Shocked With Sedition Cases Against Intellectuals, Families of Assam Agitation Martyrs Return Awards
Former CM Tarun Gogoi has said all means by the government to suppress public voice will be met with stronger and continued protest from people.
Akhil Gogoi, leader of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) leading a protest
Guwahati: For the family of Khargeswar Talukdar, the first martyr among the 855 lives sacrificed in the six-year-long Assam Agitation (1979-85), the past couple of days have been agonising.
Shocked with the Centre’s decision to bring in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the family has decided to return the award (memento and recitation) conferred to them as an honour by Assam government in 2016. The Bill nullifies the outcome of the agitation – the Assam Accord.
The accord identifies as a citizen of India anyone who entered Assam before the cut-off date of March 25, 1971. On the other hand, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who had entered India before December 31, 2014.
Like Talukdar’s family, other martyr’s families, as a mark of protest, have decided to return their awards to the state government on January 31. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had conferred the awards to the families of the martyrs at a much-publicised function on December 10, 2016.
Chandrakanta Talukdar, kin of Khargeswar Talukdar and Sadou Asom Jatiya Swahid Pariyal Somonnorokhyi Parishad (All Assam Martyrs’ Families Coordination Council) General Secretary, said: “We waited thinking that Sonowal would come up strongly and oppose the Bill. But it’s saddening to see his weak stand and silence over the matter. So, we have sent a memorandum to him demanding a discussion with the Parishad within January 28 or we are going to return the awards on January 31.”
Following this, four members of the nine-member high-level committee, formed by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to examine the effective implementation of the “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards” of the Assam Accord, have also decided to walk out of the committee.
The committee includes distinguished intellectuals such as IAS officers MP Bezbaruah and Subhash Das, former president of Asam Sahitya Sabha (Assam Literary Society) Dr Nagen Saikia, senior journalist Dhiren Bezbaruah, educationist Dr Mukunda Rajbongshi, Advocate General of Assam Ramesh Borpatragohain and eminent writer Rongbong Terang.
“Initially I thought that I would be a part of the committee to contribute to the betterment of the Assamese people,” said the former Sahitya Sabha president. According to Saikia, the Bill violates the clause 5 of the Assam Accord which sets the cut-off date of March 25, 1971, to detect an illegal infiltrator in Assam.
Earlier, the All Assam Students Union had also announced not to send its representative to the committee citing the same reason. Clause 6 — the constitutional and legal safeguards to protect Assamese society, identity and culture — makes no sense without Clause 5, said AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi.
AASU’s withdrawal from the committee has encouraged personalities such as Terang and Rajbongshi for the same, as they were the original signatories of the Accord. Senior scribe Bezbaruah said he is still thinking about it.
Meanwhile, protests on the streets of Assam have continued relentlessly. On Thursday, hundreds of anti-Bill protesters gathered in front of the Assam Secretariat at Dispur with traditional Assamese ‘Gamosas’ and protested by waving them before the secretariat.
Akhil Gogoi, leader of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) who headed the protest said, “Gamosa is the symbol of Assamese culture and its people and the Bill has insulted the people of the state.” Gogoi terms the state government disregard for its people as a cowardice attitude that risks their “land, culture, language.” Earlier, KMSS protesters stripped naked in Delhi to oppose the bill.
Students across the state including Gauhati University, Tezpur University and Dibrugarh University hit the streets torching effigies of Sonowal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Cotton University Students’ Union (CUSU) have declared an indefinite class boycott. Students of Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) wore black badges while on duty to mark their protest. There have been reports of students from the region staging protests in New Delhi as well.
More recently, agitations have escalated following a suo-moto case registered against public intellectual Hiren Gohain, journalist Monjit Mahanta and Akhil Gogoi on charges of sedition. They are accused of making anti-Indian slogans during a protest in the city on January 7.
“During the meeting, the accused persons had made statements supporting a sovereign Assam’s concept which is a threat to the integrity of the country,” read the FIR.
Gohain has clarified that his statement was wrongly interpreted. “I said that the present movement is democratic and if this democratic movement is not heeded by the government then maybe people will raise the question of independence.” Developments within this political turmoil have turned the protests emotional. “The demand for Assam’s independence due to the Centre’s dictatorial behaviour,” added Gohain.
Former CM Tarun Gogoi, who was also present in the meeting, has said that all means by the BJP to suppress voices against them will be met with continued protest. “The government can’t suppress the public voice,” asserts Gogoi.
The Guwahati city police, citing the possibility of disruption in public movement, the functioning of public offices and flow of traffic, has imposed section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in certain parts of the city till further notice. The order prohibits assembly of more than five persons, agitation, demonstration, procession and shouting slogans in the area.
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