Fearing that implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act will “affect” the demography and culture of Assam “in the long run”, several young women from Guwahati want the contentious CAA to be either struck down by the court or the Centre to listen to the voices of the protesters.
From college girls to professionals and city residents to those working out of Assam, a large number of women from the state have either participated in the ongoing protests or pledged their support to the movement.
Guwahati native Abhijrita Phukan, 23, pursuing Masters degree in Political Science from the historic Cotton University here, categorically says, “the CAA is not acceptable to us”. “We already have so less jobs in Assam, and if migrants from other countries are allowed to settle in our homestate which is already bursting at its seams from Bangladeshi immigrants, it will change the demography of our state. We might become a minority in our own state,” she claimed.
The state and the central governments both must “protect the interest of Assamese youth”, who are going to play an important role in the making of the future of the state, the university student said.
“Several groups are approaching or planning to approach the Supreme Court over the Constitutional validity of this Act, and I hope that the court will strike it down,” Abhijrita told PTI. Her elder sister, Anindrita Phukan, 29, a software professional, who works for an IT start-up in Bengaluru, is equally apprehensive about the CAA.
“I recently arrived in Guwahati and found my city under curfew and in the midst of a big turbulence. Assamese have already fought a long struggle in early 80s, leading to signing of the Assam Accord. The way this CAA has been thrust upon Assam, I am worried both as an Assamese and as a woman, for the future generations,” she said.
From Guwahati, the nerve-centre of the protests to Jorhat, and Dibrugarh to Sivasagar, protesters, both men and women, old and young, have been agitating over the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), now an Act (CAA), alleging that it is “highly polarising and anti-Constitutional” and “goes against the Assam Accord”.
The 1985 Accord was a culmination of a six-year-old historic Assam Movement spearhead by All Assam Students Union (AASU), which is also leading the anti-CAA protests. The Clause 6 of the Assam Accord guaranteed safeguarding local rights, language and culture.
Ashiyana Hussain, 30, another Guwahati woman, who recently shifted to Ahmedabad after her marriage, echoed the apprehensions faced by most Assamese, men or women, over the implications of the CAA.
“Guwahati is the gateway to Assam, and this city itself has very less jobs than the people who want employment. We have natural resources but we do not have much development, so taking additional burden of population from outside countries would only hurt our interests,” she said, and wanted the CAA to be revoked.
Hussain, who holds a masters degree in biotechnology and who quit her teaching job in Guwahati after marriage, said, “also, our Assamese culture needs to be protected, as this CAA will dilute it eventually”.
Mridusmita Das Bora, 32, another Guwahati native and an artiste, who has represented her home state on several fora, said, “fears of aggrieved Assamese over CAA are fairly valid”. “The implementation of CAA and resulting influx of foreigners will definitely impact our demography, and culture and language. Assam is not like Delhi, it is not very developed and had less infrastructure with limited resources,” she told PTI.
How can a small state accommodate so many more people, asked Bora, a Sattriya dancer, and asserted women in Assam are very conscious about equal rights. “I represent on stage an over 500-year-old art form, which talks about the egalitarian, liberal Vaishnavite values. Also, our Assam is a very pluralistic society with its own socio-cultural ethos. At the same time, we identify ourselves as Assamese first, we all speak our language, respect our gamocha as a symbol of Assamese pride, which we do not want to be affected,” said the dancer, currently pursuing her PhD from a leading university in Delhi.
Bora hoped that the Centre will understand the “valid grievances” of the Assamese people and listen to the voices of protests, and till it does not listen, “protests should continue peacefully, democratically, with a spirit of Gandhian Ahimsa”. Abhijrita Phukan said, most students in her university had protested against the CAB when it was introduced, and being debated in Parliament.
“Our university is now shut due to protests, so I could only write one of my three papers, two examination papers are still left. I too had joined protests in the campus, but not in the streets, as my parents were worried about my safety,” she said. Suman Nagpuria, 23, a student at a college in Guwahati, also awaiting to write another paper, as her institution is closed due to the stir.
Belonging to a Marwari family, she was born in Jaipur and grew up in Guwahati, and proudly proclaims herself as an “Assamese girl” who speaks fluent Assamese. “I feel a bit mixed about the issue. Immigrants who need help should be allowed, but then we are an independent, democratic nation, and how constitutionally right it is to permit only those belonging to some particular religions and bar people from another religion,” she said.