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The Biggest Talking/Non-Talking Point Of The Assam Elections: The CAA-NRC

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The 2021 Assam State elections are nearby, scheduled to be held in three phases — 27 March, 1 April and 6 April. The fight to elect 126 MLAs will primarily be between two major alliances, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The BJP and Congress are unsurprisingly spearheading the two alliances, respectively. The counting of votes will take place on 2 May.

BJP Rally In Assam
The Assam elections will be held in three phases. (Photo by David Talukdar/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The BJP has formed an alliance with one of Assam’s biggest regional parties, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), and the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) that won the recent Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) elections.

The UPAs Mahagathbandhan or Mahajot consists mainly of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). The BPF is the largest single party in the Bodoland Territorial Region. They had been in an alliance with the BJP since 2016 but were snubbed by them in the recent BTC elections. The other parties in the Mahajot consist of the three Communist factions, the Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

A third alliance born out of two parties formed after the anti-CAA protests, the United Regional Front, consists of the Assam Jatiya Parishad and the Raijor Dal. They are being led by jailed activist Akhil Gogoi, arrested in the aftermath of the anti-CAA protests and has been in jail since December 2019. Gogoi has extended his support to the Mahajot, but is apprehensive of the AIUDF.

Campaign Promises

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was extended for another six months with the elections nearing. Although Assam has stabilised in recent years, it was home to various conflicts. With the signing of the third Bodo Accord at the beginning of 2020, the Centre expanded the BTCs power. According to the government, many organisations fighting for separate regions dropped their arms in light of the accord. The BJP has promised continued peace and prosperity in the whole of Assam.

The Orunodoi scheme that provides ₹830 per month to 22 lakh families with widows, differently-abled members, etc., is also set to be revamped to cover people from the economically weaker sections and there are plans to increase the cash transfers to ₹3,000 per month.

Amit Shah has promised an “infiltrator-free” Assam and PM Modi unveiled various development projects. Ensuring a flood-free Assam was also a part of the PMs speech. Assam Health, Finance and Education Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, also announced various projects. He also promised free bullet bikes to youngsters. Recently, more than 22,000 girl students of Assam were given free scooties.

Amid soaring petrol and diesel prices around the country, the Assam Government reduced prices by ₹5 per litre. Liquor duty that was imposed during the lockdown was also slashed by 25%.

With Assam being an agricultural rich State, Narendra Singh Tomar in Guwahati assured people that the Centre was still open to talking to the protesting farmers.

Priyanka Gandhi Election Rally In Assam
The Congress name their campaign Axom Basaon Ahok (Come, let’s save Assam). (Photo by Anuwar Hazarika/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Congress was in power for 15 years in the State before the BJP won in 2016 as Sarbananda Sonowal became the CM of Assam. They are again vying to win back the majority in the State with the Mahajot.

Parallel to the current government’s promise of giving ₹3000 per month in the accounts of different sections of people, the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee’s president promised to give ₹7000 per month to all economically weaker families in the State if voted to power.

The Congress started their Axom Basaon Ahok (Come, let’s save Assam) campaign and made certain guarantees to the people. They promised five lakh jobs, free electricity up to 200 units per household and ₹2,000 monthly income support for homemakers (housewives).

While visiting the State, Priyanka Gandhi was most notably seen picking tea leaves with tea garden workers. The Congress has also promised to raise the daily minimum wage of tea workers to ₹365 and part of it will be supported by the government if need be.

The Biggest Talking/Non-Talking Point

The CAA-NRC issue is viewed differently in the North-East. While people from parts other than the North East view both the CAA and NRC negatively or positively, many people in the North East have been calling for the NRC for years now but oppose the CAA. The implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and its process first started in Assam in 2013-14. The indigenous population in Assam and other North-East states have wanted the Centre to implement the NRC to identify migrants. They fear that an influx of migrants will lead to a loss of their identity and culture.

Some of the population in Assam is seen as being outsiders or “Bengalis”. This is down to the fact that there had been an influx of migrants into the State during the British Raj and the Bangladesh Liberation War.

The government released the final draft list of citizens in 2019. 19 lakh people were deemed “foreigners” and were left off the list. This caused a massive uproar as legitimate citizens were left off the NRC list.

Protest Against The Implementation Of The Citizenship Bill
Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) leader Akhil Gogoi took to the streets holding Assamese traditional Gamosa in Guwahati, Assam, India on Thursday, January 10, 2019, for the third consecutive day of passing the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in Lok Sabha to oppose and protest against the implementation of the Bill. (Photo by David Talukdar/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), on the other hand, is a contentious issue in the North-East as it guarantees citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring countries. This, in the eyes of the people of the North-East, defeats the purpose of creating the NRC. The CAA essentially provides people (other than Muslims) citizenship in case they’re left off the NRC.

While the BJP admits that the final draft of the NRC has left out legitimate citizens and plans to create a new list, they have remained quiet about the CAA. This apparent dilemma has led to apprehensions in Assam and has given fodder to the opposition. The Congress has promised to get rid of the CAA in Assam if voted to power.

But on the other side of the coin, the Congress has remained somewhat quiet about the NRC. On the national front, they opposed both the CAA and NRC but have refrained from talking about it in the North-East. The Mahajot consists of different parties that support and oppose the NRC. The Mahajot does not have a consistent stand on the issue.

Although the AIUDF has been apprehensive about the process, they want the NRC to be implemented to break the “misconception of Muslims being outsiders”. The BPF has always wanted the NRC to be implemented in the State. But the Congress’ stand on the national front has always been the opposite.

Akhil Gogoi is another figure that rose to prominence post the anti-CAA protests in Assam. He is a peasant leader and an anti-corruption and RTI activist. While he has worked towards advancing policies that help the poor and landless peasants, his staunch support for the NRC might make him lose some support. He has called for a united front against the BJP in the coming elections.

Anti-foreigner and anti-Muslim sentiments are at the forefront of the Assam elections. The BJP has openly distanced itself from a section of Muslims in Assam known as “miyas”. They are seen as “foreigners” and are grouped as Bangladeshi. Sarma has gone as far as saying, “If you identify as a Miya Muslim, don’t vote for us.”

And even though the Congress would like to present itself as a “secular” party, in a bid to defeat the BJP, they have allied with the BPF, who Muslims in the Bodo-administered region accused targetted them during the 2014 Assam ethnic violence.

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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.

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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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