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‘The President Of USA Has All Of A Sudden Taken Away My Safety’

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By Sonali Yaddav:

I was chasing my dream of doing something big with my life when I turned to the United States of America (USA) to pursue my master’s in Business Administration. My dad had to face a lot of difficulty and everyone scoffed at my self-inflicted marathon to go to the USA. I needed to be far from the protective umbrella of my parents and relatives. I needed to grow. I knew that I wanted more exposure, more global experience and I wanted my own human revolution. Let me tell you, I did get one.

As an Indian woman, I had felt so self-assured when I was pursuing my master’s. I was probably the youngest in my class because my classmates had more professional experience than I had. I was studying full-time while my fellow colleagues were attending classes after eight hours of work. I was happy. I was doing well in class and I could return to my apartment in the wee hours of the morning feeling safe. I could roam around the city in short clothes, and would not have to worry about eve teasing. I was answerable to myself alone. My performance in class was exceptional and I was getting the confidence that I needed. There were some hiccups here and there of course, but I was flying with vibrant colours.

I am pointing out that as an Indian woman, I felt beautiful. I realised how precious I was and how precious my assets were in a foreign country.

Once, there was this classmate who was doing a group project with me. I knew she had already got into trouble with another girl in a previous class. She had been sending nasty emails about the other girl to her fellow teammates. During this semester, she was grouped with me. I felt that I needed to maintain distance.

Once, I was giving a brief of our project guidelines in our group meeting when she blatantly told me that my English was terrible. I looked at her, smiled, and started talking slowly. She interrupted me again. She said that she could not understand anything I said because of my Indian accent. I understood what she was saying. It is not a new problem. Some Americans have problems in understanding what is being said in an Indian accent, as both accents sound very different. I stepped aside and allowed an American fellow to speak.

In one of the consecutive meetings, when I took the responsibility of editing the final paper, she said that if my native language wasn’t American English, I should not take the responsibility. I told her that we are taught English from prep school and English is our official language. I told her that the number of English speakers in India is second to that of USA. She was garbed in ignorance and I wanted to tarnish that garb and tell her that I was very much capable of editing a paper. Just like anyone else in the group. When she was still resistant, I stopped wasting my time on deaf ears and complied. Not long after, I overheard her saying to a fellow classmate that I had an attitude which was completely unjustified because I was from a country like India. She further mentioned that I should be grateful to be allowed to enter this country, given my country of origin and lack of opportunities there. I feigned ignorance and rolled my eyes. After all, it was her opinion and her opinion about me is none of my business. Also, she never said anything directly to me, so I preferred to walk off.

Let’s fast forward to a couple of years later when Donald Trump was made the presidential nominee. My current landlord is a naturalised American, a college dropout and works in a call centre. She would drink wine every Friday and shout “Trump, Trump, Trump,” outside my door and would ask me earnestly to leave her country. She called me an immigrant, which had magically become an offensive term within the few months of the presidential drama. While she was drunk on her wine, she would say that I’d taken away her job. Never directly to me, but loud enough so that I could hear her. I have been educated in college, have a double master’s, work on a legal VISA and have a legal status in the country. She never told me anything directly, so I huffed and puffed in silence, engaged my close friends in her madness, but kept my mouth shut.

Then came the fateful day when Donald Trump finally became the President of USA. I think my landlord had grown wings as she started saying the same things even when she was sober.  She would say that I should go back to my country as I was taking space, and that my country is just like the movie Slumdog Millionaire and that I am from a slum with uneducated parents. I opened my mouth, in all soberness, that the entire length and breadth of my family is college educated and she should not be concerned about my VISA status. I am here on merit and not on someone’s charity. The day I opened my mouth, it went for a showdown and I was not backing down. From that day she started picking on me for trivial stuff. Not only that, my other housemates also started being intolerant about small things. They’d make an issue if I’d leave an orange peel in the trash which generated smell and would expect me to walk in the house with sneakers (in a negative temperature) because me wearing boots in the house before I went to work created ‘noise’. I was not allowed to use the microwave after 11 pm, not allowed to do laundry in the house, not allowed to take my dog out after a certain time, and so on. I complied because it was a no lease house and I was paying cash every month. The rent was low and I had recently moved. Then one day, she texted me to move out on the last day of this month. With less than a 10 day notice, I said, sure. The same hour, when I was walking from my kitchen to my room, my landlord barged in my room and shouted at the top of her lungs and said that she would have me arrested. When I asked on what basis, she walked off. A classic example of a bully

I have done nothing wrong and I still have to move out. But at what cost. I came from India for a better future. But what I went through was clear racism. The president of United States of America has all of a sudden taken my safety. Racism is real, very much so, because I have been a victim of it. Dirty thoughts which were in the minds of filthy people are now lashing out in public. I am sceptical of finding a new place or having a new partner for my project since I do not know who else will call me an immigrant. The new word to create an aura of inferiority.


Image source: Spencer Platt/ Getty Images

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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.

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.

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.

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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.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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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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