Jensine Raihan is a fierce femme working with Desis Rising Up & Moving, a revolutionary South Asian working class organization in New York City. Throughout her years at Townsend Harris High School, Jensine led groundbreaking work addressing anti-Black racism in New York City’s public school system, and lives as a dedicated liberation fighter in Queens. This year, Jensine founded DRUM’s gender justice initiative: Eckshathe, to build feminist leadership in South Asian spaces. Jensine is an exceptional creative spirit who is invested in grassroots movements, and the Bangladeshi Historical Memory Project is honored to have her share more about her work!
Where is your family from? What is your relationship to your homeland? What was it like being a Bangladeshi New Yorker?
My father and his family are from Noakhali, Bangladesh whereas my mom grew up in Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, my maternal grandparents are originally from the West Bengal region of India. They escaped from persecution of Muslims in India and found refuge in Dhaka, Bangladesh. My relationship with Bangladesh have been a roller coaster ride. Growing up, I remember hating the color of my skin and the defining ways my facial features were shaped that made my Bangladeshi ethnic background obvious. I remember alienating myself from the Bangladeshi community because that seemed to be the only method of surviving the ways in which Bangladeshi communities often ostracize fatherless children and divorced mothers. After surviving domestic violence and my father’s abandonment, my mother finally was able to divorce my father.
However, knowing the ways in which single mothers are seen in Bangladeshi communities — my mother decided to keep her family and herself away from the forces of judgment, gossip, and prejudice. Thus, as a child my relationship with Bangladesh was distanced. However, now that I have moved passed my own hatred of my Bangladeshi heritage and the prejudice and judgment of others for being a young woman, especially one who is a public resident, daughter of a single mother, and an outspoken and radical organizer — I have become desperate to relearn Bangla and overcome with a deep desire to form authentic and loving relationships with Bangladeshis who are younger, older, and the same age as me. Being a Bangladeshi New Yorker for me is so much more than being a Bangladeshi New Yorker — it is being working-class, it is living in public housing, it is being a student, it is being a young woman, it is being Muslim, it is being a woman of color, it is living in a single-parent household. It is living in public housing and instead of having empathy and love for people living in the same circumstances, people dear to you spurring anti-Black and anti-Latino sentiments. It is knowing that those sentiments come from decades of colonialism and having the patience and endurance to work with the people you love to decolonize their views of other oppressed people. It is realizing that despite the fact that someone is Bangladeshi, they have drastically different lifestyles and viewpoints because their parents are doctors, lawyers, or engineers. It is being the eldest daughter and having the responsibility to be the role model and figuring out how to get out of poverty. It is witnessing my hijabi mother get Islamophobic slurs thrown at her and her slowly taking off her hijab. It is doing the same. It is having to deal with harassment in the streets and painful relationships because the ways in which your familial culture is built — relationships and sex are shunned discussions and are prohibited. It is having my sense of self-worth be according to a number and not having the courage to speak up against the bullying teachers often enact on their students.
Tell us about Eckshathe. What inspired that work?
Eckshate (Together): Gender Justice Project is a program for young working-class Indo-Caribbean and South Asian women to come together, talk about our shared struggles, and strategize on how we can fight for gender justice. My mother is definitely my biggest inspiration to start Eckshate. She has endured and resisted so much of a wealth-driven and male dominant society that it is grounded in a lot of the work I do including social justice and especially Eckshate. As women, especially working-class young South Asian diasporic women, we endure a lot from domestic violence, street harassment, exploitation, enforced gender roles, and the list goes on. As a woman who has faced and seen a lot of these things, it was important for me to start Eckshate.
For more information on Eckshathe, check out DRUM’s website!
What are some of the struggles you witness your community enduring? What are some methods you’ve seen them coping with that trauma?
The working-class South Asian diaspora face so many struggles from internalized oppression and harmful beliefs about themselves and their own and other oppressed communities, Islamaphobia, government surveillance, police violence, threats of deportation, domestic violence, child molestation, street harassment, policing of young women where women face threats of marriage if they do not comply and wear certain clothes, behave in certain ways, come home at a certain time, and only go to certain places. Some women have no choice but to get married to someone they do not want to at an early age. Despite the number of struggles working-class South Asian diasporic people have to go through — we are still surviving. We form powerful communities, organizations, and collectives where we come together with our struggles and resist by surviving and fighting for justice. There are so many members of our community who have for years been in the front lines of fighting for justice interracially in matters of deportations, police violence, and war.
What are some things you desire for the Bangladeshi community you’re helping mobilize? What are some of their needs?
I hope we can create a truly intergenerational movement of women and men for the fight for gender justice within the South Asian diaspora. So much of the violence against young women get perpetuated through generations of women. It is important to understand that trauma and internalized oppression and beliefs are passed down and we have to collectively overcome that. Bangladeshis and the wider South Asian community know how to love deeply, I hope to somehow help widen that love so we as communities do not continuously perpetuate oppression and violence. Young women need to not constantly be policed about where they are going, when they will be coming home, what they are wearing, what they are doing, how they are behaving, or who they are loving. Independent women need to be valued in our communities, including those who were previously or never married, including those who have children and are not married, including young girls. We need to form a united front against violence against women and children, even if the violators are respected members of our communities.
For more of Jensine’s brilliance, you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @radicaldesigirl