What’s The First Thing You Think Of When You See A Person From The North East?

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a person from the Northeast? Reservation, fashion, ‘foreigner’, ‘chinki’, momos and bamboo shoot? I am sure there are many more stereotyped images where those came from.

I come from the beautiful state of Arunachal Pradesh in North East India. We grew up listening to tacky Bollywood songs, cutting out pictures of Shahrukh Khan from magazines to paste on the walls, watching “Shaktimaan” every Sunday and gathering around the TV whenever “DDLJ” aired.

I still remember, vividly, my first year in Delhi. It was full of cultural and emotional surprises. The mention of my state did not really ring any bells for anyone. I spent my first few weeks helping people understand it is a geographical location within India. After many failed attempts, I succumbed to calling myself a “Northeastern” as everybody else in my position was doing. This was a big change in perception for me because people from the Northeast never originally identify themselves with that term. Growing up without internet, our connections to the rest of the country were mainly through television, old magazines, and newspapers that sometimes come weeks late, none of which had much to say about the Northeast states. We knew more about Delhi and Mumbai (or at least in the way the media presented them), than Mizoram or Manipur. However, once in Delhi, I was suddenly expected to know all about the other states of the North East – food, clothes, and languages. If I did not, I was often judged as ‘not informed enough’ about ‘my people’.

Well, speaking of my people, my state alone has around 26 major tribes in total, with each speaking different dialects, most of which are unintelligible to each other. On top of that, there is no guarantee that sharing the same tribe means sharing the same dialect. Just a few months ago, when I was at home for a few days, I remember my mom and me sharing a good laugh as we struggled to understand the dialect of a person who shares the same tribe as us, but belongs to a different village.

Every tribe has their version of food, depending upon the herbs and vegetation they grow in their regions. We have different local festivals according to our tribes. For me, the idea behind the phrase ‘my people’ was seriously disturbing and quite paradoxical, even.

So, there I was, identifying myself with a community I barely knew back then. I went from being a simple “Arunachali” to a very connotative “Northeastern”. I probably did not realize then the cultural influences it put me under. After all, what was just a geographical region for me, in the good old days, had just become an idea to adhere to.

Most of us don’t realize that there is a certain satisfaction in locating the recognition on people’s faces when they hear where you are from. It really is a luxury. We then go on enthusiastically to discuss more about our food, traditions, and so on. In doing this we assert ourselves, in a way, in the eyes of others. However, I realized that in my case there were too many expectations to conquer in order to have that luxury. So, the question “Where are you from?” became something that I would rather avoid, because how could I answer a question which already assumed to know its answer?

An Emuli village leader, Arunachal Pradesh. Image source: goldentakin/Flickr.

Women, in general, have enough stereotypes to deal with. Imagine another layer of ethnic stereotypes buttered on top of that. It becomes a distasteful mix. And I have had my share of that. Over the past few years I have not only been sexualized as a woman, but as a woman from the Northeast. Apparently, there are nuances to being sexualized depending on your physical features. When I went looking for flats in Delhi, I remember being gawked at by the land-lords, and the land-ladies resenting us for their other half’s behavior. I was faced with questions like “Are you going to bring men?” and “Do you have any African friend”. In the beginning, I did not understand what these questions have to do with the house, as long as we are fulfilling the legal requirements of a rent agreement. Those were my innocent and untainted days, I guess. It did not take me long to realize what was going on. I started to be self-conscious about the way I dressed, the way I walked, or whose company I was in.

Moreover, every so often I would find myself being judged for being in the same vicinity as other people from the Northeast. It was the kind of judgment which confirmed the stereotypes about us always preferring each other’s company.

Places like Safdarjung, in Delhi, have even gained the title of “Northeast ghetto” due to a majority of its population being from one of those states (which is wrong in many ways, but that’s an issue to be discussed another time). In order to avoid the stereotype of ghetto mentality, I started to dislike being in those vicinities. Wanting to disassociate from things or individuals that can remind you of how you are stereotyped is a way to cope with discrimination. However, I soon realized the hypocrisy of it. I was ashamed of myself because I was developing a kind of covert racism. I was not just a victim of discrimination now, I had become its accomplice, somewhere along the line.

Stereotypes, in general, have a way of gnawing even at the best of us. From my personal experiences, the biggest problem here is not the stereotype itself, but communication, or the lack thereof. It creates mental barriers, which makes both the parties seem unapproachable to each other. I was reluctant to speak about my personal conflicts because of this, something which I believe many students from Northeast have experienced as well. It is important that we bring awareness into how discrimination and stereotyping affect us on a more personal level, in order to break those barriers.

So, now coming to the question I began with—what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a person from the North East? I hope this article has helped broaden the horizon to answer that.

Featured image courtesy of the author.
Similar Posts

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below