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How I Learnt To Find ‘My Kind’ Of People In Every State, Culture, And Religion

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I don’t remember the exact time in my childhood when I started feeling the differences I had with people from different states and cultures. My parents never told me about such differences. In fact, my parents used to take me to pirs, gurudwaras, churches and temples – and I was always told that all the Gods teach us the same lessons. I was never told that people from different cultures who follow different traditional values are different from me.

Moreover, till I was in class 12, I never had a long interaction with anyone outside my cultural boundary. We used to go on holidays – but since my parents were always with me, I never had to think about sharing a bond with other people.

Yet, I was confident that these people were quite different from us. I believe I imbibed these through society, television and my surroundings.

Do People From Different States Have Different Thinking Mechanisms?

The time came when I had to go to Punjab for my graduation. I must say that I was really scared of meeting new kinds of people. I still remember what I was thinking that day – that they had some different mechanism in their body for working and thinking.

I was assigned a hostel room with two girls – one was from my state, the other from Punjab. I was relieved that there was at least someone from my state in my room. However, little did I know that after nine years of staying in the hostel, I would be spending the rest of my life with the girl from Punjab. She still follows traditions different from the ones I follow – yet, she understands me more than any other person.

My faith in ‘unity in diversity’ was strengthened after an incident in which my brother was involved. My brother had always lived in Haryana – and when he got admitted to a reputed college in Mumbai, we were happy as well as scared for him. After all, he was the most introvert among us and could not talk to strangers easily.

But, to our surprise, he gelled up with people over there in no time. In fact, he became quite gregarious. Nowadays, he generally comes home after his exams, when the vacations are more than 10 days long. Otherwise, during all the major festivals that we celebrate at home, he stays in Mumbai.

In the first year of college, he was upset about not being able to celebrate Diwali and Holi the way we used to at home. However, in the second year, he was so happy when he and his friends were invited by people to take part in Ganesh Visarjan, which is celebrated with much love and passion in Mumbai. The boys were given the whole responsibility to make arrangements, do the visarjan and were made to feel at home.

This was the time when my brother fell in love with the city. Since then, he has started considering Mumbai as his home. Now, my brother and his friends also celebrate Diwali, Holi, and Eid with the locals. He has found great harmony in celebrating different cultures. And did I forget to mention that there are two Hindus, one Sikh, and one Christian in my brother’s group of friends?

Unity in diversity (Image used for representative purposes only. Picture Credit: Maneesh Satheesan)

I do not think that there are too many families which teach their kids to stay away from people belonging to different traditions and cultures. Still, these perceptions and differences get deeply etched in our minds – and as we cross over to a different state, we seem to be foreigners to each other.

For instance, if a person from north Indian has to go to a state in south Indian for a job perspective, the person’s family is likely to get all tensed about how the person will adapt to the people there. A similar situation may arise when a person from north-east India travels to Delhi for better opportunities. On the other hand, while it’s true that we have different religions, talk differently and have different beliefs, does that entitle us to build walls of hatred or fear?

It’s very easy for us to stereotype people from different cultures, religions, and states. Many jokes and stereotypes are made on the people from Bihar portraying them either as IAS types or as laborers. But, I had an amazing friend from Bihar who was very cheerful and was pursuing MBA. Similarly, Punjabis are commonly portrayed or stereotyped as   very loud and ready-to-fight people. Yet, my best Punjabi friends have never fought ‘with or against’ me but always ‘for’ me. Also, while people from Kerala are represented as the nerdy type, I have Malayali friends who are extremely fun-loving. People from Haryana are considered to be rude and verbally abusive – yet, I have met some extremely loving and caring people during my stay there.

Having seen all these people, the stereotypes I had since childhood have been completely shattered. I have come to terms with the fact that you can find ‘your kind’ of people in any culture, any religion and any state.

To celebrate ‘unity in diversity’, SisSaheli is organising a picture contest where you can send pictures showing bonding and love between different cultures, states or religions. There are prizes worth ₹10,000 to win and each winning entry will receive a prize worth ₹1,000. So, let’s scroll through your camera and find the pictures that you cherish and show much unity in diversity. You can send your entries to sissaheli@gmail.com. You can check our FB page for more information.

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Featured image for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Maneesh Satheesan
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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.

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.

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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.

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 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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