"Govt Of India’s Main Role Is To Divide": Assamese Protester Reacts As CAB Fire Engulfs India
The CAB (Citizenship Amendment Bill) fire that sparked in Northeast India, with Assam registering the most vociferous protest, has reached Delhi with the flames singing the Jamia Millia Islamia University campus on Sunday.
A day before, however, New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar rang with Saare Jahan Se Accha, just a stone’s throw from Parliament. Among those singing were Assamese nationalist groups as well as Indian Muslims.
The Assamese nationalist groups are concerned about “being turned minority in their own state by illegal immigrants”, Muslims from Delhi’s Walled City are worried about being harassed over their Indian citizenship, and civil society members are gathering in spontaneous protests across the city against the legislation.
Sharif Ahmed, a telecom engineer in the national capital, is from Assam’s Nagaon (one of the districts with a huge population of Bangladeshi immigrants). He is protesting against the CAA (now Citizenship Amendment Act) that he says threatens to subsume his state’s culture and language in an “overwhelming wave of illegal immigrants”.
He says the Ahomiya’s protest is not against a particular community. “The Government of India’s main role is to divide… We, Assamese people, are not fighting about Hindu and Muslim. We are fighting as Assamese and we don’t fear what they are going to do. We are here to protect our language, our culture, and our motherland”.
Sharif’s friend, Hengul Kakoti from Guwahati, Assam, feels anti-social elements are trying to give the matter a communal hue. “This is not a movement to protect our Hindu religion. My friend, Sharif, is a Muslim and he attends Durga Puja and Bihu. For me, he is just Assamese. Right now, the government is not listening to us. To make them hear us, we are shouting. CAB should be abolished… We don’t want any illegal migrants from Bangladesh or anywhere else… Assam is a very small state. Our population is already 3 crores. Why doesn’t Gujarat share the burden (of illegal immigrants)?” asks Kakoti.
Bhaskarjit Neog, professor of Philosophy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told The Logical Indian, the protests in his native Sivasagar in Assam were unprecedented. “In interior villages of Sivasagar, hundreds are marching to register their protests. Even the tea garden workers, who normally stay away from the mainstream Assamese society’s issues, are striking work. This has never happened before,” he says.
Calling the demonstration by the Assamese a people’s protest, Neog says the passage of the CAA is “a complete betrayal by political parties, both regional and national”.
“This is a gross violation of the Assam Accord signed by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. The last round of protests took place over this when they (The Modi government) failed to pass CAB in Rajya Sabha before the 2019 elections. The BJP put this (CAB) in their 2019 manifesto. The people of Assam were so foolish that they didn’t take this promise to bring CAB seriously,” says Neog.
He further adds, “The AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) raised their voice against this and threatened to withdraw support from the Assam government, but this time they were completely silent. Only BJP MP Birendra Kumar Baishya spoke against the CAB in Lok Sabha, but later he voted in its favour”.
Muslims from the city, on the other hand, are worried that the CAA and the NRC will be used to force them to produce documents to prove their antecedents and those failing to do will be divested of their Indian citizenship.
Daniyal Hashmi, a young undergraduate student from Delhi University’s Zakir Hussain College, stood alone at a Jantar Mantar protest with a handmade sign reading: “My grandfather was a freedom fighter. What was yours?” Hashmi, a resident of Bulbuli Khana near Sitaram Bazaar, says he was protesting as he feared the legislations divest Indian Muslims of their citizenship. “Why are they making religion a criterion for citizenship of this country?”
Hashmi feels the CAA is connected to the NRC. “They will give citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants under the CAA, but Muslims who are not able to produce documents to prove their Indian antecedents, will be targeted.”
Hashmi’s sentiments found resonance in Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan. “The CAA is the first step towards forming Hindu Rashtra. It is the first step towards saying that Muslims will not be citizens of India, that they will be second class citizens,” Bhushan says. “The government’s use of strong-arm tactics by making police and security forces crackdown on protestors is completely Fascist”.
“They have arrested Akhil Gogoi in Assam and slapped charges under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) on him… If this is not Fascism…” Bhushan adds. On Saturday, Gogoi was charged under the provisions of the new UAPA that allows it to be applied even on individuals not associated with any terror group and may become the first person to be tried under it.
Bhushan also criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment made in a speech in Jharkhand today about the anti-CAB protesters being “identified by their clothes”. “It is a totally communal, inflammatory comment. Anybody else making this comment will be arrested and booked under 153A, 295A for inciting communal hatred and violence,” Bhushan says.
Violent protests had raged all day on Sunday in and around the Jamia Millia Islamia campus with incidents of vandalism and stone-pelting being reported and the police coming down with a heavy hand on the protestors, firing tear gas shells and resorting to lathi charge. The Jamia students’ body has distanced itself from the violence saying the perpetrators “miscreants who mixed with the crowd”.
Late on Sunday evening, things had calmed down at the Jamia campus. Mujib, associated with politician Yogendra Yadav, told The Logical Indian they were at the spot and have not been able to confirm reports of a protester’s death from the local police or hospitals. Late evening, however, protestors started gathering outside Delhi Police headquarters in ITO Delhi against the violence meted to Jamia students where the police are alleged to have entered the library and attacked students inside with batons and teargas.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (popularly called CAB) turned into an Act (Citizenship Amendment Act) with the Rajya Sabha giving its nod to the legislation on Friday, 12 December.
Author: Anuradha Mukherjee is a Delhi-based journalist writing on education, environment, politics and women’s issues.