File Photo | Image: Reuters
December 11, 2021, marked the resurgence of the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Assam. The controversial legislation was tabled and passed in the Lok Sabha on December 11, 2019 and notified on December 12, 2019. This led to widespread protests across Assam in which at least five people were killed, namely Sam Stafford, Dipanjal Das, Dwijendra Panging, Iswar Nayak and Abdul Alim.
On the second anniversary of the passage of CAA, the North East Students Organisation (NESO) that comprises Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Twipra Students’ Federation (TSF), All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), Garo Students’ Union (GSU) and the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) led a huge demonstration to protest the CAA, demanding its immediate repeal.
Protesters carried black flags and black banners. In a press release, NESO President Samuel Jyrwa called CAA a “draconian law” and condemned the government of India for passing it “despite the relentless opposition of the indigenous people of the North East.” He further said CAA was “yet another political injustice that the government of India perpetrated against the indigenous people of the North East.”
Protesters paid homage to not only the original Assam Agitation martyrs, but also those who were killed in Hatigaon, when police opened fire on protesters returning from a public meeting. Many others were reported injured in similar incidents across the state.
Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharjya, Chief Advisor, AASU and NESO, criticized the Government of India for passing a “draconian, unconstitutional CAA on this day despite mass protest in the NE.” He also called the Act “anti-indigenous”.
“We are determined to recognize the sacrifices and greatness of the martyrs,” said Lurinjyoti Gogoi, President of the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), another socio-political group demanding a repeal of the CAA.
It is noteworthy that ever since the inception of anti-CAA protests across India, the battle cry against the Act has been loudest in Assam. The CAA, via an amendment to the original Citizenship Act (1955), relaxes residential requirements for all non-Muslim (Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsee) persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who have come into India before December 31, 2014.
This is unpalatable for several socio-political groups in Assam as the state had witnessed a violent struggle during the Assam Agitation that culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. Many students and youth leaders were martyred during the five-year agitation. The various students’ unions and socio-political groups contend that illegal infiltration from Bangladesh should be checked, people dubbed “foreigners” should be “detected, detained and deported” to their home country, which according to these groups is Bangladesh. Therefore, they are not in favour of relaxing naturalisation rules for Bangladeshi refugees.
It is quite another matter that many of the people dubbed Bangladeshi or “foreigner” are just Bengali speaking Muslims whose families have lived in the region for centuries, and that prior to the creation of the state of Assam, or even the partition of Bengal during the British rule, people of different ethnicities moved across freely in the region that today falls under Assam, West, Bengal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.