Citizenship Bill: Hunger strike on Assam feasting day

Citizenship Bill: Hunger strike on Assam feasting day

Akhil Gogoi and others in a hunger strike in Guwahati on Monday. DH photo

The NDA's Citizenship (Amendment) Bill prompted many in Assam sit on a hunger strike on Monday.

The protesters broke an age-old practice of feasting on the eve of Bhogali Bihu, the post harvest festival.

The hunger strike was staged to protest the bill that seeks to offer Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan after a stay of six years.

Peasants' rights leader Akhil Gogoi led the protesters and sat on a hunger strike in Guwahati from 2 pm, hours before the traditional feasting.

Akhil said that the sacrifice should drive home a message to the BJP-led government on how the Assamese community was worried about impact of the bill.

"By passing the bill, the BJP wants to give citizenship to large number of Hindu Bengali illegal migrants already living in Assam. This will reduce the Assamese community into minority and our identity will be threatened. If Assamese identity is threatened, how will our traditional uruka (feasting) and Bihu survive?" Akhil said.

Akhil has been leading the agitation called by at least 70 organisations.

Despite strong protests across the Northeast, the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8 but remains pending in the Rajya Sabha.

A day before, Asom Gana Parishad, a regional party walked out of the BJP-led coalition government in protest.

Senior AGP leader Keshab Mahanta, who was a cabinet minister in the government, also joined the hunger strike and resolved to continue the joint protest for the bill's withdrawal.

All the 12 MLAs of AGP will sit on a 10-hour hunger strike in Guwahati on January 24 to oppose the bill.

As is the tradition, people get into water bodies together with fishing nets for community fishing and enjoy the feasting at night.

They take bath in wee hours and burn mejis (structure made of bamboo and paddy straws) in open fields and pay obeisance to their forefathers. Meji burning also symbolises destruction of the evil.

Citizens Forum against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill also urged people to burn a copy of the bill in the fire of the mejis to register their protests.

"We burn the evils in the mejis and so we request people to burn a copy of the bill this time. We consider this bill an evil as it will destroy identity of the secular Assamese community. We want to live as secular Assamese community and not as Hindus and Muslims as the BJP and RSS wants us,"  a leader of the forum, Manjit Mahanta said.

The state police on Thursday slapped sedition charges against Akhil, Mahanta and a prominent intellectual Hiren Gohain, for their reported statement about a possible resurgence of soverignty demand in Assam, if the public protest against the bill was neglected.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who visited his constituency of Majuli island, was greeted with black flags.