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Anti-CAA Protest In Assam Hasn't Come From Out Of The Blue

Anti-CAA Protest In Assam Hasn't Come From Out Of The Blue

CAB protest in Golaghat

Tyres were being burned to protest against Citizenship Amendment Bill at Bengenakhowa Chariali, Golaghat (12 December 2019; 4:27pm).


By Mithu Das   January 03, 2020

Since Citizenship Amendment Bill has been tabled in the Union Cabinet meeting, All Assam Students' Union has started protesting agaisnt it, for it doesn't meet Assam Accord.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019. Assam bandh was continued for the third consecutive day in my hometown Golaghat. At around 10:30am, I was riding my bicycle on G. F. Road, heading towards the town. The shops were closed and the roads were empty, and few locales had gathered on the road—some were standing in front of the closed shops, having a serious conversation on something while others were silently sitting nearby.

The bandh was declared all over Assam by students' bodies and various political parties to protest against Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 (CAB). The protest got stronger after the ruling party, that is the Bharatiya Janata Party, had passed the bill in the Loka Sabha on Monday. However, All Assam Students' Union (AASU) had been protesting against the bill since it was tabled in the Union Cabinet meeting a week earlier. They say the bill doesn't meet Aasam Accord—which was signed between AASU and the Federal Government in 1985—which endorsed that Bangladeshi migrants who had entered Assam after 25 March 1971 should be identified and deported.

In Assam, citizens' name had been started registering at National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 2013. However, after the final draft of NRC had been published, in August 2019, it was found that more than 1.9 million people had failed to produce proper documents for inclusion of their names at NRC. Now, AASU fears if CAB had to be passed, it would give these illegal immigrants citizenship of Assam. Meanwhile, the United Nations expressed deep concern over the exclusion of these people from NRC. Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said that "any process that could leave large numbers of people without a nationality would be an enormous blow to global efforts to eradicate statelessness."

CAB 2019, which was amended from the Citizenship Act of 1955, defines that non-Muslim migrants who—after escaping religious prosecution from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan—entered India and were living till 30 December 2014 will be granted full citizenship. This definition of CAB, however, has blamed to be institutionalizing racism, as it refuses Muslims. Therefore, the protest, which was once peacefully organised by AASU in Assam, soon spread among other groups of people and to other states in India, and it became violent after the bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Wednessday. Since anti-CAB protest started, at least 27 protesters had been killed by police in all over India.

Golaghat CAB protest
Mass, peaceful anti-CAA protest or Satyagraha is being staged by AASU in Golaghat.

As I was bicycling through the main town, I saw anti-CAB protesters were burning tyres in road junctions, and black smoke was rising in the sky. On my way back home I saw some fifty protesters were marching the street on their motorcycles, shouting slogans, "Joi Ai Asom" (Hail to Assam), "Ami CAB namano" (We won't follow CAB), "Bangladeshi go back", "Narendra Modi murdabad", "Amit Shah murdabad" "Sarbananda Sonowal murdabad". Seeing the protesters coming, two locales, who were standing near the road, hurriedly walked down the alley. I realised that the situation could be get worst if the bill had to be passed in the Rajya Sabha.

Coming back home—and as there was no television at our house—I started browsing the Internet on my mobile phone to find the news of the debate on CAB that had been going on in the Rajya Sabha between BJP and the opposition since that afternoon. Just after the dusk had fallen, a friend informed us that a large number of anti-CAB protesters were marching in the town with flaming torch in their hands. I could hear the protesters shouting slogans in the streets.

At 6:45pm, I got a phone call from my sister. "Have you heard the news?" She asked me.

"What news?"

"They're going to shutdown the Internet at 7:00pm."

My mother asked me what had happened, and I joked with her that Narendra Modi wanted us to feel like Kashmiris. My mother, who couldn't go to school in her childhood due to poverty, doesn't understand all about politics—what she knows about Narendra Modi is that he was a chaiwala who has suddenly become the Prime Minister of India and that he is giving poor people money to build houses and toilets and he is pious and he looks after his old mother—so, she didn't say anything.

The Internet was shutdown at 7:00pm. A few hours later—I learned about it the next day—CAB had been passed in the Rajya Sabha by 125 MPs (105 MPs had voted against it). At around 9:30pm, when we were taking dinner, the local administrator issued an announcement through loudspeaker that Golaghat town was placed under curfew from 10:00pm to 5:00am.

Assam newspapers reporting CAB protest
The newspapers of Assam carrying the front-page headlines about anti-CAB protests.

The next morning (Thursday) I went to the town to find the newspapers, but all the shops were closed. Then I went to the Bus Stand complex where one newspaper seller had just opened his shop. I asked him for a newspaper and he quickly handed me a local newspaper which had just arrived from Jorhat. No newspapers were coming from Guwahati due to bandh, he told me. I bought a copy of the newspaper and gave a quick glance at the headlines: A large image of a burning bus was printed on the cover. The caption below it read: Angry protesters has burned an empty city bus in Guwahati. Below the image was printed in big letters: Curfew imposed in Guwahati. Flag marched by army.

On Thursday, three protesters (two of whom were minors) were shot in Guwahati, and two in Tripura, by police. After these brutal killings, the protest against CAB grew stronger than before. Crowds of people gathered on the streets and marched in large processions led by singers, artists, and students' leaders. Sarbananda Sonowal, the Chief Minister of Assam, was fiercely criticized for using guns to try to control unarmed protesters. Instead of using guns, why did Assam Police or Army not use rubber bullets or tear gas to disperse the protesters is still remain a mystery.

Meanwhile, Assam bandh was continued for the sixth consecutive day, and we were deeply feeling the brunt of it. We couldn't buy groceries or vegetables due to bandh. Although some shops opened at evening, they charged higher prices for potatoes, onions, vegetables and eggs. Petrol and alcohol were being illegally sold at twice their prices. However, from Saturday the situation had slowly started getting normal, and within the next two days bus and train services started. However, the mobile Internet service had not been restored, for which people couldn't pay their hospital or electric bills, check examination results or apply for job interview. At last—thanks to lawyers and resposible citizens of Assam—the Internet service was restored on Friday (20th December) after petitions were filed at Guwahati High Court.

On Thursday CAB became CAA or Citizenship Amendment Act after it had received approval from the President of India. Consequently, AASU and other organizations had to resort to bring cases against the act in the apex court. The hearing of the cases will be opened on 22nd January 2020.

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