Hundreds — under the banner of The North East Students’ Organisation or NESO — protested against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 in Guwahati’s Silphukhuri area on Tuesday afternoon. The protest marks the first in the series of protests the umbrella student organisation has lined up for the rest of the month.
The protest — held just hours before the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s (JPC) meeting in Delhi on the controversial Bill, which seeks to grant citizenship to six religious minority communities (barring Muslims) from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan— is testament to the swelling opposition to it, not just in Assam but the entire Northeastern region.
“We have held this protest to show that the seven states are united against the Bill,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, adviser, All Assam Student Union (AASU). The Bill created an uproar in May when the JPC visited Assam (both Brahmaputra and Barak Valley) to take stock of the memoranda submitted by various groups in support and opposition to it. Shortly after the visit, the Conrad Sangma-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government unanimously decided to oppose the Bill.
The Assam government has not taken any official stand, meanwhile, the AGP which is part of the alliance with the BJP has maintained that it will pull out of the government if the Bill is passed. “If Meghalaya Cabinet can take a stand against this Bill, why can’t the Assam government too?” Bhattacharya asked. The Bill is expected to be tabled during the Winter Session of the Parliament in December.
Leaders from Khasi Students’ Union, All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Naga Students’ Federation, Mizo Zirlai Pawl, Twipra Students’ Federation, All Manipur Students’ Union, Garo Students’ Union and the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union were part of the protest. “It’s not just the issue of Assam but issue of entire Northeast — we are not the dumping ground for illegal immigrants. Our identities, languages and cultures have been threatened,” said Sinam Prakash, Secretary General, NESO, Manipur. The leaders referred to the “plight of Tripura which has lost its identity.”
“Tripura is a tiny state which was never ruled by the British but it’s under the rule of ‘illegal immigrants’,” said Sunil Debbarma, general secretary of Tripura Student Federation. “We have to ask the government if we can wear our own clothes, speak our own language, we have lost everything.”
In the 1881 Census, tribals constituted 63.77 per cent of state’s population which, in 2011, was down to 31.80 per cent. “This is an appeal — please stop your state from becoming the second Tripura.” While Lambok S. Marngar, President, Khasi Student Union, called it a “draconian law to spoil the unique identity of the Northeast,” Tobom Dai, President, All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union, said that the Central government was “trying to annihilate indigenous people of the region.”
On November 30, the NESO is organising another protest: “These will be held in capitals across the seven states. And around December 11 — roughly around the winter session of the Parliament — we will do a protest in Delhi too,” said Lurinjyoti Gogoi, General Secretary, AASU. The organisations have ramped up protests in the last two months. On October 23, there was a state-wide bandh protesting the Bill — a total shutdown for 12 hours supported by 60 organisations. “It is not just the Bill but we are protesting against but the 2015 notifications that exempted foreigners from the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act 1946, as well as the provisions of the long-term Visa,” said Gogoi, “There is no hisaab of how many protests the AASU has done on this issues — whether they are in the state capital of regional units, from satyagrahas to human chains. We are not going to stop.”