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Why Assamese Students Are Revolting Against The Citizenship Amendment Bill

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“CAB aami namanu” (we will not accept CAB). This slogan has become louder in the atmosphere of Assam today by the student communities; while NDA polled 293 votes against opposition’s 82 votes in the Lok Sabha. It is one of the critical moments for Assamese people, who have to suffer for their indigenous rights, generation after generation. The leaders from different organisations in Assam argued that NDA divided the unity of the movement against CAB in NE region, by giving safeguards to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur, as well as protection for Sixth Schedule areas in Assam.

This is the time where most of the peasants in Assam are busy in their paddy field and preparing for Na khuwa, the festival which is started with the preparation of the newly cultivated rice of the year. The young peasants, while carrying the Dangari – the bunches of paddy from the field- click a selfie and post it on their Facebook profile to oppose CAB. Some of them also mentioned economic independence as an Axomiya peasant which is one of the primary themes for the community, since the history of Axom Andolon, (Assam Movement), Swadhin Axom (Independent Assam), Krishak Andolon (Peasant movement).

This is also the time of end semester examinations in all the colleges, under different universities, in the state. The students whose grandparents and parents had directly or indirectly suffered from the Bhakha Andolon (language movement) and Axom Andolonare are now taking part in the movements against CAB.

A group of Gauhati University students slit their wrists with the slogan, “We will write history with our blood, we oppose CAB, Jai Aaai Axom.”

Consequently, each generation of the state raises similar questions based on indignity to the Indian state. The All Assam Student Union declared that the Union Government is misleading the people of Assam, by bargaining the CAB with the constitutional safeguard. On the contrary, it is the right of the Assamese people, who have already taken the burden of foreign migrants since 1971.

However, the question of ‘indignity’ and ‘identity’ of Assamese people cannot be expressed without the question of ‘land’. Land accessibility and land rights are the two critical aspects of the state based on which the BJP government was formed by introducing the dicey discourse of Jati, Mati and Bheti (identity, land and homestead).

Tania Li (2014), argues that land is a ‘strange subject’ since it ‘stays in place’ and cannot be removed. The ‘material emplacement’ of land, as said by Li, shapes people’s association with rights over land in distinct ways.

However, Li’s argument is not enough to explain the question of land in the Brahmaputra valley, where instead of staying in place, in reality, the land is eroded and disappears continuously due to flood and riverbank erosion. The struggle here, is to protect land, to continue the livelihood, such as agriculture.

In the last five decades, the Brahmaputra River has eroded 4000 square kilometres of land, among which, the average eroded land per year is 80 square kilometres. Indeed, the question of land and its significance for livelihood need an analytical overview, to define why the Assamese people are opposing CAB.

Many of the flood-affected people who are still living in the embankments and being evicted in the name of encroachers are shocked to hear about CAB. The people from one of the most vulnerable evictions of Amchang region near Guwahati argued, “This government is not able to give safety to the khilanjia (indigenous), and now they want to give citizenship to the immigrants based on religion!”

Patterns of resistance are often more difficult to recognise in the environment, precisely because, the weak rarely try to raise the public attention to their resistance (Scott, 1985).  However, patterns of resistance do occur and are notably associated with the dominance pushed by the more powerful actor in the field.

A group of Gauhati University students slit their wrists with the slogan, “We will write history with our blood, we oppose CAB, Jai Aaai Axom.” It reminds Kalaguru Bish Rabha’s famous dialogue, “Kebal janaxangkhayai jati dangar nakare; jati danagr hoi, jatiyatabadar hake dekai dia hiar rangali tejere” (Not only does the population make a community stronger;  a community becomes stronger by the blood of the youth in the name of nationalism). 

Though the student community, who are taking part in the protests against CAB, did not have the experience of Axom Andolon, they stated that the nature of their protest depends on how Dilli (Delhi) is treating them.

This statement indicates that this movement will be long and it will take a stand to critically argue the positions of the post-colonial Indian state, in the context to preserving political and cultural rights of the khilanjias of Assam.

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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.

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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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