A Culture Of Silence Only Furthers Injustices Like The Citizenship Amendment Bill

To those unaware, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) amends the Citizenship Act (1955) to offer Indian citizenship eligibility to the ‘illegal’ migrants belonging to six non-Muslim communities – the Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis, and the Buddhists from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. As outrageous as it may sound, the CAB, 2016, further relaxes the citizenship eligibility criterion by bringing down the number of years required to reside within Indian territory from 11 to just 6 years!

Now for those who are still unbothered, know that it affects not only Assam or the North-Eastern states but all of India. The culture of silence is such a dominant norm of society today, that even those who are educated and aware of the demographic impact of the bill, are indifferent to the matter, and unfortunately, even fewer are putting any genuine effort into understanding the bill. There are countless logically sound reasons that can be put forth to refute the bill in its entirety.

Image credit: Himanshu Saikia/Facebook.

It’s Immoral

The bill is wrongful and discriminatory to the religious sentiments of the people. In particular, to those religious communities who have been excluded from the eligibility criteria such as the Muslims. This is the kind of vote-bank politics whose aftermath is always disastrous. With anything like this evil abomination in effect, there will only be chaos and never-ending riots.

If this takes the reader (even for a slight second), back to 1979, then I would be grateful if you remember the sacrifice of the 855 young Assamese (mostly students) in a movement that lasted 6 tragic years.

For those who have never heard of the Assam Agitation or the Assam Movement (1979-85), it was initiated by the All Assam Students Union and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad to urge the then government to expel the settlers from Bangladesh and to prevent further infiltration.

The Assam Accord was signed on September 15, 1985, to provide for constitutional, legislative, administrative safeguards in order to protect, preserve, promote the social, linguistic, and cultural heritage of the Assamese people. The CAB, 2016, is therefore humiliating and disrespectful to the sacrifices and to the Accord itself, signed in the presence of then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

It Hurts Assamese Sentiment

When we talk about Assam specifically, the people have always been united under the linguistic banner and not under religious ones. What makes us Assamese is our dialect, our language, and not our religion. We share something sacred, when we identify ourselves with this identity, wherever in the world we might be.

While some parts of the country are still fighting in the name of religious atrocities, we do not let religion become an issue of contestation. However, the government with its pathetic and disgusting vote-bank politics has instigated communal conflicts in not just Assam but the whole of North-East. If the bill sees the light of day, then there will never be peace in the North-Eastern states, and this part of the country will then be declared disturbed just like Kashmir.

Image credit: Getty Images.

Its Demographic Impact

I’ll try to explain this by pointing out the fate of the indigenous people of the neighboring state of Tripura, where the influx of immigrants from Bangladesh in the post-1971 era has quite nearly wiped out the local culture from the face of the Earth. The tragic part is that these locals, the indigenous Tripuri communities have started to feel the need to demand a separate state after having been reduced to marginalized sections in the ‘once their own’ state of Tripura.

Assam faces a similar threat, as statistics show how the native Assamese have been reduced to 48.38% out of the total population in the state (and this is of 2011 which means that a more recent record would make it worse). Obviously, this counts for emigration too, but this is drastic considering the fact until 1991, the percentage of natives was 57.81 (which is still very low).

This is happening because post-1971, there has been an unprecedented rise of immigrants, which was the primary reason for Assam Agitation of 1979. Despite all facts, the government is still ignorant of the terrible state of affairs this bill holds for the North-East in future, as they only care about winning the forthcoming elections. I feel uncomfortable to even bring up the disturbing history of Barak Valley. An ignorant eye has always been turned towards these conflicts, despite all the bloodshed.

It’s Unconstitutional In Nature

Lastly, our constitution states that citizenship is based upon birthright and blood. It has no mention of basing citizenship on religious identity. As it is clearly unconstitutional, it can be easily discarded through a challenge in the Supreme Court. But, crooked as this or any government is, they will either find a way to pass the bill through Article 123 which gives the President power to issue an ordinance to bring into effect any legislative bill when both Houses of Parliament are not in session, or else bring about more amendments and bills to torment the people of North-East.

The reason why we are raising our voice is so that the ruling power whoever it might be does not go about toying with our emotions as and when they please. If we let this go about in silence, then it will be a huge setback to the very ideals of democracy we take pride in.

Where Does The Problem Lie?

Does it lie with the poor electoral choices we make as individuals? To illustrate the bigger picture here, the core issue is with our upbringing in a society that prohibits us from raising our voice even in the world’s largest democracy. With the kind of rulers we have in power at the present day, there won’t be much left of democracy and civility if we continue to uphold this culture of silence.

The problem, therefore, lies with this ignorance and indifference about everything, even if that means not standing up for the rights of one’s own. Today, the North-East faces this crisis, but this silence will encourage those in power to bring about new immoral laws to another part of the country, and so on.

Furthermore, the unfortunate part is that this bill has received support from parts of the country. Most haven’t even understood what this bill means for us or for them. They cannot grasp the ground reality and are showing support based on a linguistic or religious divide.

It is beyond tragic to see the degree of conflict arising between some Bengalis and some Assamese. What needs to be understood by everyone – those opposing as well as supporting the bill – is that the countrywide protests opposing the bill are directed towards the ‘illegal’ immigrants from outside India and not against fellow Indian citizens.

Image source: Himanshu Saikia/Facebook.

So, What Next?

One simple thing needs to be understood above all, that is, whether you are a Bengali or an Assamese, a Hindu or a Muslim, you are an Indian regardless. As citizens of this country, and as those even slightly concerned of their constitutional safeguards, we must stand together against ‘legalization’ of ‘illegal’ occupancy in our homeland, and we must unite now more than ever, in order to preserve whatever remains of our cultural heritage.

So, what can be done? One can read about the bill in detail and research the facts, if the reader under any circumstance does not believe a word I’ve written, or if one desires to know more about the forever neglected voices. Thus, foremost is to understand and feel the emotional trauma that we and our fellow North-Easterners are going through.

Read about the protests and disturbance across the North-East that is left untouched by the national media coverage, still happening as I finish this sentence. Tweet to the national media publications to open their eyes to the farthest corners of this country, write, sing, compose to spread the word.

If you are unable to march alongside your fellow Assamese and North-Easterners in protests and gatherings, then share on social media whatever you feel is right, at least to let the country know what’s happening away from the center in Delhi.

And lastly to those Assamese who still cannot fathom what awaits us, remember you have a job now, a home; but soon you may not even have a bed to sleep on!

Featured image source: Getty images
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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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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