After a ten-year gap, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and 30 other indigenous organisations called an 11-hour Assam bandh on Tuesday, January 8. Incidents of stone pelting, tyre burning, and occasional lathi charges have been reported since 5 am from various places of the state so far.
The Union Cabinet cleared the redrafted Citizenship Amendment Bill on Monday, January 7, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities (non-Muslims) from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The bill was tabled and passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, after a Joint-Parliamentary Committee had forwarded the Bill with minor changes.
While the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh claims the Bill to be for the people of India and assures that no person will face discrimination, the Bill has been facing protests from several organisations since its introduction. A day before the Bill was to be tabled in the Parliament, some protesting demonstrators from Assam under the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) stripped naked outside the Parliament against the central government’s persistence. Several protest demonstrations were held across the state where copies of the Bill were burned by demonstrators wearing black cloth, and attended several leaders including former CMs Tarun Gogoi and Prafulla Mahanta, Hiren Gohain, and several others.
Assam has undoubtedly been at the epicentre of the present opposition to the Citizenship Bill. This is because of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord which states that, “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
Meanwhile, due to Assam’s strategic location, people from the other states in the Northeast have also voiced their opposition to the Bill. Assam connects all the states in the region – apart from Sikkim – to the rest of the country. This means that every state other than Sikkim shares a border with Assam. Thus, the migrants who would become eligible for Indian citizenship if the Bill is passed would be able to move freely to all the other states in the region.
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The state-wide bandh has been backed by 70 other indigenous organisations of Assam including the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Congress and Assam Gana Parishad (AGP).
Several Assamese singers like Bipin Chowdang, Debajit Borah and others also took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against the Bill, with black cloths tied over their mouths.
The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) which was an ally of the ruling dispensation in Assam led by the BJP, met with the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to convey their opposition to the Bill but were left with no options when it became clear that the Bill will be tabled and passed on Tuesday. Following the meeting, AGP president Atul Bora announced their decision to pull out of the BJP-led ruling coalition in Assam on Monday.
As the law and order gets worse in the state, the Assam BJP ended their silence over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill opposition and an emergency meeting has been called by the Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal at his official residence. All the spokespersons of the Assam BJP have been called for the meeting.
“We will never be minorities in our own state. The bill once passed will make the Assamese people minorities in Assam. The BJP government in Assam came to power promising to protect ‘Jati’, ‘Mati’, and ‘Bheti’ (community, land, and foundation) of Assam. However, it has made a U-turn on its promises and is hatching a conspiracy against indigenous communities,” said AASU chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya.
He further added, “We have been fighting for several decades to secure our indigenous rights and immigrants free state. Sadly, the government has turned a blind eye to our legitimate demands,” as reported by the Pratidin Time.
Hiren Gohain, prominent political commentator, warning against the consequences of the Bill said that the passing of the Bill can lead to the rise of the demand for an independent Assam again as quoted by The Assam Tribune.