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Why North-East India Is On The Bucket List Of Every Travel Enthusiast

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By: Ninong Ering (MLA, Arunachal Pradesh & former MP) & Abhishek Ranjan (Policy Lead, Office of Ninong Ering)

The North Eastern region of India has often been called a ‘paradise unexplored’. Consisting of the eight states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, this region is one of immense natural and cultural diversity. This diversity brings both opportunities and challenges with it and the region is not very well understood. This article seeks to provide a brief introduction to the North East for all those who are inquisitive about the region. 

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Lake Gurudongmar in Sikkim. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The scenic beauty of the North Eastern region puts it on every travel enthusiast’s bucket list. Picturesque ranges of the outer and Eastern Himalayas span the region, interspersed with majestic river valleys and lush rainforests. The lofty peaks of Kangchenjunga, the whimsical floating islands ‘phumdis’ of Loktak lake, the rainswept waterfalls of Mawsynram, are all wonders of nature that can be found in the North East. A haven for wildlife lovers, the region is home to rare animal species such as the one-horned rhino, the red panda, the flying squirrel, the Sangai deer, the civet, the hornbill and many varieties of felines, including snow leopards, clouded leopards, tigers, and others.

The region has been blessed with much more than nature’s bounty. The people of the region are as diverse as the landscape. In fact, it is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse regions in India with over 400 different tribal communities, each with its distinct culture and traditions. Noteworthy glimpses of the culture of the region can be found in its typical arts and crafts – bamboo and cane products, raw silk handlooms, wool weaving and embroidery, woodworking and more, its myriad dance forms – the classical Manipuri ‘Sankirtana’ dance, the masked snow lion dance of Sikkim Singhi Chham, the Assamese Bihu, the Mizo bamboo dance ‘Cheraw’, the Garo ‘Shad Nongkrem’ dance, its unique musical instruments – the mandolin shaped ‘Sarinda’, the ‘Tamak’ folk drum, the suspended xylophone, the split concussion tube of the Bodos, the Manipuri ‘Pena’ flute, the ‘Gongnima’ bamboo harp and more, as well as its developed martial art forms, puppetry traditions, folk drama schools, etc. Over 200 languages are spoken in the region belonging to three different language families.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The uniqueness of the cultural traditions of the region does not take away from the connection with the rest of the country. In fact, there can be observed a trend of cultural continuity as one moves geographically from the west to the east. The dance forms, handicrafts, festivals and cuisine of the region match with those of other contiguous states. For example, the staple food of the region consisting of rice, usually eaten with vegetables, fish and meat, is shared with other eastern states like West Bengal and Odisha. The production of handloom fabrics made of raw silk is also spread across the broader East, including Eri, Muga, Endi, Tusar silks.

The traditional bamboo and cane industry is another point of continuity across the bamboo-growing region of Eastern India. Similarly, there is a cultural resemblance across all the Himalayan states including the northern states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. This is best reflected in the common yet individual traditions of weaving of woolen textiles such as shawls and kilts. The motifs used in fabrics and the subjects of music and dance are similar across the subcontinent with a preponderance of religious and natural themes. For instance, masked dances from across the tribal belt are rife with tropes of good defeating evil. 

The unique cultural traditions of the North East have persevered and remained relevant over generations, but this does not mean that the region is steeped in the past. Cities in the North East are as developed as similar-sized cities in the rest of the country, if not more. The cities have a cosmopolitan character with shopping complexes, restaurants and night clubs in their repertoire.

There are budding business and IT centres with all the modern urban infrastructure. The urban landscape of the region is marked by planned roads, green spaces, and efficient management. For instance, Aizawl is the first city in the country to have a ‘no-honking’ policy. Like with any other part of the country, the process of development is ongoing and there is a long road ahead. To this end, the state capitals and other major cities of the region are also part of the Smart Cities Mission. The goal is to facilitate technology-driven upgradation, which is also expected to accelerate local economic growth. 

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Naga tribesman at the Hornbill Festival. Image Credit: Getty Images

The North East today is a vibrant mix of the old and the new. The traditional penchant for the arts has lent way to the region becoming the fashion hub of the nation. Many fashion designers of international repute such as Atsu Sekhose and Mawi Keivom hail from the region. The North East is also at the forefront of the music scene in India. Shillong hosts the ‘NH7 Weekender’ music festival every year. The syncretic culture of the region is epitomized in the Hornbill Festival organized annually with support from the Nagaland government. Its highlights include not only exhibitions for indigenous handicrafts and cultural song and dance performances but also fashion pageants, modern art shows, and musical concerts. The festival has hosted folk singers, local and international rock bands and even K-pop icons.

The key to the North Eastern region is its people who have settled across the country and have shared their lives and culture with people from other parts. Despite growing outmigration, the people from the region are often met with curiosity and even suspicion when they venture out. There is a paucity in the wider public from the rest of the country of an understanding of the potential and problems of the North East.

The history and geography of the North East had not even been taught in school curricula until a few years back. In the absence of common knowledge, there is a tendency towards stereotypes and discriminatory preconceptions about the people hailing from the region. They have been the subject of intolerance in various forms including hate speech, racial slurs, and even physical attacks. The horrific murder of Nido Tania in 2014 comes to mind.  

Much needs to be done to change such prejudiced attitudes and bring the North East into the mainstream of Indian public life. Some gradual improvements can be observed. Stories about the culture and society of the region are slowly finding a voice in cinema and television. For example, the Assamese drama ‘Village Rockstars’ by Rima Das has garnered appreciation at popular national and international film festivals. With greater representation and awareness, an atmosphere of tolerance and brotherhood towards people from the North Eastern region can be fostered. As the people from the rest of the country interact more with people from the region and visit the region directly for their travels, the North Eastern region can finally reclaim its special place in the soul of India. 

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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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