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Our Obsession With White Skin Makes Us Believe Anything They Say: A Chat Between Friends

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Khush: You have always talked about the white-skin complex in our country. Look at this article in Times of India, about how we Indians are crazy about foreigners with a fair complexion. We keep hankering for selfies with them. This is so humiliating!

Harry: You can say this again. This complex is a major reason for the downfall of our country. I have personally suffered a lot in my career, from the very onset. I am sure there are a million others who suffer every day.

Khush: Really! How come you have never told me this? What happened? Was it really bad?

Harry: Indeed! A do-or-die situation. I had no option but to cheat.

Khush: Cheat? Oh! You mean the Anglo-Indian Bollywood actor you used to impersonate an engineering expert? Ah yes, you told me this a long time ago. What was his name?

Harry: Steven Kingsley. It was fun to make him do all that.

Khush: You didn’t do all that for fun, did you?

Harry: No! My entire purchase order for critical equipment would have been cancelled had I not got a white-skin expert from my licensor to be at the factory during the manufacturing stage.

Khush: Why?

Harry: I could neither afford nor convince the licensor to send someone from their office every week. That left me with no option but to hire an Anglo-Indian actor as a substitute.

Khush: Oh really! What could the actor have done? He did not know your field.

Harry: He just had to do his job. That was to act, and I had to direct him.

Khush: This is really funny. What did you ask him to do?

Harry: I told him to speak with an accent no one understood, and I acted as the translator. He had to say ‘no’ whenever I raised my eyebrow, ‘yes’ otherwise. He was a good actor and I, a good scriptwriter.

Khush: And how did you convince the client?

Harry: With a white-skin holder of a British passport by my side, my work progressed speedily and without the usual interference and inspection. However, getting a letter from the licensor stating that the actor was their expert needed some doing. It had to be done as both of us would have lost money had the order been cancelled.

Khush: What about the equipment? Did everything work out well? Your expertise is well-known, you couldn’t have failed.

Harry: Where was the question of failing? The equipment has been working flawlessly for the past 20 years. The tragedy is that we Indians don’t trust ourselves. We need a white-skin licensor to endorse what we do. Despite having talented engineers, it’s a shame that we continue to import technology.

Khush: Sad!

Harry: Yes. I had to tie-up with this licensor for five years. And pay them 7% for merely endorsing every piece of equipment I made using technology I had developed.

Khush: My God! What a loss to the nation! Why do we have this complex?

Harry: Ask yourself, Khushroo Screwvala! Didn’t you fair-skinned Parsis suck up to the British rulers who were of much lighter complexion?

Khush: Rascal, how dare you? On what grounds do you say that?

Harry: I am just stating a fact. How else can the Parsis push their way around in India so well but fail in the West?

Khush: You bastard! You are a turncoat. You are saying that we’re responsible for India’s downfall?

Harry: Not at all. On the contrary, you guys have done a lot of good for the country in every field.

Khush: Then who are you blaming, you rogue?

Harry: This is not a blame game, just a fallout of British rule in India. Since there weren’t enough Englishwomen here, they married the locals and gave rise to the Anglo-Indian community. This community turned out to be more British in their ways than the British themselves. They were given key positions in every field on account of their light-colour skin. This is how the white-skin complex spread in our country.

Khush: I see your point now. How do we eradicate it?

Harry: On the contrary, the complex has only become more deeply entrenched post-independence. We are increasingly dependent on them for technology. Every company ties up with a foreign brand. We even hire white-skin staff to market our products in India. The heads of departments are white because it is believed that they will be able to control others better.

Khush: Now, that’s going too far. Why don’t we understand this?

Harry: We need to make people aware of this fact. And repose confidence in the abilities of our fellow countrymen. Many Indians are heading corporations abroad. Proof enough that we Indians are in no way inferior to others.

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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, 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.

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