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“My Parents Have Told Me Not To Befriend A Muslim”: How I Was Accustomed To Discrimination From An Early Age

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I believe a Muslim has two sets of identities—one of a criminal and the other again of a criminal, but of a crime not committed. I was born a Muslim and recognise myself as an Indian with a stronger vigour to prove that I have nothing to do with Pakistan.

But still, in the eighth standard, when I was away in the boarding of a Darjeeling school where not even a Pakistani diplomat exists, I was interrupted by a senior saying, “Last night in the match we won against you.”

Here “we” is an Indian and “you” is a Pakistani, but ironically this “you” has nothing to do with Pakistan. It is more trivial an enemy to “you” than “we” because this “you” has to wear the dirty robe of Pakistan irrespective of ever attaching any sentiments to it. This custody of proving the unaffectionate bond has to fall on you no matter what.

Muslim Colony
Representative Image. Source: flickr

Luckily Pakistan is not the only attribution that an average Muslim wears in the country and the spectrum of cat-calling is even more gruesome to address. I was hardly called by my name in my high school but always had a sobriquet as Katuwa, which was further abbreviated to even more scorching taunts.

I have learned to live by this, considering a bothered child is closer to the parents, which is my motherland. However, I still don’t have a rationale to justify why I was made to hang my head in shame with the hanging of Sarabjit Singh, even though I didn’t have his blood on my hand and maybe my maturity would have mourned him equally as other nationals.

But I believe I was pretty accustomed to this discrimination because I was used to hearing stuff like, “My parents have told me not to befriend a Muslim,” since the third standard itself.

Interestingly, this existential crisis is brought down to me not only by the other sides but also by my community. My denial of not taking a Muslim teachers tuition in my fourth standard deliberately made her fail me in her subject and I got labelled as a Hindu (meant to be a slur) because of me not fasting a day in Ramadan.

Heights of things reach a point when an Uncle mocks me for playing with colours on Holi, who has a Hindu wife. But I am even used to it very much in a similar fashion as I am used to the other community, and got so accustomed to it that now I know whether playing Holi or not observing a fast or a middle way of the day is all getting me newer names and taunts.

In all of this, the ridiculous but yet relevant question that surfaces on my principles is, which side do I go and associate myself with because my association is where my existential crisis sets in.

Muslim boy reading the Quran
Representative Image. (by Prithpal Bhatia from Pixabay)

Unfortunately, towards my college, my hope of not having to face this also got fragmented into pieces. Now some of my folks even discover a communal angle in my accomplishments and try painting me darkly as a few rotten sections of my society. My acceptance is unacceptable to them. I am tagged in social media posts completely meant to tease or hurt the sentiments of a Muslim.

If that doesn’t work, the same faces group up to bully me over Social Media just because I defer from some of their prescribed ideas or because I keep fairing well in my accomplishments and a communal coated hatred is any day better than personal incapacitated bigotry.

At times I hear, “Don’t mess with him because he has a background in cutting meat.” The other times I hear, “Is it true that your community men engage with their sisters.” Or to a more teasing tone, “Do you have Ak47, CoronaVirus, Bombs, stones, etc., in stock at your place.”

Now I don’t know how loud I need to be to tell them that none of it existed or exists in my lineage of Muslims, and I come from a family of academicians, doctors, teachers, designers and lawyers, and yes, we do exist. However, I am more appropriate as a stone pelter, butcher, etc.

Interestingly at times, even teachers and professors reflect the same weird line. Once in my class of Partition Literature, I discussed a novel in Urdu which I had read sometimes back and was first struck with a question from my professor, “Beta, where did you learn Urdu, Madrasa?” I denied and said that I did that at home, to which he made a follow-up, “Did you read the Quran?” to which I agreed.

Then he says, “You must have done it in a Madarsa because that can’t be done at home.” Now how do I convey that never in my life have I attended a Madarsa and have gained a complete convent education till my tenth standard? But the prescribed stereotypes are what land me in an existential crisis.

I don’t know whom to hold responsible, but I know that I am not responsible for whatever trajectory my community brings in.

The author is a student of the University of Delhi and a Research Fellow with the National Commission for Minorities. He can be reached out on:

Instagram: ___ashraf___19

Twitter: ashrafnehal19

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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 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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