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Bangladeshis Encroaching Assam: Myth Or Reality?

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By Hisham Barbhuiya:

One of the burning issues in Assam today is the issue of “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”. It has been an issue ever since the 1980s. It is claimed that there are lakhs of Bangladeshis in Assam. It is alleged that these migrants cross over to India everyday and have a sinister plan of turning Assam into a Muslim-majority state. There are even accusations that they want to make Assam a part of Pakistan-Bangladesh. To look into these allegations, we have to go into the details.

Assam is a state of North-East India. By far it is a kind of a “Gateway to the North-East” as in terms of rail and air links. The largest cosmopolitan city of the region is Dispur- Guwahati, which happens to be the capital of Assam. It is a very diverse state made up of the ethnic Assamese, Bodo, Bengali (Sylheti), Dimasa and the Karbis. The Assamese language is predominantly used in the northern part, whereas Bengali is used in the southern part. In terms of religion – Hindus make up approximately more than 60% and Muslims make up 31% of the population.

During the British period, Muslims from East Bengal districts of Mymensingh and Rangpur were brought in to cultivate lands in the districts of lower Assam. They were settled in the ‘char’ areas or the riverine districts and the surrounding areas of Dhubri, Barpeta, Goalpara and Nagaoan. Many of them later integrated into the Assamese culture and were called the “new Assamese”. These people kept on moving into new areas as their homes by the side of the mighty Brahmaputra were prone to floods. This made them look like Bangladeshis. However, during the 1971 Pakistan Civil War, refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan took shelter in Assam. After the creation of Bangladesh, refugees from the majority community of Bangladesh left; while mostly those from the minority community decided to stay in India. This is according to a report on wikipedia.

Soon after this the communalists started claiming that a huge number of foreigners, i.e. “miyas”, are registered in the voters’ list and that their votes are hugely going to affect the outcome of the elections in the state. Then on the 14th of February 1983, a claim that “Bangladeshis’‘ voted in the elections sparked off plans for a litte-known massacre, i.e. the Nellie Massacre. It was perpetrated on the morning of 18th February 1983, which killed 2191 people and left several thousand others injured. Unofficial sources and people of Nellie claimed that death toll could be around 5000. In terms of brutality committed just in few hours, probably this is the highest figure of people killed with crude weapons.

This massacre led to the signing of the Assam accord, which made sure that no more genuine Indians would be harassed in the name of evicting illegal Bangladeshis. Also the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal), i.e. the IMDT Act, was passed. This Act many believed led to a rise in the Muslim population in the state. Thus, it was struck down in 2005 by the Supreme Court and replaced with the The Foreigners Act, 1946. But, the allegations of Bangladeshis crossing over to India kept creeping up, especially during the time of elections. The harassment of the poorer sections of the Muslim community on the pretext of hunting for Bangladeshis continued. The communal parties with the help of some local student bodies started harassing Muslim labourers in some districts of upper Assam, which led to a communal flare up in two districts of lower Assam. The Sylheti Muslims of south Assam are immune from this harassment more or less (except for the poor).

As far as statistics are concerned, there are no neutral evidences to show that even a single Bangladeshi exists in Assam. As per the favourite international hotspots of Bangladeshis for immigration, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Malaysia and the UK are the ones with immigrant Bangladeshi population of 3000000; 2500000; 1000000; and 5 lakh each in Malaysia and the UK respectively. India features nowhere in the list, except in the imaginations of communal bigots. Moreover, a visit to the Indo-Bangla border will reveal how “porous” it is, as claimed. The only solution to this problem of “Bangladeshis” in Assam is to spread the word of fact, which will counter the bigotry of the communal forces seeking to divide the country.

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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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