GUWAHATI, JUNE 30: The call of the All Assam Students’ Union and its 28 ally organisations (representing various ethnic communities) opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill-2016 resonated across the State yesterday, with the centrally-organized Gana Satyagraha at Latasil playground and the subsequent procession to the Assam Engineering Institute playground witnessing spontaneous mass participation. The agitating organisations demanded that the Assam Government reject the Bill in the greater interest of the people, as has been done by the neighbouring Meghalya Government with Mizoram following suit.
Earlier in the morning, thousands gathered at the Latasil playground to register their protest against the BJP-led Centre’s move that seeks to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu and other non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh through the Bill.
The protesters shouted slogans and displayed placards, denouncing the Bill and demanding its withdrawal, and calling for implementation of the Assam Accord in its entirety – including sealing of the porous Indo-Bangladesh border, deportation of illegal migrants and constitutional safeguards for the indigenous people.
The leaders of all the ethnic bodies made it clear in their speeches that under no circumstances would they accept citizenship for the Hindu migrants, as it would trigger an existential crisis for Assam’s indigenous and Assamese-speaking communities as a whole, with large-scale settlement of mostly Bengali-speaking Hindu migrants in Assam being the Bill’s logical corollary.
Addressing the gathering, AASU adviser Dr Samujjal Bhattacharya said that the whole of Assam was rising in unison in spontaneous protest against the Centre’s divisive move to grant citizenship to Hindu migrants and that the legitimate sentiments and genuine apprehensions of the people must be honoured by the Government.
“The people have reiterated their mandate today, and this opposition will only intensify. This Bill is unacceptable to the people of Assam, as it will render them minorities in their own homeland. Their language, culture, and in a way their very identity will suffer irreparable loss,” he said, adding that various organisations of the Hindi-speaking communities and Marwaris have also lent their support against the Bill.
Pointing out that the ongoing updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was being done on the basis of the Assam Accord of 1985, Dr Bhattacharya questioned how the Bill could override a document like the Assam Accord which was the culmination of a 6-year anti-Bangladeshi stir and at the foundation of which lay the martyrdom of 855 youths.
“The Assam Accord lays down clear-cut rules for detection and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi migrants based on the cutoff date of March 25, 1971. And it does not discriminate on the basis of religion of the illegal migrants. All illegal migrants – whether Muslims or Hindus – must be detected and deported from Assam,” he said.
Cautioning the Centre against testing the people’s patience, Dr Bhattacharya said also criticised the State Government, saying that it had failed to gauge the pulse of the people due to its vested political interests.
“Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has asked the people not to panic but there is indeed reason to panic. The State Government has not done anything to assuage the people’s genuine concerns and oppose the Bill despite the fact that it completely negates the interests of the indigenous people,” he said.
Referring to the census data showing the reduction in the number of Assamese speakers and an increase in the number of Bengali speakers, Bhattacharya said that the latest census figures corroborated people’s apprehensions as being true.
“The Assamese speakers are diminishing and the Bengali speakers are on the rise. Assam has already borne the brunt of large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh and any further burdening of Assam with Bengali Hindu migrants will spell doom for the Assamese. We cannot let Assam to be another Tripura,” he said.
Terming the Bill as a divisive ploy aimed at enhancing the BJP’s vote bank, Dr Bhattacharya said that the Bill was unconstitutional as it sought to grant citizenship on the basis of religion.
“We don’t have anything against any Indian citizen but illegal migrants – whether Hindus or Muslims – cannot be accommodated in Assam. This is a question of upholding our identity in our homeland. We are not demanding any concession; rather it’s about upholding our fundamental right to exist as honourable citizens in our homeland,” he added.
AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said that it was shocking that despite spontaneous mass protests the both the Centre and the State Government were not responding.