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Is India Really As Accepting Of Its ‘Multicultural’ Traditions As It Claims To Be?

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As Indians, we claim to be multiculturalism personified. We have an immense amount of cultural and linguistic diversities, and we share a lot of things like cultural norms, food habits, apparel conventions, linguistic conventions, and many other things. Nowadays, with the easy availability of social media and mass mediums like television, radio, newspapers, we have got to know so much about each other that whenever we feel partial about any particular aspect of any of our culture, we try to implement it in our own lives too. 

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       • Apparel exchanges:

A Bengali girl celebrating her wedding ceremony, wearing a Punjabi styled lehenga, or a Gujrati, wearing a south patola, is nothing to be shocked. Be it Madhubani of Bihar’s Madhubani or Maharashtra’s warli; we can see these patterns in any corner of India in the forms of sarees or other accessories. Though the Benarasi saree is the essence of Benaras, a traditional Bengali wedding is incomplete without a red Benarasi saree. We have many more other examples to prove that we never hesitate to welcome each other’s cultures or styles.

   • Exchange in food delicacies:

Indian food variety is beyond any explanation, and the most exciting part is that each of the states has its variety of every recipe. Food has no boundary as such. You can get idlidosa, vada, upama anywhere in the country. Dhoklas are common street foods among many others like chhole bhature, parathasamosa, and many more.

History has also witnessed this exchange of food delicacies. When Aajid Ali Shah, the last king of Awadh, came to Kolkata, he had lost his kingship to the Britishers. But what he did not lose was his love for biriyani. His love for biriyani made his khansamah cook the biriyani without the gosht as Wajid Ali was incapable of affording it for his entire court. This way, when the Awadhi biriyani, transcended to Kolkata’s famous aloo biriyani, we hardly bother to know that. What we bother about is the taste. Though the origin and recipe are of some other place but just with an addition of potato, it has become the dish of Kolkata, and the people of Kolkata have entirely made it their own.

The phulki, which was originated in Bihar, have seen a lot of transitions in its form and have been titled as fuiki in Madhya Pradesh, paani patashi in Haryana, fuchka in Kolkata, gupchhup in Assam, and gol guppa in Delhi and Punjab to satisfy our taste buds with its flavors. And the most important part is that every form has its individuality, which makes it different from others but at the same time represents the unity as well.

      Exchange in language:

The perfect example of language exchange is seen in music, as we can see that nowadays, the Punjabi numbers are our favorite party songs. South Indian classical music also has a different appeal, which never fails to attract. We have seen a number of Hindi songs with the addition of Bengali folk, which shows the Bengali language’s popularity among the others. 

Other than musical illustrations, we have many words that we use in our daily conversations like yaar, aiyyo, and many more. The most frequent comments that we use, along with our regional languages, are mostly Hindi and English.

Not only with English words, but we also have a soft corner for some other English aspects. Such as their rituals, foods, clothes, brands, companies, and even the accent too.

The start of the day with a coffee cup instead of strong tea is a small addition of the western culture in our daily lives. Other than this, the cake cutting ceremony in every occasion, adding a happy as a prefix of every greeting, celebrating Christmas day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s day with utmost grandeur also count in the list. 

None of these are wrong or avoidable. Since colonization, we Indians are trying to be like the western people and have tried to adapt their cultures, habits, slangs, and appearances. But the problem lies in the partiality while choosing the subjects that we are implementing in our lives to be like them. We have always tried to eternalize those aspects which are easy to be digested. When it comes to gender equality, punctuality, work ethics, we fail miserably.

According to studies, over the past 40 years, the UK has seen women’s employment range from 57% to 78% until 2017. According to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in India, the number of women who work has reduced from 36% to 24% in a decade. The primary reasons are gender indifferences, lack of quality employment opportunities, no employment from a rural area, and many more.

We have been recognized as one who does not have any sincerity about time management and work ethics. We do not bother about being late, and if we do, there must be an instruction or pressure or cut in pay behind that. We have normalized being late so much that we would need a longer span or maybe eternity to overcome this.

Then come our stereotypes that do not end, even though we cherish multiculturalism with the utmost eagerness. It’s 2020, and the inter-state marriage is still unacceptable in our county. What is more shameful is that we still have categories like inter-caste, inter-community, inter-religion, inter-state, and many more, which we may not even know of.

Representational image.

Multiculturalism has not sufficed to break the stereotypes that we possess about the people of a particular state. The best example is our behaviour towards the people of the Northeast. They have been given distasteful titles for their facial attributes and body types, which is shameful. We have this conception that all the South Indians have the same skin complexion. All those who speak Bengali have been migrated from Bangladesh, and the list may go on and on. We may claim that we are one, but actually, there is a long way to go.

Multiculturalism is also responsible for the elopement of our regional art forms, which are getting suppressed under the glittery visual treats produced by western art forms. Our regional dance forms like Bengal’s chhau, Manipur’s jagoi, dance forms of Bihar like fagua, kajari, jumari are losing the charm because our eyes are now accustomed only to the western mediums of entertainment. I strongly feel that our folk songs are also getting suppressed under the high volumes of different forms of music.

We can choose what we would like and would dislike it. If we decide to dislike our own cultures, then it would automatically push us to like the other options that have been provided. If we chose to dislike or less like the things responsible for the elopement of our own culture, then we would be leaning towards our roots, and if the roots are strong, nothing can harm the tree. Along with that, we should also adopt those things which are progressive and broader, and that would be leading us to a better future shedding all the conservations and stereotypes that we have preserve throughout the years.

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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, 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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