This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Nibir Deka. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

In The Wake Of CAA Agitations, Who Will The People Of Assam Vote For?

More from Nibir Deka

People dissatisfied with the Congress after years of political stagnancy argue ‘if not Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then who is the alternative?’ Congress’ negligence of unabated illegal immigration and anti-incumbency paved the way for BJP in Assam. The party came with a promise to implement Assam Accord in letter and spirit, sealing of Indo-Bangladesh border and updation of NRC in their vision document of 2016–21. This led to a successful campaign in the 2016 Assam Assembly Elections where “son of the soil” Sarbananda Sonowal became the Chief Minister of Assam.

Contrary to their claims to implement the Assam Accord in totality, the BJP tabled Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) under the on-going regime. The Bill alters the pact by extending the base year for granting citizenship to 2014, by extending the 1971 cut-off for the five religious communities. Also, nowhere in the accord is the mention of religious exclusivity.

The Fallout

The first time the Bill (CAB1) couldn’t pass Rajya Sabha (RS) in January 2019. It was met with huge opposition in the Northeast (NE), and all opposition NE parties came together against a single agenda. The innumerable pressure groups, too, started raising flags about the issue. It felt like the second coming of regional politics, and the Bill was seen as a unifier.

A few contested LS elections based on the CAB1 momentum. In Guwahati Upamanyu Hazarika, Senior Advocate of Supreme Court raised the ‘Khilonjia’ (indigenous Assamese) issue and contested as an Independent candidate. He criticised both the Congress and BJP for using illegal immigrants as vote banks. Some opted for simpler options to stay relevant. All Assam Scheduled Cast Students Union Leader, Jadav Das, who had staged a naked protest in January, joined BJP by April. Another Hiranya Pathari, who had shown black flags to Assam ministers, entered the party. The common people moved on, and the anti-CAB narrative died.

People danced in the streets after Queen Ojha’s (BJP) victory. Image credit: Livemint

BJP didn’t change track and forward CAB for the second time (CAB2) in its Lok Sabha (LS) poll manifesto with an additional disclaimer “that northeast apprehensions will be cleared.” Assamese people voted for BJP in huge numbers, so did the entire Northeast and the rest of India. Congress who protested against the bill garnered only three seats in Assam.

Hazarika got 20–30 thousand votes as opposed to the lakhs bestowed upon Queen Ojha (BJP). Bobeeta Sharma (INC), too, failed to make any difference. BJP did well even in Upper Assam where the demonstrations were rampant. People danced in the streets after Queen Ojha’s victory with the catchy song “akou ebaar Modi Sorkar” (once more Modi Sarkar).

The scenario can be summed up by the famous quote by England football legend Gary Linekar, “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end, the Germans always win.” BJP is the German National Team of Indian Politics.

Making Sense Of The Mandate

In the U.S., people dependent on Obamacare voted for Donald Trump, knowing he intended to repeal the healthcare act. When he tried reducing the funding, the same supporters were worried in Kentucky. The exact happened when BJP placed CAB2 again in the Parliament. The people who danced in the streets and voted for BJP were puzzled and heartbroken like the Trump supporters. Some branded CM Sonowal as “Badan” (betrayer). (Badan is a historical person who was responsible for bringing the Burmese to attack Assam—one of the reasons British could capture Assam).

The BJP came with a promise to implement Assam Accord in letter and spirit, but the people of Assam felt betrayed.

The absence of opposition came with the downfall of regional parties such as Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). The integration of major parties with the BJP through the pan-Northeast Alliance (NEDA), created a political vacuum. Leaders like Meghalaya’s CM Conrad Sangma of NPP, who protested the CAB1, supported CAB2 citing “constitutional protections” in the form of Inner Line Permit (ILP).

Most of the local leaders whose politics revolve around ethnicity took waivers, concessions and tried to save their skin. AGP added the cherry on top when RS member Biren Baishya criticised the CAB2 yet, voted in favour. Ironically, AGP is a product of the same Assam Agitation which gave us the Assam Accord that CAA complicates. The overall lack of representation can be inferred to be a product of something bigger.

Something Bigger?

German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote extensively on the rise of totalitarianism in Europe. Totalitarianism is a system of government that is centralised, dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.

Leaders don’t emerge out of the abyss, she wrote in her book, ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’. In the time of adversity, people forget it is they who elected them in the first place. The totalitarian nature was evident in CAA implementation, which failed to address the burden on the ethnic NE communities, who are the primary stakeholders. Being border states, NE has absorbed the majority of the immigrants to the extent of compromising their demographical composition. The clampdown, through the use of state machinery, committed excesses in the name of law and order is another indication.

In order to function, totalitarianism needs homogeneity instead of pluralism. BJP faced the opposition of Assamese cultural pluralism in their ethnicity. In NE, people place ethnicity ahead of their religion. For them being a Hindu, Muslim or Christian is important, but being a Bodo, Naga, Asomiya is the priority. After the Assam NRC, it had been clear to the party that Hindu Bengalis constitute a big number of the undocumented. Their removal from the register would be detrimental to BJP’s Bengal venture. The party before entering the Northeast had failed to understand the religion neutrality angst of indigenous people towards illegal immigration. 

So BJP lured the Assamese caste Hindus into its fold and appealed to them to place their religious identity above linguistic or cultural identity. The smaller fragmented indigenous groups who prefer asserting their ethnic identity primarily were rallied as well. People forgot about the syncretic traditions of Srimanta Sankardev (Bhakti reformer) and Azan Fakir (Sufi saint). The grand old concern of ‘Assamese vs illegal immigrants’ was shifted to ‘Hindus vs Muslims’. The ethnic plurality, which felt like a hindrance until now by the BJP, was dodged by the old school technique of ‘other the minorities’. The rhetoric being illegal immigrants are majorly Muslims, thereby confusing the voter.

 The Disillusionment Of The Middle Class

Apart from total ignorance, voter irrationality, lack of alternative, opportunism and confusing the voter, what might be the other causes? It must be understood that not all voters read the manifesto or listen to speeches. The relative silence of ‘Hanghatans’ (pressure groups) about the BJP’s manifesto indicates a weak civil society.

To understand the cause, reflect upon Hannah Arendt’s take on modernity’s disengagement to public life in her postulation of the “economic man” theory where she explores how economics hinders the political. The “Assamese Middle Class” was an active participant in the Assam Agitation in the 80s. Post economic reforms in the 90s, the middle class have been the beneficiaries of globalisation and mostly moved into corporate jobs looking for materialistic neo-liberal aspirations in metros.

The state economy failed to provide for the burgeoning working class. Their political dissociation facilitated leaders to be elected without scrutiny. The ethos of traditional tribal Assamese community-living based on concerns for your society is no longer relevant. All these factors contributed to a weak civil society that failed to grasp the impending doom because many shied away from participating.

How Did It Change?

BJP, under the leadership of Himanta Biswa Sarma, might have predicted the fallout in Brahmaputra Valley and NE. However, the mass agitation was beyond the scope of any calculation. They neglected the two essential traits of Assamese people: ‘okora khong’ and ‘kaniyami’. ‘Okora khong’ and ‘kaniyami’ can be roughly translated into naive anger and laziness, respectively. The naive anger came when people realised that the sacrosanct Assam Accord, which a generation died fighting for had been manhandled. The plan to cool off the protesters by waivers in the name of constitutional protections like Clause 6 backfired.

The anger came when people realised that the sacrosanct Assam Accord, which a generation died fighting for had been manhandled.

‘The northeast apprehensions’ which BJP talked about in its manifesto did end. Just not through constitutional safety, but by a political sense of self and identity with enhanced consciousness. Assamese reflected upon Ahom’s victory against the Mughals where Bagh Hazarika an Assamese Muslim helped Lachit Borphukan fight against the ‘outsiders’. A small community like the Sikhs came out in the demonstrations to reassert their ‘Axomia’ identity. The laziness ended, and the need to prioritise identity made a comeback.

Looking Ahead

The current spontaneous demonstrations in the state are different from previous ones. Students, senior citizens and workers from all walks of life are resorting to ‘maha satyagraha’ and a democratic Andolan based on Gandhian values. After initial violent outbreaks, massive gathering where songs, dance, dialogues from Assamese plays set the tone of social emancipation through culture. This has the potential to shape political will as cultural revolutions precede political revolutions.

What the development lacks till now is consensus building and a certain ‘charter’ to sustain the democratic movement peacefully in the long run. Badruddin Ajmal floated AIUDF following the scrapping of IMDT Act in 2005 to consolidate the minority-based angle. Politicians must not hijack the current agitation, but a structured political solution should not be dismissed. The goal? A proper course of action that is inclusive to all stakeholders of the greater Assamese society and the emergence of fresh leaders guided by the new-found political will.

Otherwise, everything risks getting hijacked by opportunists or might lose steam owing to ideological scarcity. The worst-case scenario would be leaving us again with the same alternatives.

You must be to comment.

More from Nibir Deka

Similar Posts

By Prachi Bajpai

By Kanan Kumari

By Granth Pandya

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below