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From Independence Till The Pandemic: A Brief History Of Racism Against The Northeast

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After the ‘Janata Curfew‘ ended on 22nd March, the same evening, a man spat on a girl from Manipur while she was returning from grocery shopping. He also shouted “Corona” at her before running away on his two-wheeler. Later, photos of the splattered chewed tobacco on her clothes and neck went viral on social media.

In another incident on 28th March, a 20-year-old student from Nagaland, living in Mysuru, wasn’t allowed to enter a store. Even after the student showed the security guard his Aadhar card, the boy was told that he is a foreigner and denied entry. After a video of this incident was widely shared on social media, the police took cognisance and registered a complaint.

There are various reports of landlords asking their tenants from the northeast to evict houses. The absurdity of this racism further got exposed when some of the landlords went on to file police complaints against some people from the northeast, alleging them of being foreigners and possible carriers of coronavirus.

A Region Overlooked: A History

The Northeast region has had its own share of discordance post independence, filled with endless conflicts. There has been a continuous influx of foreign migrants, taking away jobs and the land of original inhabitants, followed by the Assam Movement of 1980s. Conflicts with the government of India across the northeast States, like the Naga insurgency or the Bodoland militancy, and other secessionist demands have engulfed this part of the country.

The immense diversity in language and culture in these States has led to internal conflicts like the persecution of Bru tribes of Mizoram. The region’s constant struggle with identity, language and land has hindered its progress. The inhabitants are forced to travel to the mainland in search of better opportunities and education.

However, their struggles remain unimportant to citizens of the mainland; their involvement remains unacknowledged and their voices are continuously undermined. This has led to their voices being perceived as inferior. This has evidently been portrayed in the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across the mainland.

Indian students and activists shout slogans during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Gauhati, India, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

The apprehension of Assamese people of the new law granting citizenship to illegal migrants from Bangladesh who entered India between 1971 and 2014 was broadly overlooked. The law legitimises 43 years’ worth of influx of illegal migrants. The Government completely ignored the struggles of Assamese people during the agitation of 1980s that led to the signing of the Assam Accord (1985) and killing of over 860 people.

This disregard by the Government inspires inferiority, which in turn motivates some people to consider them as insignificant. Moreover, it emboldens some passionate people of the mainland to racially attack these people and refuse to consider them a part of India.

Inadequate Protection

Social and racial discrimination has more to do with just the stigmas attached to one’s personality; what do you eat, what language do you speak, how do you look. Your economic situation will never be a permanent solution to such discrimination. In an interview, international medalist Jwala Gutta shared her struggles in India due to her appearance, and the fact that her mother is Chinese. She has been called “half-Chinese”, “Chinese maal” and “half-corona”, and this is after she has represented India at innumerable international events.

Clearly, there is a dire need for sensitisation among mainland citizens. Further, their treatment by the law, executive and people will also decide the region’s future. The man who spat on the girl from Manipur was arrested and charged only under IPC 509, put for “insulting the modesty of a woman”. Imprisonment under this can be for a maximum of one year, with or without fine. However, is it enough? Was the intention of crime to only harm the woman’s modesty? Sadly, the police themselves do not have much to work with nor is there enough will. Currently, there are no anti-racial laws in the country, and the various demands for it largely go unnoticed.

Featured image source: Getty Images
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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.

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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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