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Why Is House Hunting In Aligarh So Difficult For Me As A Kashmiri?

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By Tanveer Ahmad Khan, Yasir Amin and Fahim Abdullah:

Living in a new city is always problematic, especially when you are a Kashmiri. Being a Kashmiri, I, along with my two colleagues, spent at least two months searching for a flat on rent basis.

Searching gali to gali (street to street) was our routine activity. Contacting dealers and mediators for help, we succeeded in managing a flat for residing. After a long time, we got a room for living under certain conditions.

The conditions were like: pay rent in advance for two months; you cannot use the kitchen; you cannot speak loudly, you will not use the bulb during daylight, nor will you sing or smoke here. Other conditions included: no one is permitted to visit you, not even your parents.

A scene from Srinagar. Civilian life has been dotted with the presence of armed forces for decades in the valley, serving as a pressing reminder that the state is under constant siege. (Photo: Kashmir Global/Flickr)

One day my uncle came to visit me. I was charged three hundred for three nights. The owner gave me his logic, “If your uncle will stay in a hotel, he has to pay six hundred per day, but if he stays here, I will charge him one hundred per night.” That is how the life of a Kashmiri runs in a strange city.

Exploitation, rude language, misbehavior, mistrust, and unnecessary checks by the owner became the order of the day. I still remember one episode when one of our roommates was cleaning the room with her old jhadoo (broom), of which the handle broke unintentionally. She was charged a fine of ₹160.

Even after taking money from us, the landlady would say, “You people broke my jhadoo. You have no manners or sense of living and talking.”

Sometimes, she would ask us to call her didi (elder sister), sometimes auntie ji and sometimes, madam ji. We were in confusion about how to address her. Then, we decided that the younger two of us (16 years) would call her auntie ji, and the elder one would call her didi.

We would have left this accomodation, but it was becoming difficult for us to find a new room or flat. When the oppression crossed the limit, we disclosed the issue to a friend of ours, senior  to us. He spoke with her about the issue, but it quickly turned into a big drama when she said, “You are terrorists, and you Kashmiris are always known for it.”

Her words were repeated by her lone son, who was living with his mother in the adjacent room and called us criminals, for a crime that we never committed. These words hurt our sentiments. We became frustrated, destitute, and scared. We locked our room and discussed the perception of general masses towards Kashmiris.

The perception became clearer when her child, too, called us ‘terrorists.’ This depicts how preconceived notions condition the mindset of people (Muslims and non-Muslims). Notions either textured by the media or by the rumours about Kashmiris.

It is sickening to see even in the age of rationality, people are behaving irrationally and are supporting meta-narratives which are baseless. Actions speak for themselves. We don’t need to give the people of India any explanation, nor can our explanations change people’s mind.

They have taken the liberty to label Kashmiris as terrorists, which is a permanent entity, and acts as an agency to govern the mindset of the people. This leads us close to the writings of Howard Becker, who published his groundbreaking work Outsiders in 1963. In the wider Indian society, we are also, always treated as outsiders.

It is often said verbal words are harsher than physical punishment, and that night, we could not sleep for even a minute. Finally, we moved outside, and again our journey of searching rooms restarted. Rambling through all the available flats, we tried to get as much information as possible.

In the first instance, our interaction always began with the guards or gatekeepers who never disclose the reality of the flats without chai pani (bribery), and sometimes, hardcore nationalist guards shooed us away because of our identity.

After pleading, some gatekeepers would give us the phone numbers of their owners, one of whom we contacted. We said, “Hello sir, aap ke apartment mein koi flat khali hai to humein rent pe chahiye. Hum family nahi hai.” (Is there any flat vacant in your apartment, we’re looking for a room to rent. We are not a family, but a few students who wish to house together.)

In reply, the owner responded, “It is okay, I am coming to show you the flat.” After keeping us waiting for two hours, we got a call from him with a question, “Aap kaha ke ho?” (Where are you from?).

Our friend, who took the call for us, told him we were Kashmiris, and in reply he said, “I am sorry, I can’t take the risk of letting my flat out to you.” Finally, he dropped the call.

It is sufficient to claim that Kashmiris are denied necessities because of their identity, and in today’s world, their identity has become their crime. This leads us closer to racial theories of deviance.

It is unfortunate to see that despite our valid proofs that the rest of Indians possess, we face discrimination, stigma, exploitation, or extortion in one or other forms. We have to face and experience a situation where the whole society seems to us a fear box ready to catch and label us.

Trust is a cementing force in contemporary society; however, this trust is majorly missing in contemporary India on which diversity rests.

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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.

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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, 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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