Assamese in Bengaluru on edge

Given the Internet blockade back home, they are communicating with family over the phone. They fear the government may shut down mobile networks next
Last Updated : 16 December 2019, 02:19 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2019, 02:19 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2019, 02:19 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2019, 02:19 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2019, 02:19 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2019, 02:19 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2019, 02:19 IST
Last Updated : 16 December 2019, 02:19 IST

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Many in Assam are calling friends and relatives in Bengaluru for information and reassurance.

The Northeastern state is under an Internet blockade, and many living there fear, with protests against the Citizen (Amendment) Act (CAA) escalating, that phone lines will also be cut off soon.

Hirak Jyoti Kakati, general secretary of the Assam Society of Bangalore, has been living in the city for 14 years. He is worried about his parents and relatives in Assam and is upset with the Internet blockade. “This is not how a democratic country should act. If people are raising their voice, the government should listen to them,” he told Metrolife.

With a curfew in place in Assam, the food supply is limited, and he is worried how families will cope.

Bandita Das, student, BMS College of Law, fears a mobile network shutdown is coming up next. She hopes protests such as the one in Bengaluru will make people aware of what the Northeast is facing. “Only 48 per cent people in Assam speak Assamese. If we allow more people from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to settle in our state, we will become a minority,” she says, referring to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act that makes it easy for non-Muslims from three countries to settle in India.

Students beaten up

Mriganka Deka, engineer, living in Bengaluru for five-and-a-half years, describes the developments in Assam as ‘terrible.’

“Army officials and the Assam Police are opening fire and using tear gas and lathis to tame protesters. Just six hundred metres from my house, six people were shot dead. Just because they protested, innocent students are being dragged out of their colleges,” he says. His mother lives in Kokrajhar district and is unable to meet her father, who lives in Guwahati.

Amrita Priyam Dutta, a graduate, says the Internet shutdown is undemocratic. “My mother called me yesterday to say they are okay, but soon the cellular network might also be cut off,” she says.

Why is Assam protesting?

From 1951 to 1971, Assam bore the brunt of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. After a heavy influx, the demography of the state changed drastically.

In 1980, during The Assam Movement (demanding identification and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants), more than 800 protesting students lost their lives.

It was only in 1985 when a Memorandum of Settlement was signed between the Centre, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), that the situation came under control.

The accord says people who settled in Assam after March 24, 1971, will be deported. Protesters now say the Citizenship (Amendment) Act’s 2014 cut-off violates the accord.

First person

On Wednesday, around 6 pm, I got a call from my father, his voice soft but tense. “We wanted to speak to you before the telephone lines are disconnected,” he said. As a child, I have seen many protests and bandhs in Assam but a communication blockade there is a first. After CAA was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, the Guwahati-Shillong road, Dibrugarh and Naogaon, saw spontaneous protests. After many years of struggle with insurgency and unrest, Assam is once again experiencing fear of disruption and loss of life. The Assamese believe CAA, which aims to provide citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, will help illegal immigrants from Bangladesh get citizenship. The new law, they fear, poses a threat not just to their livelihood but also to their cultural and linguistic identity. (An Assamese individual in the city who did not want to be named)

‘We will lose respect as a country’

Narendra Pani, professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, says the Citizen (Amendment) Act is based on religious discrimination and makes us “a nation without principles.”

“There is divisiveness within Hindus and Muslims, which is expected, but as Assam is showing, there is equal discord between locals and others,” he says.

The word ‘secular’ was added in the preamble of the Constitution, but originally, the Constitution written by B R Ambedkar and others was clear that religion can’t be a criterion for accepting or rejecting citizens, he says.

Top cop says...

On December 12, City Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao tweeted: “The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 concerns illegal immigrants and has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. There should be no anxiety or insecurity in the minds of Muslim brethren regarding their status. Please do not believe in any rumors and fake news. All Indians are equal.”

NRC and CAA are different

Here is a quick explainer on what the NRC and the CAA mean.

National Register of Citizens
First launched in Assam, the NRC is a list containing the names of all verified Indian citizens. The idea of maintaining a record is to weed out illegal citizens, especially Bangladeshis, as far as Assam is concerned.

The exercise, mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court, caused widespread panic and disruption in Assam. It was found that 19 lakh of the 3.29 crore who had applied for inclusion in NRC were not eligible for citizenship.

In a country with a poor history of documentation, records to prove citizenship and links with parents and grandparents are beyond the reach of millions. Those left out from the final NRC have to approach the Foreigners’ Tribunals; 200 were set up across Assam for this purpose. Detention centres are also coming up in Assam to accommodate disenfranchised persons. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has declared NRC will soon cover the entire country.

Citizenship (Amendment) ACT

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, now a law, seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Muslims are excluded.

Non-Muslims living illegally in India will no longer be deported or jailed.

The cut-off date for citizenship is December 31, 2014, which means the applicant should have entered India on or before that date. The earlier cut-off was March 1971. In Assam, the primary opposition to CAA is that it makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion, which critics say violates the spirit of equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Also, under India’s current laws, illegal migrants cannot apply for Indian citizenship. Protests against the bill have ripped through the nation, with Assam leading the charge. Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Goa have also witnessed agitations. The chief ministers of Kerala, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Chhattisgarh have declared they will not allow the implementation of the Act in their states.

Assamese in Bengaluru

Total number: 1.5 to 2 lakh

Who are: Students, teachers, IT and non-IT professions and blue-collar workers

Where they meet:

Assam Association Bangalore, Cambridge Layout; Contact: 98800 16282, email address: assamassociationblr@gmail.com

Assam Society of Bangalore, Koramangala: Contact: 88929 42382, email address: info@assamsocietybangalore.com

Some distinguished names

Jahnavi Barua (author), Jonali Saikia and Zinnia Phukan (fashion designers), Khanindra Barman (founder, Würfel Küche) and Mriganka Deka (founder, ParkingRhino)

(Information provided by Rajdeep Kar)

Also, in Kashmir...

More than four months after the BJP-led government scrapped Article 370, elected representatives and politicians continue to remain under unofficial house arrest. The state is under a sweeping security lockdown.

Earlier this week SMS service messages were resumed for 40 lakh subscribers in Kashmir. But over 25 lakh prepaid mobile phones, besides Internet services including WhatsApp, remain deactivated. Reports talk of downed shop shutters, suspended farming, losses and seething anger. Even two months after the travel advisory to Kashmir was lifted, foreign tourists have largely given the valley a miss, and reports say flights and hotel bookings have halved this winter, compared with the same time last year.

Published 15 December 2019, 12:12 IST

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