In a symbolic protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the families of 76 people killed during the Assam Movement in the 1980s on Wednesday returned mementos awarded to them by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in 2016.
The families gathered at the office of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) — which had spearheaded the six-year movement — and then marched to the DC office in Guwahati to return the mementos.
The Assam Movement started in 1979 against illegal immigrants in the state. The six-year agitation concluded with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, which stated that all those who came from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971, have to be deported, irrespective of their religion.
In December 2016, Sonowal had disbursed one-time ex-gratia of Rs 5 Lakh and a memento to the kin of each of the 855 people killed during the movement. The families did not return the monetary reward.
Rajen Deka, the president of an association representing the families, told The Indian Express, “The memento is the main thing. We are returning it in protest against the Bill. The Bill will destroy the people of Assam and rob us of our dignity in our own land. It will protect illegal foreigners.”
The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, by relaxing the eligibility rules for a section of immigrants — belonging to six minority (non-Muslim) religions, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan — in getting Indian citizenship.
Opposition parties and several outfits have claimed that the Bill is a “threat” to the indigenous communities of the region and that it violates the Assam Accord.
Rita Barua, sister of Lusan Barua, who was killed during the movement, said, “We are returning the award because the Sonowal-led Assam government has not kept its promise to making Assam free of illegal foreigners. It is a shame how the sacrifice of the martyrs is being insulted.”
Bhubon Bora, a relative of K Deka, who was killed during the movement, said, “Around 855 people were martyred to save Assam from illegal foreigners. But if the Bill is passed, then the movement’s efforts and the Assam Accord will be nullified. What is the use of the keeping the memento from this government if they are bringing in a Bill which is against the Assam Accord?”
Dipti Bora of Morigaon district, who lost her elder brother during the movement, said, “This Bill protects the foreigners by violating the Assam Accord. We protest against this Bill.”
Sidheswar Pator of Morigaon and Krishna Borpatragohain from Lakhimpur, who lost relatives in the movement, echoed the same sentiments.
“This Bill will be very bad for Assam. Illegal foreigners will be legalised through this Bill,” Pator said.