This time last year I was in the Brahmaputra valley in Assam, charting the struggles of Na Asamiya people. Victims of communal politics, they are alleged to be illegal Bangladeshis and are stripped of citizenship. Many are then rounded up and put in detention centres, often with little chance of ever getting out. Facing a corrupt police force, tried under colonial-era laws, denied basic rights to development, and living in a climate of state-enabled impunity, Na Asamiyas are some of the most persecuted people in South Asia.
Forced to live in the floodplains, they are also at the intersection of politco-economic inequality and climate vulnerability. 70% live in poverty, a 20% increase in the last decade. In some villages the literacy rate is as low as 3%, and they lack access to even the most basic services. Right now, the Brahmaputra valley is flooded, affecting 1.7m people and killing 45.
When I was there I spoke to Chalema Khatun (pictured 3/3). "Gradually the river took our land. It took our house also. Now I have nothing.” Mother of four, Chalema had to marry her daughters off when they were just fourteen. “I could not provide for them. I have no husband, no land, and no job. What was I to do?” Sadly, stories like Chalema's are all too common. Na Asamiyas face a political climate that has consistently vilified and excluded them from basic rights and securities.
A ray of hope are the many amazing community leaders and advocates, many of whom I have the pleasure to call friends. They work tirelessly to support these communities and their commitment and determination is an inspiration (you know who you are 😉).