Assam 'gamochas', walls become anti-CAA protest scrolls

Assam 'gamochas', walls become anti-CAA protest scrolls

 Women participate in a protest rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Nagaon, Assam, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (PTI Photo)

The traditional Assamese 'gamocha' is a veritable symbol of pride for the state, but of late this sartorial heritage has also become a scroll of protest for people agitating against the amended citizenship law.

With the mobile internet suspended here for the past eight days, protesters have been spilling their anger and resentment against the highly emotive Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), now an Act, on public walls and 'gamochas'.

Rajya Sabha had passed the contentious bill on December 11 completing the legislative process for giving Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, plunging Assam into a huge chaos, as violent protests had erupted across the state.

Guwahati, being the epicentre of the agitation, witnessed protests marches and countless bonfires lit up in the streets across the city till December 12 night, bringing the bustling town to a standstill.

Seeking to check spread of rumour and maintain law and order, authorities had clamped indefinite curfew in Guwahati and suspended internet connection in 10 districts, including Kamrup (Metro) on December 11 evening. Guwahati falls in Kamrup (Metro) district.

As people could not take to social media to vent their ire, many people who opposed the bill spray-painted 'anti-CAB' and 'anti-BJP' messages on walls in prominent places and inner areas to register their protest, locals said.

While the curfew was lifted on Tuesday morning, mobile internet services are still suspended, even as peaceful protests against CAA, led by All Assam Students' Union (AASU) continues at various public squares.

On prominent Md Tyabullah Road skirting the famous Dighali Pukhuri, an entire stretch of walls of private homes, commercial ventures or quarters of Cotton University Professors' Colony, seems like a giant protest scroll with 'No CAB' splattered all over it.

"We Assamese totally opposed the bill, and now want the Act to be revoked. Mobile internet has been shut since December 11 evening. People also express their sentiments and resentment on social media. But, I guess, these public walls are symbols of protest now," said Chinmoy Deka, an Assamese youth, who often visits Dighali Pukhuri, a popular hangout place in Guwahati.

The area also neighbours Guwahati High Court and the sprawling Latasil playground, one of the main venues of the ongoing protests, and one can see and feel the heightened sense of resentment of people against this legislation.

While 'NO CAB' in giant English or Assamese letters remains the dominant message painted on walls in black or crimson, across the city, slogans against the BJP government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal also have been painted at many places in Guwahati since the protests began.

So, slogans like 'Modi Hai Hai', 'Sonowal Hai Hai' could be seen on walls located in prominent G S Road, surrounded by 'No CAB' wordings, painted before the bill became an act -- CAA as an assent was given to it by President Ram Nath Kovind on December 13.

On walls facing the serene Dighali Pukuri and other places, the anger of people against the Centre and state government is unmistakable, while sense of Assamese pride symbolised in the cry of 'Jai Ai Ahom' (Hail Mother Assam) punctuate the protest scrolls on walls.

On the walls next to Md Tyabullah Road, some slogans painted by protesters are very strong like 'Modi = Hitler' or 'India is Not N-Korea'.

But, it is not just public walls that have borne the message of resentment of Assamese people, the traditional 'gamocha' too now has been doubled up as a protest scroll.

The fervent cry of 'Jai Ai Ahom' and the elegant 'gamocha' in many ways have emerged as the potent symbol of protests against the contentious legislation, which people of the state allege is "highly polarising, anti-Constitutional" and "goes against the Assam Accord of 1985".

In protest marches, men and women, young and old could be seen either wearing the 'gamocha' around the neck or holding it in the air bearing the message --'No CAA' and 'Jai Ai Ahom' in English or Assamese or mixed.

After the CAB was passed by Lok Sabha on December 9, the Opposition had termed the bill as "unconstitutional", "divisive" and "an assault on the democratic and secular fabric of the nation".

Sentiments against the amended Citizenship Act had also run high on Friday at the burial of 17-year-old youth Sam Stafford who died in police action while he was returning from a protest venue, with many locals hailing him as a "martyr".

Stafford, a drummer and Hatigaon resident, was buried with a gamocha around his neck, and people from all faith had gathered for his funeral at a cemetery in Christian Basti, weeks before Christmas.

Two people had held out 'gamochas' in the air bearing slogans. One was carried by a Hatigaon resident which said "No CAA", while another was held by a Christian Basti local which said "Swahid Pranam Tomak (Martyr! We salute you)".

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