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A Day At An All Women Protest In Assam Gave Me Hope For A Women-Led Future

Posted: December 24, 2019

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Women across India have been part of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, but Paromita Bardoloi reports from a special protest – an all-women protest in Assam.

It’s a cold December in my town. The sun lies gentle. And each day you can hear the footsteps of women on the streets as they go out on protests. Assam has been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act that has been passed by the Rajya Sabha on the 11th of December (and before that by the Lok Sabha).

However there is something very distinct about our protests: the turnout of female protesters is almost as much as as male protestors.

I often go out to protest. However, 21st December was special to me because I attended an all women protest. I am not sure how many of you have sat in a crowd of around 500 women in a public space protesting. But if you do, you will notice that things change when women are in charge.

Women carry their homes along

This is something so gender specific. When women go out in public spaces, they carry their homes along. You will see women who clutch their children. Some tie children to their bosom. Others have brought them along on their backs. And some are carrying them. But still they come. They come from far, and in hordes. Like a whirlpool, defying everything. I have been to protests that were open to all too, but I see that men mostly do come on their own. Women come mostly in groups or with someone. Women carry their communities along.

When children come, food and water come along in little bags. Sometimes we all share that. Women come with food. Women have to carry so much on their backs, that sometimes it feels like an unequal battle to begin with. But they still come. Their voices are registered for generations. Little children learn resistance as they peep from the bosoms of their mothers.

When women resist, generations wake.

A safe society makes space for women in public spaces

I am writing all about it from a very small town of Assam. In our protests women from very far flung villages. I asked a 50-year-old woman how she had travelled so far. She said that she and her neighbours came in the back of a small truck.

I asked her if any of them felt worried or unsafe to just board a truck. She said, “No, it’s normal for us. We can board any vehicle and we will reach our destination safe.” I had a conversation with social activist and teacher, Kiranmayee Hazarika Baruah. Baruah was a very active participant in the Assam Andolan of the 70s too. She was 14 then and she is still out on the streets, now at 54.

She says, “During my school days, I used to go on protests to different town with other girls, often leading many women’s groups. Sometimes then too I used to travel to different towns in trucks. And I have been a part of many huge public gatherings. But not once was I molested, inappropriately touched or made to feel uncomfortable. That is why just getting out of the house for women did not feel like a task. Because it was always safe. We never had to think of protecting our own space. For the last 40 years, it has been the same experience.” She also added that Assamese society as a whole is a much more open and liberal one that does not look at women in public spaces with disdain. The social and cultural space for women is open and that makes it easier for women to register themselves in public spaces.

The same sentiment was echoed when I spoke to the younger girls in the protest. A 20-year-old woman says that it was easier for her to come each day because she and her friends don’t have to fear for their physical safety. Neither do their parents push them to stay home. In fact her grandmother had also come along to protest. For her the public space is not a privilege but a something her community sees as a given for all.

These women know what they are protesting against

While talking to the women I realized how politically aware they were. They knew why they were here. Kiranmayee Hazarika Baruah tells me that the Internet has a lot to contribute to it. Now with a smart phone everyone can access the Internet.

Women in villages now also have direct access to regional news. They are no more dependent on men to bring them the news and form an opinion. Now they can hear it on their mobiles.

The conversation on CAA began in our regional channels long before the bill was passed in the Parliament. They talked about it in their kitchens, in their paddy fields and their neighborhoods long before the national media started raging. This information on how that one bill can change their lives has made them strongly oppose the bill.

Though the Internet was shut down for 8 days, yet their opinion was formed long before that.

Women evoke Mula Gabhoru as their hero

When things are peaceful and easy we do not think about heroes much. But now that as astate we are facing a crisis, Mula Gabhoru a 15th century Ahom Princess and her bravery are evoked. Mula Gabhoru was a warrior who fought the Mughals for 5 years after the demise of her husband. She was killed in 1532.

As women protest with songs, dances, poetry and skits another day ends. The place is cleaned and tidied. Everyone goes back in groups. I ask Baruah again about the future of these protests. She tells me nothing is definite. It’s going to be a long way to victory.

The air is cold. As I also walk back home with my diary I see a group of women getting into a shared auto, and a young woman who must be in her early twenties raises a slogan again, “Kune koi Mula nai, hajar Mula ase aguwai (Who said there is no Mula Gabhoru today, not just one but there are thousands).”

The Sun sets. I come home, hopeful.

Women protest. Women rise. The world feels fairer.

All images credited to the author.

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Proud Indian. Senior Writer at Women's Web. Columnist. Book Reviewer. Street Theatre - Aatish. Dreamer.

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