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Is Assam’s NRC Turning Into A Rohingya-Like Situation?

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By Aatreyee Dhar:

With the continuing fear of an economic and cultural takeover by ‘Bharat’ mounting in the country, the NRC (National Register of Citizens) of Assam has triggered a turmoil by targeting the weakest members of religious and linguistic minorities in the name of a ”justice-delivering mechanism”.

On January 18, 1983 over 3,000 Bengali Muslims were murdered within a period of six hours in the Nelli village in Assam. The latest and a similar attack that took place in the state was at a village near Manas National Park in May 2014, when 38 people (including children) were shot dead. No action was taken against the perpetrators after the gruesome attack, whereas the victims were branded as “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”.

With the External Affairs Ministry vested in conducting Operation Insaniyaat for Rohingyas in Bangladesh, there seem to be unavailing hopes for “insaniyaat” to the vulnerable Bengali Muslims, called Miyas”, in the state.

People waiting for registrations at an NRC centre in Assam
An NRC centre in Assam

The History of NRC: Weeding Out Illegal Migrants in the State

NRC is a list that maintains the record of all legal citizens of a state. As per NRC, citizens have to submit a list of about 14 documents such as land tenancy records, certificates of permanent residence and passports to prove that they came to Assam on or before 24 March 1971, a day before Bangladesh became an independent country. Those born after 1971 must submit additional documents including a birth certificate ascertaining their relationship to the rest of their family members. However, the list has been updated for the first time since 1951 when there were vast exchanges of population across the Indo-Bangladesh border during Partition. The handiwork of NRC was first laid down by Rajiv Gandhi through the Assam Accord of 1985, which demanded for the identification and deportation of illegal migrants in the state.

The frequent outbreaks of violence that the state has been witnessing over the last four decades (Nelli Massacre of 1983 and Kokhrajar killings of 2012) have turned into mere tools in local politics here. The ethnic nationalists in Assam have been justifying their armed insurgencies by suggesting reasons defined by fears of “demographic change” and indigenous homelands being taken away by outsiders.

With the politicians using fear to change electoral polls as they unite the natives against the “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”, there were demands to update the NRC. The Supreme Court decided to monitor the exercise that has been updated by Hajela and his team of government officials by outlining the timeline within which Assam should publish its final list.

Playing Cards Against Humanity

Ever since the BJP came to power, there have been reforms in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (Amendment) Bill to make it easier for the Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to live in the country. However, this move seems to undermine the terms of the NRC which states that religion will not come into play while deciding a person’s citizenship.

Kamala Begum is a victim of NRC
Kamala Begum at a jail in Kokrajhar

Kamala Begum, a woman in her late 50s, is the only woman to be declared a foreigner among nine of her siblings. She has been detained after she was declared a foreigner under the provisions of the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order of 1964.

Kamala Begum had been a daily-wage laborer before she was arrested without any notice to her family members who were in the dark about her whereabouts for two months. Before she was arrested, the tribunal had asked her to furnish documents about her paternal lineage. After Begum submitted her voter card from 1965 and 1997, which mentioned her father Dhania Mia, the officials found a discrepancy in the name of her father listed as “Abdul” in the 1965 voter’s list and “Latif” in the other.

Although Begam had filed an affidavit stating that the names “Abdul” and ‘Latif” were of the the same person, the tribunal member didn’t make any effort to correcting her father’s name in the voter’s list. The fact that Kamala was poor and illiterate to correct her father’s name in the voter list seems to have slipped the minds of the authorities.

Like Kamala, there are many other women listed as “D-voters” or doubtful voters who married young and moved to other villages and fail to provide records with details of their place of birth and other family members. Further, many Bengali origin Muslims live on fertile sandbars of the Brahmaputra which get submerged during the frequent floods that create a havoc in the state. When they move out of their dismantled homes built out of corrugated tin sheets, they are considered illegal just because they were forced out of their old shelters and found homeless.

What Will Become of the Immigrants?

The NRC State Coordinator has made it clear that people who couldn’t find their names in the NRC list can reach out to their respective Nagrik Seva Kendras (NSKs) between August 30 and September 28 to file their claims.

Assam's NRC victims
Is Assam’s NRC a conspiracy to commit inhumane activities?

We are yet to see whether Bangladesh, which is already providing refuge to the massive influx of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar, will accept the request to take back people who have been declared stateless in their country.

Much like the promotional song posted on Facebook by the NRC itself, the witch-hunt to defeat the alien enemy does little to calm the nerves of people like Kamala who have limited means to understand the verification process and submit the right documents while being separated from their family members in the state.

A version of this post was first published here.

 

 

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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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