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Mizoram: An Indian State Shaped Like A ‘Karela’, Tasted Like Kindness

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To imagine Mizoram is to imagine a land floating on clouds. A number of colourful houses sparsely garnished over blue Lushai Hills, balancing elegantly on bamboo stilts.

Life in Mizoram is no differentit is a balancing act between a region grounded in its remoteness and the world furiously knocking to get in. A friend who spent all her life in Aizawl, the capital city of Mizoram, described the state’s topography as resembling a karela (bitter gourd).

Representational image.

“What an odd analogy,” I thought to myself. The more I traversed the “land of rolling mountains”, the more her metaphor came to life. But instead of karela’s sharp bitterness, Mizoram tasted what a cultural mosaic (the mix of ethnic groups, languages, and cultures that coexist within society) in food form would taste like

The Road(s) To Mizoram

The roads, both physical and metaphorical, to Mizoram are few and risky. One of the major roads from its only airport to the city of Aizawl has a sinking zone. There is a point where the road gets almost viscous and presses like a hot plum cake.

“Landslides are a common sight,” I was informed. Yet, Mizoram’s narrow lanes boast of the most disciplined traffic flow that can be experienced in the country (here is a viral video of it)…

Without any proper divisions or traffic lights, mind you.

To my utmost surprise, nobody honks on the road. Imagine buses, cabs, two-wheelers slithering like snakes on hairpin bend roads, with absolutely no blaring of honks.

On a long road trip from Aizawl to Champhai, a sophisticated border town to Myanmar, I observed the reticent road revealing a rich tradition of kindness.

Representational image.

Twenty minutes into the journey the bulky TATA Sumo, a shared passenger vehicle for long journeys, comes to a sudden halt. I pause my music to look around for a cue. The woman sitting beside me starts murmuring in Mizo, all the other passengers respond with calls in unison.

My mind remains fuzzy in confusion until everybody unanimously says “Amen!” and wishes each other a safe journey. Risky roads require preparation and prayers.

Shops Without Keepers

The misty green landscape on the left side of the road looked like an untouched bowl of green salad. The road was laced with a string of petty stalls selling corn, fruits, petrol, thingpui (the local Mizo tea), etc. The only strange thing to notice was that there were no keepers, only a price list and a cash box.

These were the  “nghah loh dawr”, or shops without keepers. Passersby are trusted to only take what they need and put the money in the deposit box. On roads as remote and not-so-well connected as these, such generosity is godsent.

I heard that even during the Covid-19 crisis, these dawr (shops) remained functional. Nghah loh dawr is a grounding lesson from a community that attempts to choose trust over fear or scarcity.

This practice is one such example of the unique code of conduct called ‘tlawmngaihna’ in Mizo culture. “It is an unlegislated code that asks one to be kind, generous, and giving. It is to choose others over oneself in a time of crisis,” said John Hnamte, a research student at Mizoram University.

The Troubled Past Of Mizoram

John elaborated that the state has seen its fair share of crises. In the history of independent India, there is only one instance where the government of India resorted to air bombings on a civilian territory within the countryit was in Aizawl.

A violent insurgency followed that lasted for 20 years. Republic Veng, where I lived in the city, was one of the four largest neighbourhoods that was completely razed to the ground. 

John’s father was born on the fateful day of March 5, 1966, when the whole state was burning in chaos. He was named “Vanlalhruaia” i.e., the one who is guided by the king of heaven. March 5 is observed as “Zoram Ni”, or Zoram Day.

The trauma remains etched in the collective memory of the state and its people.

Representational image.

For a community as close-knit (even today) as Mizoram, self-determination is a large part of healing. The more I learnt, the more I realised that to fall in love with a place is to also acquire a knot of pain that’s theirs and becomes yours. 

It was my last day in Aizawl, I wake up early, like every single day. The wooden floor creaks noisily as I walk towards the kitchenette. Between my room and the kitchenette, there is an unusually large window, with no panes or grills.

A usual reflexive halt takes place. “Where in the world am I?” I gasp, looking at an ocean of green hills approaching the blue horizon.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. All images have been provided by the author.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program
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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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