CAA: Yet Again, Assam Pays The Price For A Democratic Dictatorship

Human rights have been trampled upon and the Assam Accord blown to smithereens.

Assam’s current spark of revolution will lay witness as the epicentre of what is going to be a country wide wake up call.”

As Assam burns, Tripura protests, and more than 7 protesters die as a result of the ongoing protests against the notorious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind gleefully gives his assent to the draconian Bill, turning it into an Act.

While the majority of India receives it as the same old religious anxiety, it is not the real reason why people from the northeast are protesting.

The northeast and particularly Assam, has faced the wrath of illegal immigrants through the porous borders of Bangladesh ever since Independence and the mandate of indigenous Assamese people from Day 1 has been very clear: to make Assam free of these illegal migrants, be it any religion, any caste, any community.

In a multitude of processes over the past 45 years of making the common voices heard from the corner pocket of mainland India to the ever sleeping Central powers and bring notice to the ever blindfolded national media, close to 1,000 brave hearts have already attained martyrdom, the educational years of many has already lost, demographics has already been altered and identity crises have already been pushed to a non-repairable stage.

Scenes from an anti-CAA protest by Hyderabad’s Assamese community. (Photo: নাথ ৰাজশ্ৰী/Facebook)

To put this into context, the Great Assam Movement, which was resolved with the Assam Accord of 1985, was a backlash against the great influx of Bangladeshi refugees which contested the native Assamese speaking people creating an uprising of Bangla speakers dividing the land, forest, and opportunities by getting the majority share.

The government at that time prevented this from happening through the Assam Accord stating that only the people who resided in the country before December 24, 1971 will be considered as Indian citizens and the rest would be weeded out. The same accord gave birth to NRC where people had to be listed in the government books to be associated as full-fledged Indian citizens.

This new Bill has brought back those fears of the indigenous people of Assam to life and has challenged the bortheastern cultural heritage which the region has every right to preserve. CAB also violates Clause 6 of the accord which states: “Constitutional, legislative, and administrative safeguards shall be provided to protect, preserve, and promote the culture, social, and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”

The introduction of the CAA has disrupted the previously working bill altering the cutoff date to a revolting December 31, 2014. This will favor the Hindu Bangla speaking refugees, creating the same scenario which the Assamese people stood against. The CAA serves as an open invitation to the Hindu population of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan that they will be welcomed in India. (The Hindu population of Bangladesh was recorded to be around 1,40,00,000).

In order to restore order and stop the regional mutiny, the Indian government has imposed shallow and misleading exemptions for the northeast. Assam has only 3 regions exempted under the bill, leaving a major chunk of the population still in effect of the bill. On the other hand, Tripura’s situation is even worse where 2/3rd of the total population will be still processed under the bill after the exemption is made.

The fact should be clear that the Assamese community is neither fighting for any religious propaganda nor demanding any unrealistic government demands. They are fighting for their language and cultural identity, similar to what they did 30 years before.

Right now, army deployment in Assam has increased manifold and is expected to rise even more in the coming days. The internet is shut due to precautionary measures, and hundreds of correctional officers were stationed across the protest-struck regions of Assam, Guwahati, Tripura, Mizoram and more. Curfew was imposed on Dibrugarh, roads are blocked in Golaghat, protests are taking place in Tripura bazaar, and rally marches are conducted in Siliguri. These are only a few examples of the tide of revolts.

Army personnel are storming the roads, firing tear gas, and entering educational institutions in the name of protectionist measures. Protesters are confronted by heavy beating and asked to run back to their houses. We need to address this terrible situation and come up with a better way to accommodate everyone.

A place like Assam with a long history of struggles related to the exact issue was the last possible place to home these immigrants. An even distribution of population and land allocation should have been the right approach but the reckless decision to dump every immigrant in northeast is a threat to national integrity.

The situation in Assam is a mirror image of Kashmir and an act of government anarchy imposed upon its residents. This brings us to the question: why would a new immigrant want to enlist as an Indian citizen when the country is pointing a gun at its own natives?

Featured image source: Suren Abreu/Facebook.
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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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