First of Protests and the Assam Narrative

This piece is my attempt at a multimedia submission for my Portfolio of Writing. All the text in red are hyperlinked to other sources of information and an audio clip. A video has been omitted from the piece but shall be submitted through mail. 

In one of the first Anti-CAA protests in Bangalore more than 3,500 people gathered at Puttanna Chetty Town Hall on 15th December, 2019 to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act that was passed by the Parliament of India on 11th December. It was organized by ‘We the People’. The organizers and the volunteers insisted the protesters to sit down and refrain from saying anything that might agitate the crowd. Some of the placards from the protest read “Save Assam Accord”, “Save Democracy”, and a big banner with the Preamble of the Constitution along with the text “India Against CAA”. One of the volunteers acted immediately when he noticed a placard with a Swastika symbol and asked the protester to take it down as it could lead to intervention from the police.

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Placards from the Anti-CAA Protest

(Slogan in Video is in Kannada and loosely translates to “We Won’t Tolerate”, for the purpose of documentation another video will be submitted via mail)

During the three hour protest, several speakers like Ramchandra Guha, MP Rajeev Gowda, MLA Sowmya Reddy, Kavita Lankesh addressed the crowd. The speakers emphasized on the unconstitutional nature of the Act and how it moves away from every principles of democracy. Historian, Guha said, “This country was founded on the principles of diversity. But the people who rule us in Delhi now want to impose one language and one religion on each one of us. But we will resist this. We don’t want one language and one religion, but we want democracy and pluralism.” Congress MLA Rajeev Gowda, while addressing the crowd said that he had just returned from Delhi called it a “black” bill, and also said, “It is a conflict between two ideologies, one which divides India on the basis of religion and one that is ours which wants to celebrate the diversity of India”.

At the protest the crowd was oddly being separated by asking the ‘Northeastern people’ to occupy and gather on one side. Prakriti Sharma, one of the protesters whose hometown is in Sikkim said that, it’s both funny and sad how the protesters were being grouped. “I definitely notice the two sides in the protest, people from Assam who want to protect their heritage which is jeopardized because of the Act, and the Muslims who are being targeted on religious grounds”, she added. People were indeed protesting the Act for different reasons, this also caused a minor agitation among the student protesters from Assam. On the other hand, the Muslim community is against the Act because they are the only religious minority not included under the Act. AN, a protester said that “this is a classic example of pre-independence divide and rule, they (the government) don’t care about illegal immigrants.”

Even though it was an Anti-CAA protest, several people were also protesting against the implementation of NRC. However, there were divided opinions. Jitu Hazarika from Assam works for a start-up company in Bangalore, said that NRC was a necessary step because Assam is overpopulated and there are not enough resources. “When NRC was implemented in Assam several illegal immigrants were identified, but now because of CAA more than half of them will settle back which is a threat to our culture”, he added.

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Photo Credits: Rohit R

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Being one of the very first protests after the Act was passed created divided opinions among the protesters. The answer cannot be simple. Both the fears of cultural dilution and exclusion had surfaced during the protest and are equally concerning because we do not know of any provision that provides asylum (outside the state of Assam) to these ‘immigrants’ who are now recognized as citizens by the Act.

In an interview with NS, a 23 year old student from Assam (now studying in Hyderabad), I have made an attempt to understand the following things: one, the fear of dilution of culture. Two, the threat to the indigenous communities; and third, how mainland and mainstream media has been representing the protest in Assam.

NS has responded to the first two questions of delusion and its subsequent threat by saying, “Dilution of culture gives out a conflicting connotation. It will definitely prove to be anti-indigenous as the open border situation, constant influence of Bangladeshis, and lack of financial and political support from mainland India has been creating chaos in this already conflicted region.” She further explained that Assamese is an indigenous identity consisting of more than two hundred tribes, fifty languages and dialects. She said, “CAA not only violates the Assam Accord but belittles the lost lives and struggles of people who fought for the cultural identity, against the cultural and linguistic impositions, conflicts back in 1979.”

In the audio clip titled, Media Representation and the reaction of Mainland India towards Assam Anti-CAA protests (hyperlinked) NS reveals how anti-CAA protests began from her alma mater Cotton College, Guhawati. In the end of the interview she also urges the question, “If Muslims are included in CAA, will mainland India still support exclusion of Assam from CAA as this region cannot afford to provide asylum anymore?”

My final comments and how I respond to my piece leaves me in conflict (as I cannot arrive at a resolution) because I come from a family of immigrants. My grandparents had to move from Bangladesh during the Partition and settle in West Bengal. How different would it be if they migrated later is a question that I am trying to get at. 

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