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We Are The Assamese, And This Is Our Story

As you sip on your cup of Assam tea while casually browsing through your social media feed, Assam is in a state of total crisis. The beautiful land of tea gardens and one-horned rhinoceroses is in utter chaos—we are talking internet shutdowns, strict curfews, lathi-charge, tear gas, and even the shelling of guns. Our family and friends are in constant fear, our homes are running out of food and ration, but our brethren are unequivocally protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019.

Assam has been a proud home to different ethnic communities who speak different dialects, practice different religions, and assert their own unique cultures and traditions. I know that Assamese people are very accepting of every community that is rooted in the soil of the great Indian nation. We firmly believe in the provisions of the Constitution of India. But the main problem that the Assamese community has been fighting all along is illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

The geographically isolated northeast India shares the longest foreign borders with Bangladesh, the erstwhile East Pakistan. Even after the separation of India and Bangladesh, these borders have been irresolute and penetrable for millions of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, other than the refugees of the Bangladesh Liberation War, who now inhabit significant areas across the entire state.

According to the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, the largest concentration of these immigrants are in Assam, West Bengal, and Bihar. Over the years, the existing illegal Bangladeshi population in Assam, along with the constant influx of more illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, started burdening the Assamese community. Further, it puts the entire state at the staggering risk of foreign domination.

It is important to note that Assam has a resource crunch due to its geographical limitations, high frequency of earthquakes, and devastating annual floods. Till date, the Assamese community faces an inherent lack of education, healthcare, employment and economic instability across the entire region. This situation has only been worsened by the increasing population of illegal immigrants which has pushed the ethnic diversity of the entire region to the brink of extinction.

Image source: Gaurav Kashyap Dutta/Twitter.
Indian National Congress member Rohan Gupta joins protesters. Image source: Rohan Gupta/Twitter.

In 1979, a 6-year-long student-led agitation demanding the identification and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants was launched in Assam. This culminated in the Assam Accord 1985 that stated that foreign immigrants who have come to Assam after March 25, 1971 will be detected and deported as per the law with immediate effect. But in reality, the then government never sent back these illegal immigrants and yet again more and more illegal Bangladeshi immigrants infiltrated across the porous India-Bangladesh border.

Today, there are more than 2 million illegal immigrants in Assam and the Indian Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 introduced by the government gives them the right to become the citizens of India on religious grounds if they have come to India on or before December 31, 2014. This is where the problem amplified and the entire state went into protest. Assam is protesting against this Bill as it does not take into account the interests and demands of the Assamese community, the very people who were promised the Assam Accord three decades ago. It does not provide any concrete clauses to safeguard the land and the identity of so many indigenous communities that are not covered under any other constitutional provisions. The entire Bill rides on religious disparity and attempts to forget the sad state of Indian GDP, poverty, unemployment and population explosion.

Barring a few miscreants, these protests are largely non-violent and peaceful yet the protestors have been heavily targeted by the government which has declared an internet blackout and curfew in the entire state. There is firing unleashed on street marches, and, within educational institutions, men and women are being thrashed and killed amidst constant baton-charge and shelling.

Image source: Gaurav Kashyap Dutta/Twitter.

Citizens protest. Image source: Tonuj Deka/Twitter.
Protesters persevere despite deployment of security forces, tear gas, and shelling. Image source: Gaurav Kashyap Dutta/Twitter.
Image source: Ruhina Parvez/Twitter.

People are running out of food, medical supplies, and fuel within their homeland while their helpless relatives based outside Assam are constantly calling them before a complete shutdown severs all communication. Moreover, the media has been censored and there is little representation of the true picture of the Assam agitation.

Amidst this tensed atmosphere, the Assamese community wants to request all the countrymen to understand that we just want our voices to be heard, we only want justice for our community and we will keep at our struggle against the citizenship amendment bill. We do not endorse any form of attack on religion or religious minorities, our fight is only aimed at saving the ethnic identity of Assam.

We are the Assamese, and this is our story.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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