By Ananya Singh
On Friday, September 1, three women shaved their heads in full public view in Guwahati, objecting to the false promises made by the BJP government. 100 women belonging to Swadhin Nari Sakti (SNS) activist group had assembled at the protest.
There is a growing antagonism against the BJP in Assam. The women—Rekha Talukdar, Geeta Barua and Mousumi Prabhat Bora—believe that voting for the BJP in 2016 was a “great mistake.” “By shaving our heads, we wanted to signify that the government is dead here and we are guardian-less,” stated Mousumi.
The women decided to take the extreme step as previous conventional attempts at protest had fallen on deaf ears. One of the women proclaimed, “Our Chief Minister is only busy in pleasing the high command in Delhi and has no time for the issues that affect the people at the grass root level. We hope that our protest at least pricks the conscience of the government.“
Hollow rings of false promises
BJP won the 2016 Assembly polls in Assam and came to power for the first time in the state. Compared to the incompetence of past Assamese governments, the new BJP slogan of “jaati, maati and bheti “(community, land, and existence) echoed a wave of promises to secure the rights of the indigenous communities. However, the Assamese claim that these promises were never realised.
The problem posed by Bangladeshi immigrants filtering into the state has been a prominent topic in Assamese politics. The SNS women believe that the government has done nothing to curb the situation. Of primary concern to the natives are the employment opportunities and growing land disputes, due to the constant inflow of immigrants. The BJP had promised to develop the state and solve the long-raging battle between native Assamese and Bangladeshi immigrants in their political manifesto. However, the recent directive to issue Indian citizenship to Bangladeshi migrants has resulted in widespread protests.
“We have strongly opposed the government’s decision to provide Indian citizenship to the Hindu Bangladeshi people. We expected that the present BJP-led state government would do everything in the greater interest of the indigenous people. But they didn’t. In past year, all government decisions went against the indigenous people,” added a woman at the protest.
The miserable state of women security
The SNS also brought up the issue of women security in the state. Assam has witnessed an upsurge in crimes against women. A recent National Crime Records Bureau (NDRB) report ranks Assam first among North-eastern states unsafe for women. Assam has recently introduced new police units known as SMART Police, a technology-enabled system to tackle this issue. The state currently lacks clear procedures to ensure women’s safety. “Crimes against women have increased manifold. There is no security for the people of the state whereas the government and its leaders are continuing to make false promises shamelessly,” announced an SNS member.
Undermining eminent Assamese personalities?
Another subject that resulted in a breakout of protests was the naming of model colleges after Pandit Deendayal Upadhayay. The All Assam Student’s Union (AASU) and the opposition party unanimously objected to the decision of naming model colleges after the RSS ideologue and Jan Sangh Leader. Natives see it as a means of demeaning the prestige of great Assamese personalities who have struggled for the region’s social and cultural upliftment.
“We have no issue if one or two colleges are named after Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. We do not disrespect him. But naming all new model colleges after him is definitely disrespecting eminent personalities from Assam whose contribution towards nation building was no less than that of Upadhyaya,” said AASU chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya.
The disaster floods wrought in Assam
The women further stated that natives were dissatisfied with the inept efforts of the BJP government to restore order during the floods. Floods in Assam are a yearly ritual, however, 2017 witnessed an above-normal flooding situation. The government always engages in relief efforts, repair and maintenance of infrastructure. Considering the recurring nature of floods, the incumbent government showed low levels of preparation.
The central government claimed the flood relief funds were sufficient. Still, the state suffers from lack of finances for adequate infrastructure. Assam continues to fall victim to the floods and has recorded at least 156 deaths this year with 22.5 lakh being displaced or otherwise affected.
A recent event in Nagaon ranks high on SNS’s list of issues with the BJP. A few youngsters, including a BJP leader and tractor dealer, allegedly assaulted and wounded Moon Bora, an ex-ULFA cadre, who had surrendered. The BJP leader is known to be closely linked to Railway State Minister, Rajen Gohain. After beating up Bora, the traders filed a complaint with Nagaon Police for extortion leading to Bora’s immediate arrest. Various organisations including AASU staged protests demanding Bora be released. Anup Chetia, General Secretary of ULFA, said in a press-conference that the incident was a pre-planned attack with an intent to kill. He further alleged that the police had delayed Bora’s transport to the hospital and had physically assaulted him while in custody.
BJP has amassed widespread criticism in Assam. The natives were hopeful of a change in government bringing about development. However, a lack of efforts to preserve the rights and land of indigenous communities, a rising crime rate against women and the ill-preparedness for floods have revealed the Sonowal-led government’s ineptitude. SNS has reaffirmed their commitment to stand strong against political forces and continue their fight for protecting interests of indigenous people. Assam, scarred by historical skirmishes and administrative upheaval is a delicate political playground. Unless the BJP inculcates a sound understanding of the same, it will continue to lose ground in the state.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt