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'We are protesting as Assamese, not as Hindu or Muslim'

By Kunal Dutt
December 15, 2019 15:54 IST

'In other parts of India, people may feel their religious identity is more important, but here in Assam, we are Assamese first and then, anything else. So, we are against this CAB (now CAA). It will hurt the interests of us Assamese'

IMAGE: Local community members take part in a protest rally against the new Citizenship Amendment Act in Jorhat, Assam. Photograph: PTI Photo

They come from myriad backgrounds and faiths but at the protest venues in Guwahati and several parts of the state, they all unite against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act as they believe it's an "assault" on Assamese culture and identity.

Forty-eight-year-old Guwahati resident Upendrajit Kalita says he felt a "sense of betrayal" the day Parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, alleging that the legislation goes "against the Assam Accord" which was signed to protect the interest of the native Assamese people.

Kalita, who works in an advertisement agency, had participated in the historic six-year-long Assam Movement led by the All Assam Students' Union that had culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.

The massive protests across the state against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, now an Act, are currently also led by the AASU, which has asserted that it will be unrelenting in its battle.

 

From Guwahati, the nerve-centre of the protests, to Jorhat, and from Dibrugarh to Sivasagar, protesters have virtually brought the state to a standstill, demanding that "the CAA must go", otherwise the agitation will be stepped up.

"One of the clauses of the Accord mandated detection and deportation of all illegal migrants without discriminating on the basis of religion and the all-accepted cut-off year of 1971. Clause 6 of it was to give constitutional protection to original citizens of Assam," Kalita said, and alleged the CAA "goes against all of that".

"Assam is already grappling with the influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Our own people, especially the poor need attention, and now this CAA will lead to more Bangladeshi migrants settling in our state. Assam cannot be a dumping ground for illegal immigrants, Hindus or Muslims, or from any other religion. So, we vehemently oppose this," he said.

Kalita has been taking part in all major agitations in the city from the beginning, from the Latasil playground to the AEI grounds in Chandmari, where a sea of protesters have been gathering in response to the AASU's call.

People from all communities, including eminent personalities, have joined the stir and come out in the open, defying curfew in Guwahati that was clamped on Thursday.

AASU chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya on Saturday had said, "We are on a mission to ensure the revocation of the amended Citizenship Act. This is our traditional war cry which we will continue to chant till our demand is fulfilled."

Naquib Hussain, 39, a taxi driver who runs services from the airport area in Borjhar, said he had been taking part in the protests.

"In other parts of India, people may feel their religious identity is more important, but here in Assam, we are Assamese first and then, anything else. So, we are against this CAB (now CAA). It will hurt the interests of us Assamese," he said.

Bobby Kakati, a businessman, also agreed that all sections of Assamese, in unison opposed the bill, and are now demanding the revocation of the act.

"Everyone in Assam, irrespective of their religion, have been fighting tooth and nail against this legislation, as it is communally polarising and unconstitutional," he claimed.

Kalita alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party had been very vocal about "evicting illegal Bangladeshi migrants" from Assam before the general elections, but now, this CAA will "lead to more of such people coming and settling in our home state".

"We have accepted Bangladeshis who arrived here from 1951-1971, and they have voting rights too. But those who came after 1971 cannot be given citizenship and land rights," he argued.

"We are not against anyone, but when our own Assamese people are struggling for food, shelter and jobs, can we afford to bring in the burden of more people," the 48-year-old resident of Hatigaon area asked.

Kalita, Kakati and other Guwahati locals, including Imran Ali Ahmed and Shamsher Alam, feel that the greater influx of "illegal immigrants" will also compromise the "original Assamese culture" besides, "affecting the demography" in the future.

"We are worried about erosion of our culture, corrosion of our language, and it is another reason we are opposing this Act which is detrimental to Assamese, irrespective of the religion they belong too," both Kalita and Ahmed concurred.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, the day Assam saw violent protests over CAB, had assured the people that they had nothing to worry about.

In a series of tweets, in both Assamese and English, Modi said he and the central government were "totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the people as per the spirit of Clause 6".

"No one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow," the prime minister had tweeted.

Notwithstanding the assurances, protesters largely feel that both the central and the state leadership have "betrayed people of Assam" for "political gains".

"The British did divide and rule policy, and now the BJP is doing the same, keeping in mind the next assembly elections in Assam and 2024 general elections," the activist alleged.

"Our own Assam leaders have failed and betrayed us. Our own AGP leaders and chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal instead of supporting us are palling with the BJP. We used to call Sonowal as 'Jatiya Nayak' (leader of Assam in the country), but he doesn't deserve that tag anymore," he alleged.

"AGP leaders had dreamt of building a 'sonar Assam' (golden Assam) but instead, they deserted us and now, we are all in a 'burning Assam'," Kalita rued.

Kunal Dutt
Source: PTI© Copyright 2020 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
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