-Tibet’ of Delhi. This refugee colony is situated minutes away from North Campus. A quick auto ride from your college or the nearest metro station – Vidhan Sabha – would take you there. After the Tibetan uprising in 1959, the locality became a focal point for many refugees, who have set up permanent homes there.

It has become popular amongst students in the recent past. They can easily find what they require within the market and the list often includes shawls, accessories, books, prayer flags, gift items and original Tibetan food products. The restaurants in the area promise a whole new experience altogether. The decor, service, general atmosphere and the people one gets to meet there is pleasing, to say the least.

If one talks to store owners in the market, several things can be known. One of them told me that Tibetans from all over the world, when in India, usually stop over at MKT, making it a meeting point for Tibetans. Handicrafts from Tibet are popular amongst the student community. Unlike clothing, they never go out of style, and are, in fact, much in demand. Many of the goods are shipped from Dharamshala, and the sales pattern varies seasonally. During summer in Delhi, it is much less as fewer Tibetans visit the place. As for students, many shops take special care and keep gift items for youngsters at a reasonable price.

Situated right at the heart of the market, Karma Tours and Travels holds a significant position in the tourism sector. Shedding light on travel patterns of young students, they mention how booking rates usually go up during weekends as college goers make a small trip out of an extended weekend holiday to nearby places.

One finds plenty of differences in the air-conditioned shopping rooms and tented shops. The small-scale shopkeepers live a very different life. While the goods remain as quirky and attractive as the ones found inside authorised spaces, businessmen outside face more challenges as people tend to prefer branded items these days. One of the shopkeepers explained to me that he handpicked clothes, shawls and other items specially to suit the shopping patterns of youngsters, as they form a large chunk of customer unit. He mentioned that most of the people engaged in sales there, remain very conscious about their appeal to students, especially since the rate of young adults coming to the market has increased tremendously over the years.

Two frequent shoppers – Kritika and Tanya, feel the difference in kind of crowd in Majnu ka Tilla is what sets it apart from other shopping spots in Delhi. Since it a refugee camp, they believe a ‘Tibetan feeling’ comes off more strongly here than in other places. Kritika has been frequenting the market for more than six years, from the time she was still a student at Delhi University – and she cannot stop praising MKT for what it offers to eager shoppers. On the other hand, her friend voices her surprise at spotting black algae in the menu of one of the restaurants in MKT, while also commending the market for its diversity and versatility.

In general, the atmosphere one finds in MKT is that of tranquillity. Unlike other shopping centres, it is a rare sight to find people haggling over rates or quality of product. The marketplace is bustling, yet peaceful, possibly springing out from the harmony that already exists amongst the occupants.The proximity to Delhi University, the reasonable rates for different items, the bohemian twist that the atmosphere gets during evenings when people sit around, sing songs and play the guitar. Everything clearly adds to the charm that the market has. The colony has faced several challenges previously due to floods, but standing in the middle of the camp, one can only feel the hope, optimism, and determination that the people have shown time and again. It truly is a place that continues to grow, even as we speak.

Image source: Sneha Roychoudhury
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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.

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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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