NRC: A Collective Denial Of Our Shared History

In 1947, our colonial masters in their wisdom (and as some suggest in their great geopolitical and economic interest) decided to divide British India into two independent dominions of Pakistan and India. The division of Bengal ensured that eastern Bengal went to Pakistan and western remained in India. As religion was the basis of this award of division, leaders agreed to exchange ethnic minorities of each other in these regions willing to cross over to the other side. The events induced by this lust-for-power brought out the worst in us; we lost millions to the madness and rage that ensued. The streets of Calcutta swarmed with vultures and crows as they fed on the human corpses that were just too many for anyone to remove.

East Bengal had a sizable Hindu population, and many of them left their land to safer places much earlier than the fateful events of 1947 and December 1971. 1947 ensured that the hordes of people kept running in search of safer places from their earlier homeland, in search and hope of a new homeland. This wave of immigration was strongest in the backdrop of 1947 and 1971. A huge number of people became refugees over a couple of years.

There might be a very few instances in world history where their tormentors so intricately decided the place of people’s refuge and exodus. We lost millions of lives in those devastating times across the subcontinent.

But most of all, as Syed Badrul Ahsan would put it, “The bitterness rippling out of the division of 1947 has remained. All of us are diminished.”

“Partition of India seventy two years ago… diminished all of us. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were laid low by the calamitous turn of circumstances brought on by the demand of the All-India Muslim League for the creation of a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Nearly two million died in the frenzy leading to a truncated freedom for the country from the British Raj. And those figures do not include the thousands who perished in the Calcutta riots of a year earlier. Neither do they take into account the hundreds and thousands who were massacred in Bihar and parts of eastern Bengal.”

– Syed Badrul Ahsan

We lost our humanity in the process. The tragedy is, it’s just not getting over. The people who were nothing more than unfortunate refugees became migrants first and illegal foreigners later. A crisis that was never of their own making; a problem that owed its origin to the political regimes rather than any of the belief they had in their nationhood. India conveniently let the narrative of migration and refuge become a story of illegal infiltration. Long ago, it further slipped to become a communal problem of the religious order. Riots between Muslims and ethnic communities in Assam exposed further that native-outsider issue has not really left Assam; instead, it is emerging, becoming more and more communal in its narratives.

Bengalis came seeking a better life and future for their loved ones and were directed to settle down on sparsely populated but strongly wrestled regions of the northeast or lower Assam. Local ethnic communities resisted the overnight demographic change, but Indian leaders in their glorious nearsightedness ignored it conveniently. The irony is that it went on to the extent of overpopulating regions in the northeastern state. So much so that Bengalis became the majority community in Tripura dispossessing the local ethnic inhabitants of their share in governance and resulted in a cultural appropriation.

Assam was a sensitive place for such changes. Many local and popular Congress leaders did raise the alarm in time, but nobody woke up before the organisations such as AASU and ULFA started expressing themselves through violent means on the issue of “foreign-influx” and inequitable situations thus created for the local people. Earlier, the waves of Bengalis, Nepalis (or Gurkhas), Biharis and central Indian tea-farm workers had been targets of organised public wrath by the locals. Delhi offered a truce and hence came the Assam Accord of 1985.

It is indeed sad that our political class had ignored the Assam migration problem since the very beginning. It overlooked the preposition to humanitarian solutions that involved the distribution of refugees from East Bengal across different states. Although the Assam Accord long ago legitimised violent protests against immigration on the issue of ethno-exclusivity, unlike other states, it has not grown beyond it. By the way, in our political discourse, mainstream had already justified and rationalised it as the Sons of the Soil movement.

My worst fear is that it can revive the demands of ethno-exclusivity, something like the existing Inner Line Permit (ILP) not just in the northeast but also to the other mainland states, where it has historically never existed.

Since then, even the mainstream increasingly viewed the non-ethnic people as outsiders, and as a part of their problem. Indian government repeatedly not only bowed down to the exclusionary demands of the Assam Movement but also accepted the idea that migrants were indeed a threat.

Bodo-Muslim conflictULFA Anti-Hindi

India, with its colonial legacy of partition, should recognize that the Bengalis, along with Punjabis, Sindhis and other communities have paid a heavy price for their political Independence.

It is one thing to have concern for the demography and national security, but it is entirely different when as a matter of state policy, we create illegal infiltrators out of people who have sought refuge in your country for survival. A huge number of post-1947 Bengali immigrants to Assam owe their origin to the Union of India and its policies as well. We need to accept that first. Hence, even when a provincial state failed to safeguard their interests, Union of India do not get absolved of its duty to protect people who are nothing more than the victims of cruel circumstances.

It’s funny how the ruling political party—both at federal and union level—reacted on finding out so many names of Bengali Hindus name in the first draft. Anyone who cares to read history will instantly understand that the Assam movement wasn’t against any religion, but outsiders. It is impossible that political parties somehow were unaware of the complicated history of NRC and Assam.

The first draft of NRC is out, and it declared that almost two million people are at the risk of losing their resident status in India (and not just in Assam). Many are actually demanding to enlarge the list as the numbers are not big enough for Assam’s “ground reality”.

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The “inspired” political leadership is eagerly waiting to emulate the process across India. So, it seems we have finally cracked the code for the second transfer of population after 1947. The numbers are only going to swell beyond two million. The bigger achievement is that we are doing it independent of any outside support! Our political class is elated at the prospects of future electoral gains. By the way, a small problem is that no country has actually owned these people so far. (No you are wrong to believe that Bangladesh has already accepted India’s version on it, and it will be very naive to believe that it will do so anywhere in the near future).

So, we are looking at a prospective India which by active policies is creating a million stateless people, and also a situation where Bangladesh is drawn away from Indian sphere of influence— because it can no longer trust India to treat them fairly as exhibited in its treatment of a large number of people of the subcontinent, who are essentially a product of our shared colonial history and its aftermath. It’s high time that we treat Bangladeshi migrant issue as a humanitarian crisis, continuous but as a shared colonial heritage, which can be solved only on humanitarian grounds.

The above article 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.

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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 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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