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To Fight Racism In India, We Must Accept That It Exists

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Some people carry their honour in a flag,
And of their nationality they brag.
They feel superior and they differentiate,
And against those who are different they discriminate.
Francis Duggan

Last year, the topic of a debate in my school on the occasion of August 15 was, “We celebrate Independence Day, but are we really independent?“.

This genuine question has never been addressed precisely. Discrimination as a social process, as comprehended by the majority, elite and hegemonic group, is so normalized that democratic principles of the constitution seem to mock minorities – the suppressed, inhibited and oppressed sections of society.

To pen down all the forms of discrimination people face every day in our campuses, states, and the whole nation, is quite a difficult task. This article aims to foreground the issue of racism which is often normalized and seldom realized in this, the biggest democratic and most diversely populated country in the world.

In a survey released a few years ago by ‘The Washington Post’, India was ranked among the most racist countries in the world. This headline reminds us of the recent controversial comment of former BJP parliamentarian Tarun Vijay, wading into a racist row: “we have people with different colours and cultures, but still never had any racism.” It’s astonishing how the conscience of our leaders is agnostic on the discriminatory issues occurring in their own cities.

Delhi itself is one of the most racist cities in India, where humiliation and taunts faced by people from the North-East and South, exclusion based on religion, racism against foreigners etc are not punishable offences as revealed by a government report.

For many North-East Indians, if you are based in Delhi and other metro-cities, you must face discrimination. Chinese, chinky, momo, chowmein etc are such common derogatory words used against them not only in public, spaces but in the country’s most prestigious educational spaces, such a Delhi University. They are harassed verbally as well as physically. Eve-teasing cases are common for North-Eastern girls. Unashamedly, people have given them the tag of “easily available”.

Many reports have also highlighted the problem of accommodation for North-Eastern DU students. Either they are turned away or asked to pay twice the usual rent for boarding, and not given rent documents. There are 14 colleges in the University of Delhi that offer hostel facilities including Sri Ram College of Commerce, Miranda House, Hindu college and SGTB Khalsa College. The dormitory allocation in most of them is solely based on first come first serve basis, which leaves acquisition of a hostel room on the applicant’s luck. Delhi University partially takes care of women’s accommodation for female applicants but also fails to address the needs of male candidates. A worried male candidate coming from Nagaland said, “We are uncomfortable in preferring flats over hostels as the crime rate against N-Es has only increased over the years.

Returning to the topic of the school debate, I feel that it’s true that we are still fighting for freedom even after 70 years of independence. The only difference is that we rebelled against the colonial rule in 1947; today we are fighting against our own people, and curbing their right to become and feel free in independent India. It seems contradictory when our leaders quote the glorious ancient Indian texts stating, “Vasudeva Kutumbakam (the world is one family).” If this were really so, then, Zubair, a 30-year-old from northern Nigeria, wouldn’t have said, “The first words I learnt in India were, Kala (black) and Bandar (monkey).” Now, is it really possible to go with the statement of Mr Vijay that India has never been racist?

African students in India face racism on a daily basis. Recently, Endurance Amalawa, a Nigerian studying in India, was admitted to the hospital after being attacked by a mob in Greater Noida. Locals had blamed a group of Nigerian students for the death of an Indian teenager even though the police had no evidence linking them with the youngster. The stereotypes attached and these forms of alienation based on ethnocentrism are a matter of shame and dismay for the whole Indian society.

Although the constitution says that there shouldn’t be any kind of division on the basis of race, caste, gender, class, etc, there is no specific law to address racism. Recently, MP Shashi Tharoor introduced the Anti-discrimination and Equality Bill, 2016. The bill deals with discrimination, victimization and harassment, but the Central government is yet to send the Bill to the parliamentary standing committee. Also, in 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs asked the Delhi High Court to introduce two new sections in the IPC, dealing with racial discrimination.

Despite a number of mob lynchings, harassment cases, and humiliation of minorities based on race or ethnicity, no further steps have been taken in this regard.

To end racism, first, we need to accept that it exists. An ignorant attitude will only normalize the issue of racism in India. We need to have a department dedicated to addressing human rights violations against students in the country. NGOs working on human rights need to speak out against discrimination and racist violence and provide action and legal support to the victims. The human resources ministry must hold anti-racism campaigns on university campuses, and students should be told about the importance of various scholarships for higher education. Students must be given proper lodging facilities around campuses or other residential areas instead of specific areas with homogeneous cultural neighbours, which increases alienation. Most importantly, the government should pass correct and appropriate laws to tackle racism in India.

Moreover, we need proper education to seek the real meaning of freedom in India and fight for it collectively. It’s not our right, but our responsibility.

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “Nothing in the entire world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” India is a secular country and everyone has to be respectful and should give everyone else a chance. Culture heterogeneity is the pride of India, but ignoring the very presence of racism will only result in alleviating hatred and intolerance. So, let’s unite and fight racism.

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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.

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.

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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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