This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Campus Watch. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What 4 Years In India As An African Muslim Student Has Meant To Me

More from Campus Watch

By Halima Bello Husseini:

I was nine years old when I had first come to India in 2003. My visit here was nothing less than a blast – I learned Hindi within three months of being here (which made life easy), went to one of the best schools in Delhi and made friends during hours of mischief and laughter. In fact, I owe my interest in old classic movies to my principal at DPS International School, Saket. It was at school when I saw The Sound of Music for the first time. While I was here, I also visited the Taj Mahal and other major tourist sites in northern India; I even had my first real crush while I was here. When I left India as a 13-year-old, I took back all these wonderful memories from my stay – which have never been too far away from my heart ever since.

So, it is understandable that when my acceptance letters came from various higher educational institutes in India, I was all too thrilled to make more wonderful memories here. I clearly remember the night before coming to India; my parents sat down with me and my brother and gave us ‘the talk’ – the hour long (sometimes longer) dictation you get on being a responsible representative of yourself, your family and your country. It’s a tradition for us! Funnily enough, at that time I was wondering why my parents were fussing about so much – I’ve lived in India before. But little did I know, they were right in whatever they said to me that night.

I departed for New Delhi for the second time in 2013. I had plans, dreams and hopes which I wanted to achieve before my undergraduate years were up. While I thought I had it all planned out, hardly anything happened as I thought. Firstly, the hot weather hit me hard. I’d never known global warming until it kissed my cheeks the minute I left the Indira Gandhi International Airport; it was then that I realised – Delhi has changed over the years. I was even more excited now because this meant getting to fall in love with the city all over again. Despite the heat melting me and my brother down, we smiled as we visited different universities and campuses that we had been accepted into. In the end, both of us chose a university at the far end of Haryana – APJ Stya University.

I had never been one to be reserved about going to a new place, I was used to it as a child of a diplomat. However, this time everything felt different for the first time. I felt like the foreigner. I was in this city – hesitant and anxious. Everyone around looked at me as an ‘outsider’; I could see that everyone saw me like the female, black-Muslim (that I was) walking into the gates of the hostels. Being able to speak Hindi also turned out to be a double-edged sword. While it made it easy to communicate with people, it was also a curse because I understood what people were saying about me – both good and bad. On my first night in the hostel, I didn’t cry. I just stood in the room that I was assigned and just stared at nothingness. I felt empty and hollow, just like the room. However, two nights later, after I had said goodbye to my father – the tears poured with a vengeance.

Next week, I started classes and it became exhilarating. One of the hardest things for me was to find a place or group where I was accepted and felt like I belonged. My physical appearance, being the first and for a while, the only African female on campus made me conspicuous. I was a spectacle that everyone watched unblinkingly – judging and analysing. They were fascinated, but mostly feared me. My skin colour acted like a monarch butterfly’s brightly coloured wings – warning them to stay away which most of them did. I had realised my preconceived juvenile understanding of Indians wasn’t applicable anymore. I finally started to see, experience and understand the diversity of the country.

However, some people didn’t look at me like this and soon I was making friends. Yet, it was tasking to figure out what people’s expectations from me were. I learnt that my candid and outspoken nature wasn’t received well by the majority of people. So, I became picky about what I said and to whom I said it to – this was my first adult lesson in the country. Today, I understand the issue was that I didn’t fit into any one box and (Indian) society demanded categorisation and a simple tagline, while I was a paragraph. It rattled them when one day I wore a burqa, the next day I wore jeans and a top and the day after that I wore my native wear. It was confusing for them to see me fully covered whenever outside the hostel gates, never shaking a male’s hand or having any form of physical contact with the opposite gender. At the same time, I wore the skimpiest outfits when it was just us girls – I curse like a sailor and I love talking about the most controversial topics like sex, the woman’s body, race, sexuality, menstruation, religion and the most taboo of all, Pakistan.

I believe that Bollywood has presented India in only one light – with abundant colours, lights, music, dance, art and wildlife. The truth, however, is like the god Brahma. India has multiple faces and it took living here twice to understand that. There was a day when I was travelling to Delhi on the yellow metro line. A woman and her daughter sat beside me and instantly my eyes caught the title of the book the kid was reading. Seeing my curiosity, the mother started a conversation with me and we spent the entire ride talking to each other. We talked about life, culture, taboos, importance of books and love. On a different day, from Green Park to Huda, I again found myself sitting next to a mother and a child. The child was looking at me the way toddlers usually look at a stranger. I smiled and reached out to play with the kid but the mother gave me the stink-eye and took the child away, making them sit out of my reach. I sat there, unable to feel anything for a long time. And that is India, a nation that can embrace you with open arms, shower you with glitter and make you sing songs of beauty and joy while at the same throw mud on your face.

It’s been almost four years since that tasking first week of college; and I have been falling in love with my course, Journalism and Mass Communication, more and more every year. I think it’s the traveller in me. Just like books, journalism and mass communication have the power to transport you from one life to another. My stay in India is almost over, and it might be another decade before I return. Unlike the childhood naivety that covered my eyes in the past, today I see India for what it is. A land of vibrancy and luridness, complexity and simplicity, secularism and racism, hospitality and exclusiveness, enlightenment and ignorance, spirituality and scepticism. But most importantly, it is a land of lifelong lessons – and I am glad to have learnt some of them in these years.


Image provided by author.
You must be to comment.

More from Campus Watch

Similar Posts

By Kritika Nautiyal

By Kunal Gupta

By Mohit Nimal

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below