As the Rajya Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on Wednesday evening, Assam’s Barak Valley, the state’s predominantly Hindu-Bengali region, erupted in jubilation — a scene different from other parts of the state, where violent protests saw curfew being imposed in Guwahati.
Shortly after the legislation was passed, with 125 MPs voting in favour and 105 against, BJP members burst firecrackers to celebrate outside the party’s office in Itkhola locality. “Morality and majority both with BJP,” said Rajdip Roy, BJP MP from Silchar. Follow LIVE Updates
While protests have roiled the length and breadth of Assam, especially in the Assamese speaking Brahmaputra Valley, over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the issue has found little resonance in Bengali dominated Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi.
Even as thousands of students around Assam have held vociferous protests against the contentious legislation, which seeks to give citizenship to illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, students of Assam University in Silchar took out a torchlight procession in its support on Wednesday evening.
“We gathered at the Shahid Minar in our college, lit candles to show our support for the Bill. It was a national promise that our persecuted brothers and sisters would get citizenship. In fact, the Bill has come too late,” said Milan Das of Assam University. On Tuesday, however, a few students (who come from different parts of Assam) had held protests in the university following a bandh call by the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO).
Post Partition, a sizeable Bengali-Hindu population had migrated to the Barak Valley to escape religious persecution in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Many believe that the legislation would rectify the wrongs to the state’s Hindu Bengali community.
“While I completely respect the sentiments of the people who are protesting across Assam, it is important to understand why the Bill is important to us,” said Sharmila Chakravarty, a 25-year-old law graduate from Silchar.
On Wednesday, Chakravarty was part of a rally at Silchar’s Khudiram Bose Statue point organised to register their support for the Bill. “If Hindus don’t come to India, where else will they go? This Bill is not about Muslims at all. It is about saving the Hindus,” she said.
Among those who attended the rally were Hindus who failed to make it to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) list, which was published on August 31. The final NRC included 3.11 crore applicants as citizens and excluded 19 lakh.
“I am confident that now the problem of citizenship for Bengali Hindus will be sorted out,” said Kabindra Purkayashtha, former MP and Union Minister and senior BJP leader from the region.
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Purkayastha said the support for the Bill in Barak Valley was apparent since the 11-hour Assam bandh had no effect in Cachar or Karimganj districts. “Apart from Hailakandi — there was no opposition. The only opposition is from a small section of the people — the Muslim pockets of the districts in Karimganj and Hailakandi and tribal people (Nagas, Manipuris etc),” said Purkayashtha.
While the Bill was welcomed by all, some did express apprehensions over the implementation of the Bill. “There are still conditions to fulfil when it comes to proving citizenship, even for persecuted Hindus — documents will need to be submitted. The fact is most Hindus, even if they came in before 1971, don’t have documents to prove their religious persecution. Only once we know the exact provisions of the Bill, can we comment. For now, Barak Valley is peaceful and welcomes the Bill,” said M Bhattacharjee of the All Assam Bengali Hindu Association.
Joydeep Biswas of Silchar’s Cachar College took a more critical stand, saying the bill had many loopholes while calling the celebration in Barak Valley “premature and senseless”.
“This Bill will not help anybody. It doesn’t have a guarantee for citizenship and is only an enabling piece of legislation. Moreover, according to BJP’s estimates, it will help 4-5 lakh people. But imagine each and every application being handled separately and how much time it will take. Moreover, we do not know the Standard Operating Procedure for the Bill. What are the things they have to prove — the place of residence, when did they cross over?” Biswas said.
On Wednesday, Guwahati, Jorhat, Golaghat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sivasagar, Bongaigaon, Nagaon and Sonitpur regions saw intense protests. Later in the day, an indefinite curfew was imposed in Guwahati while mobile internet services were suspended in 10 districts of Assam. The Army carried out a flag march through Guwahati.
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