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Travelling Through Northeast India Made Me Fall In Love With Its Diversity

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“When I’m on the road, I can afford to be selfish – thinking only about ‘me’.” I found my true sense of happiness during my travels. My solo trip to the Northeast has been one of them.

What was funny and interesting is how easily I blended there without trying much, thanks to my appearance. The local people in Manipur spoke to me in their language, Meitei. When I told them, I wasn’t Manipuri and didn’t know Meitei, they gave me a blank look. Mistaken identity? This made me realise the importance of travelling to unknown places and interacting with local people, the importance of giving and receiving knowledge.

I fell in love with the culturally diverse place and its people. In Meghalaya and Nagaland, no one stared or treated me like a tourist; the people I met were cool and civilised and welcomed me as their own. And seeing the women in the North Eastern states filled me with pride and confidence.

                                               Vibrant, fashionable yet traditional

What I really enjoyed observing in Imphal was how modern the women were, while being traditional in their attire and fashion. Though some states are matriarchal, their vibrant and fashionable personalities alongside their hardworking, confident, independent and entrepreneurial persona, captured me. I felt so proud of being a woman.

My kind of travel

I am a student of travel and tourism and worked in the travel industry, but guess what? I learnt that travel was my teacher only when I actually got out of the office. You will not love everything about travelling, nor do you have to travel alone to experience life. Just ensure you make your traveling count is what I believe.

Even though the tourism industry is always changing, there should be more preferences for authentic experiences. Otherwise, you’re only ticking off your bucket list and not really contributing to tourism or gaining much from it yourself. 

                                                                                   My sister (R) and me

This is also why I prefer to travel solo or with one other person as good company, which has been my sister so far. Travelling in groups can be fun and is perhaps a good way to make new friends, but I’ve found that travelling with yourself can be a much more healing, enlightening and enriching experience, and you still make friends. You come back with a change, a change you won’t feel or realise until much later.

Telling travel stories

My trip to the NE was like walking into an open culture museum, I was curious all the time! I have had the pleasure of sharing my experience and stories on the SHEROES travel community in their #NortheastDiaries campaign and it has been a heartening experience to be able to encourage and help women with their curiosities and prejudices whilst interacting with them.

I find that such community discussions are a good way to not just share, impart and gather information, but also gain the confidence and impetus that we are actually looking for at times.

I often get asked by friends about women’s safety before their solo trip, and while I can, and do vouch for some places, I think a lot of it has to do with how responsibly we travel and the way we engage with places. I have been mistreated in the cities I have lived and worked in, but never whilst travelling on the road or at the tourist places in cities that I have lived in. I felt equally unsafe in Hollywood at night on the street on my solo trip to California.

No boxes for women

Nonetheless, I think there have been a lot of advancements in the tourism industry to help women travel and see the world comfortably; from women-only travel communities and groups to women tour leaders and women led-travel companies. I am sure there will be more of such support for women in the travel industry.

Yet, I prefer that women not be put into one such box in the name of safety. Rather, I aspire to see a world where women and men can live and travel together in harmony, and safely like in the Northeast. Here women no longer have to think twice about a fundamental right such as travelling before making an impromptu trip.

 

I’ll sign off by saying, stop hesitating and procrastinating, because remember, “Dust if you must, but bear in mind, old age will come and it’s not kind. And when you go (and go you must), you, yourself, will make more dust.”

About Anjalina Pradhan:
Everything about travel and tourism fascinates me. A mountain and flower lover from Mirik (I’ll let you Google where that is), who learnt much about life from her travel adventures. I call myself an unashamed multipotentialite 🙂 When not on the road, I help with our family holiday home and homestay. I share my travels @being_places on Instagram and am also active on the women-only SHEROES Travel community. 

                                                          SHEROES Communities for women are accessible via Sheroes.com and the SHEROES app
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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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