The National Investigation Agency (NIA) summoned Dr Arupjyoti Saikia, Assamese historian and faculty member at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati (IIT-G), for questioning at the agency’s Sonapur office on the outskirts of Guwahati on Saturday. While there is no official confirmation from the NIA regarding the reason for the summons, it is believed to be in connection with the violence that rocked Assam during the Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests on December 11.
Saikia, a professor of history in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, is a scholar of international repute and is known for his research on the region’s agrarian and ecological history.
“Dr Saikia was called as a witness under Section 160 of the CrPC in connection to the case Akhil Gogoi was arrested earlier in December 2019,” confirmed his advocate Santanu Borthakur. Gogoi, founder of peasants’ rights organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), was arrested by the agency on charges of sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on December 12 for his alleged role in the violence during the anti-CAA protests in Guwahati.
“Professor Saikia has been called as a witness by the NIA in relation to the violence during the agitation on December 11 in Guwahati,” confirmed Assam DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, without commenting further.
In December, days after the CAA violence in Assam, BJP minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had alleged that “an unnamed academic working in a Central institution in Assam was behind the massive street violence which unfolded in front of the state Secretariat in Guwahati.” Five people were killed in the clashes that followed.
According to Borthakur, Saikia was questioned for two hours. “His statements are being recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC. At present, there is no allegation against him as he has been called as a witness,” he said.
Saikia has been summoned for questioning on Monday again.
A group of scholars from across the country have published a statement in support of Saikia, referring to him as “one of the country’s most distinguished and respected historians”. The scholars have urged the NIA to treat Saikia with “the dignity and respect he deserves, and allow him to continue his professional work unimpeded”.
“That a scholar of such standing, and a human being of such decency, has been called for intensive grilling by the National Investigative Agency is deeply distressing,” said the statement, signed by over 40 academics, including Ramachandra Guha, Mahesh Rangarajan, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Sukanta Chaudhuri, Nivedita Menon and Partha Chatterjee, among others. The statement adds that Saikia is “is hugely admired, indeed venerated, in his native Assam” and is nationally and internationally reputed.
Saikia holds the Suryya Kumar Bhuyan Endowment Chair on Assam History in IIT Guwahati. He has been teaching for almost two decades, first as a lecturer in Dibrugarh University and then at Cotton College before joining the IIT-G in 2006. In 2011-12, he received the Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Agrarian Studies Programme, Yale University. His research covers areas of social and environmental history of 18th to 20th century Assam, with a special focus on the agrarian and ecological history.
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