CAA casts shadow over 'Bhogali Bihu' festival in Assam

CAA casts shadow over 'Bhogali Bihu' festival in Assam

Women take part in a protest against the amended Citizenship Act, in Tinsukia district of Assam, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. (PTI Photo)

 'Bhogali Bihu', a harvest festival of Assam, is likely to be a low-key affair this year as the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) has cast a shadow over the celebration to be held on Wednesday.

People across Assam seemed less enthusiastic about celebrating the festival as five people were killed allegedly due to police firing during anti-CAA protests in the state in December last year.

Activists of the Chutia Students' Union have given community feast 'Uruka', held on the eve of the festival, a miss to stage a 10-hour hunger strike at Titabor in Jorhat district from 5 am on Tuesday against the new citizenship law.

The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and Cotton University students, who have been at the forefront of the anti-CAA stir, have appealed to people to burn copies of the Act in flames of 'Meji' (a structure made of bamboo, hay and wood that is set afire on the day of 'Bhogali Bihu') on Wednesday.

Traders said demand for items required in a typical Bihu feast such as fish, duck, chicken, curd, cream, milk, 'chira' (flattened rice) was less this year.

"We do not have the excitement to buy food or share a meal with family this year due to worries that the CAA might wipe out Assamese culture and language by granting citizenship to Bangladeshi refugees," said Ratul Deka of Nalbari district.

Gohpur's Dimpu Das said "imposition" of CAA on the Assamese people has dampened the festive spirit.

"How can we have the mood or desire to celebrate Bihu when five students like us were gunned down as they were returning home after participating in anti-CAA protests here on December 11?" said college-goer Binita Kalita of Guwahati.

Her sentiments were echoed by another student, Dhiman Rajkhowa.

"We are saddened by the deaths. The five families have been deprived of their sons. How can we celebrate under such circumstances?" he said.

In central Assam's Nagaon district, Anowara Begum, who was seen making 'Bihu Pitha' (rice cake) with women of other communities, said, "We do not distinguish among indigenous people as our only identity is that we are Assamese.

"This Act attempts to divide us on religious lines. We strongly oppose it and will never allow anyone to divide our society," she said.

Similar feelings were expressed by Ubedur Baruah of Sivasagar district who was seen building a 'Meji' with youths of other communities.

"Our Assam is 'Sanker-Ajanor Dex' (land of Sankar Deb and Ajan Fakir). Both taught us to live together in brotherhood. We will never allow that to be eroded," he said.

Others said though they were celebrating the festival to keep the tradition alive, they would continue protesting against the Act till it is repealed.

At the end of a successful harvest, 'Uruka' is celebrated on the eve of 'Bhogali Bihu' with people irrespective of religion, caste, ethnicity or linguistic identity come together for community feasts and merry-making.

On the day of 'Bhogali Bihu', before sunrise, 'Mejis' are set on fire with prayers to the 'Agni Devta' (fire god) for taking away negativity and blessing the land with a good harvest next year.

Pitched protests were witnessed across the state after the contentious law was passed in both Houses of the Parliament.

Peaceful protests are continuing in the state with agitators demanding the repeal of the Act.

CAA seeks to grant Indian citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh fleeing persecution there.

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