Addressing gender and sexuality issues in Assam


The 23-year-old resident of Bokakhat in the Golaghat district of Assam, Monahar Pegu, spoke with anguish and anger about the endemic violence and abuse suffered by male students from their elders at the University of Dibrugarh. This student from the Mising tribal community who is pursuing a postgraduate degree in political science remembers how it started in September 2019, shortly after his admission. “The old people sang saucy songs and kept us awake and standing in our underwear asking us to repeat the lines of those songs. Sometimes we would stay up from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m.

The humiliation and exhaustion from sleep deprivation made him depressed and he was happy when the first lockdown was announced in March 2020. When the university reopened in December 2020, he felt that the rags and the harassment would be a thing of the past, but they came back but it got worse.

Monahar remembers how the student council elections of April 10, 2021 sparked this movement. “I have never been too interested in elections. I come from a background where education is my only hope in my current situation, ”he says. Shortly after the vote (as was his custom), he sat in the library to study until 8:30 p.m., returning to his hostel room at Miles Bronson Chhatra Niwas at 9:30 p.m. He was unaware that upper caste candidate Bishal Sharma had lost the election and that Lokhinanda Tayeng, another member of the Mising tribe, had won to become general secretary.

At around 3:30 a.m. his door was kicked open by a drunken student, Mrinal Rabha, who took him out. He was dragged to where the upper caste gang was waiting. They started raining down on him, blaming him for the loss of their candidate targeting his private parts, threatening that they “won’t let him man enough”.

When he passed out, an alarm was set off by other students who rushed him to the hospital. After his department’s faculty raised this issue with the university’s registrar, the police finally registered an FIR. Repeated attempts to reach Dibrugarh SP Shwetank Mishra to find out why the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Atrocity Prevention) Act 1989 was not invoked despite the attack by the upper castes on a tribal member .

After filing an FIR, the other party claimed that they attacked Monahar in self-defense because he had come to strike them and filed a crossed FIR with the Rajabhadra Police Outpost.

Brihatrabar Pegu is also from the Mising Tribe and another Monahar student pursuing a Masters in History from Dibrugarh University also recounted the horrors of the Rag when he joined the postgraduate program in September 2019.

“We were asked about the size of our genitals and also about how often we masturbate. We were forced to strip down and show porn clips to check if we are human enough to have erections, ”he said and added:“ When the university started classes, this torture is also come back to haunt us.

He regrets that the authorities are not taking any action against the perpetrators.

Prasant Kumar Ojha, who is simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree in history and a graduate degree in folk and cultural studies, is regularly harassed by the cis-het mob at Guwahati University who use explicit gestures and slang to harass him. A few months ago, when a final year student stroked his butt in front of everyone asking if he should keep a condom handy, Prashant protested and was told, “You were waving to me. while wearing a green kurta ”.

After filing a written complaint with the authorities, Prashant expected the harassment to stop. Instead, the next day the same elder started yelling and hissing as he walked past him in the hallway. “You look hotter today,” he cried.

Since the complaint did not lead to any action to stop this, Prashant expressed his pain and anger in a blog that garnered thousands of likes and hundreds of responses. “I think it’s wrong to feel uncomfortable or in danger just because someone’s homophobia isn’t addressed.”

Wise beyond his age, the smile of the 23-year-old self-taught photographer reaches his eyes as he shyly greets everyone. Longbar Basumatary from Dangtalgaon in Chirang District in Assam says he is still exploring his sexuality. “The references in popular literature and the media for a gay man are all from the Americanized metropolitan mainland India. From a gender and sexual perspective for people like me who even reveal themselves to themselves, it can be very trying and difficult, ”he says and says he had his first sexual relationship with a man. which he considered serious very recently. “But he was only looking for short-term physical intimacy while I was looking for company. I have now decided to find companionship first and then to become intimate.

Ashraful Islam, 22, who is continuing his studies in history, is fighting several battles together. This resident of the village of Islampur is located in Baghbor Tehsil of the Barpeta district of Assam, India, he is a Bengali Muslim. Like most of the inhabitants of the 100 households in his village, they speak both their mother tongue Bengali among themselves and Assamese while communicating with others. But it made them vulnerable to persecution. “Our identity as Muslims and as a Bengali speaker is often unilaterally amalgamated to make us the target of hate crimes and persecution. The arrival of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), combined with the proposed National Population Register (NPR), which will be the first step of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), appears to be designed to make us feel like non-citizens.

Even as he spoke to this writer, the village of Ashraful was inundated to the waist with flood waters. “People worry more about their papers than their own safety or the safety of their livestock and homes, because the authorities can just take anyone and throw them in detention centers with the burden of proving. the person’s citizenship.

He points out that desperately poor people are often unable to read or write. “It puts them completely at the mercy of the authorities,” he says, and points out that the few educated young people in the village are trying to help everyone clean up their papers.

And yet, he admits that people in his village and other neighbors who fall outside the gender binary are the most affected. “Within the community, they face ridicule, contempt and harassment. Often estranged from their biological families to avoid persecution and violence, they are barely able to survive. Targeting such vulnerable people to obtain documents proving citizenship is a travesty of justice, ”he said.

These are not isolated cases. Whether it’s student politics at universities, issues of tribal identity or even protests over the Citizens Amendment Act and the National Citizens Registry Project, very often the intersectionality of gender and of sexuality ends up being invisible. A recent three-day workshop in Guwahati on gender and sexuality – to mark the completion of a year-long Maanush Project by Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA) which engages boys and men to tackle addressing issues of gender inequality and discrimination by questioning dominant models of masculinity and helping to end the prevention of gender-based violence against women – has lit the torch for such invisibilization.

Each of the 30 Assamese youth who participated in this workshop – part of the group of 80 mentees (30 from Assam, 30 from Gujarat and 20 from Karnataka) with whom the project is working to raise awareness and engage with them on a wide range of gender issues, allowing them to take ownership – articulated their own experiences of how they had to deal with toxic masculinity and abuse.

The head of Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), Harish Sadani, appreciated the eloquence of the workshop participants. “There is a gradual shift in outlook and understanding among mentees – this is seen through their involvement during the workshops / sessions, the feedback they gave during and after the sessions,” he said. stated and explained how rigorous orientation sessions for potential mentees helped identify the 30 young people (18 to 25 years old), studying mainly at universities and colleges (some working) to be selected as mentees in Assam.

Sadani highlighted how gender-based violence against women is a serious public health and human rights issue in India today. “Traditional efforts to address gender-based violence against women have focused on empowering women to assert themselves. This approach isolates men from the transformation process and reinforces the gender divide, ”he lamented and added:“ Men against violence and abuse – MAVA pioneered engagement with boys and Indian men to address issues of gender inequality and discrimination and help stop gender prevention. -based on violence against women.

Nelson Deb, coordinator of the Maanush project, said he was proud to see the progress made by the mentees. “The capacity building of mentees is sufficient through the interactions and training they receive through the project. They are now able to speak articulate about gender and sexuality issues not only in our interactions and with each other, but they have also been able to convey this thinking to their communities and their peer groups. “

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Posted on: Monday September 27th, 2021 5:07 PM IST


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