Being An Ally To Adivasis

So, you’re someone who wants to contributes to change. You’ve read news about the Adivasis who are losing land to Adani’s project or being wrongly detained in jails of Chhattisgarh. You’ve enjoyed certain privileges because of the circumstances you were born into. That’s not really in your control. You know what is? Being an ally to those who don’t enjoy these same privileges.

Allies have proven extremely effective in campaigns across the world, and most recently in India, when the judgement of Section 377 was still pending, and bills that discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community were on the brink of being introduced by our lawmakers. The nation came together as allies to voice their opinions and celebrate the Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377.

Every day, instances of discrimination against Adivasis are reported, but unfortunately, it isn’t something that reaches mainstream news. The need for allyship towards Adivasis is growing by the day, with the attempt to silence the voices of those fighting for them and the increase in exploitative large scale projects that are being sanctioned.

So, what can you do? How can you be an ally? Here’s your guide to being an ally to Adivasis-

  • Recognise your privileges and understand that although you didn’t choose or create them, you cannot shun them. This Buzzfeed quiz from 2014 which lets you check how privileged you are did rounds again recently and is a good place to start to gain some perspective. Learning about yourself- your religion, roots, ethnicity, class, caste, gender, etc is imperative to understanding your relationship with other people in our country and their situations.
  • Educate Yourself. Learning and educating yourself about Adivasis is the next important step in becoming an ally. Although there isn’t a lot of extensive and respectful information about Adivasis on the internet,  articles like this one are a good place to start. Read about the challenges and issues affecting them, Adivasi leaders and activists and Adivasi movements. Along with this, don’t forget to also read about their successes, achievements and their immense contribution to the country. The knowledge you gain will help you understand the Adivasis and their cause better, enabling you to take more effective action.
  • Check your Prejudices and Biases and Say Goodbye To Them. Certain words, phrases and stereotypical descriptions are only harmful to the Adivasis and need to be removed from your dictionary if you want to be a good ally. Words like “backward”, “primitive”, “junglee” reimpose the stereotypes that have been propagated through the years. Refrain from using words and statements that are hurtful or inappropriate in nature. To go one step further, help people around you understand the reality and explain how reinforcement of prejudiced beliefs harms the communities, as it leads to more ignorance and less solidarity.
  • Support an Adivasi Organization/Initiative/Individual. Right from grassroots-based journalism by CGNET Swara to hip hop artists like Alok Eric,  there are plenty of organisations and people that you can support. Donating money to, volunteering with, spread awareness about or working with an organization or initiative whose work aligns with what the Adivasis want and need can be a win-win situation. They gain a devoted supporter and you gain more knowledge and experience. The first three points will come very handy in this situation!
  • Support Adivasi-run Services and Companies Purchasing from companies that sell goods made by Adivasis can be a great way to encourage more Adivasi talent and enterprises. From artists like Jangarh Singh Shyam to pop culture companies like Being Oraon, there are a lot of opportunities to support Adivasi run enterprises. Unfortunately, a lot of brands have appropriated Adivasi culture and used their cultural markers and photos in their products, with no credit or permission from the communities itself. Ironically, Adivasis are known for being self-sustainable and non-materialistic. Buying products that have the community’s participation in the process is the ethical and responsible way to go about it.
  • Open Up Opportunities and Mentor More Adivasis. Right from journalism to fashion, from education to policy makers- representation of Adivasis in almost all sectors of industries is negligible. Opening up more opportunities for Adivasis, mentoring them, seeking Adivasi participation through affirmative action like Feminism in India does will help foster an environment of inclusivity and equal opportunity.

It is essential that Adivasis present their own stories and opinions in their voices and languages.

What NOT to do while being an ally?

As much as we encourage you to become an ally to the Adivasis and their causes, it is important to know the don’ts-

  1. Enable, do not overpower.
  2. Empathise, do not sympathise.
  3. Listen, do not assume and ask questions if you have any (do it respectfully)
  4. Do not behave as though you know best.
  5. Do not assume that every member of a marginalised group feels oppressed.

Being an ally is hard work and is a process. No one has all the knowledge there is to have. It’s all about being open to learning, so ask questions about concepts and situations you may have doubts about. What’s important is the acknowledgement of past mistakes and future direction, and taking a step toward it.

 

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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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