The Brahmaputra Valley and CAA
-- Rami Desai
(ICRR- Assam/ North East)
India in the light of the Citizenship Amendment Act has seen a nationwide tussle of narratives and counter-narratives. An Act that was simply amended to give a small number of refugees from the three Islamic countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh citizenship saw an unprecedented amount of opposition. What at first, seemed like an enthusiastic student protest across the country quickly revealed something more insidious. The protests soon turned violent followed by incidents of vandalism and rioting leading to a huge law and order challenge for the administration. It also exposed the truth of the protests which allowed anti-national elements who were less students and more aspiring gang leaders to run amok. The movement against CAA lost its credibility. However, one of the very first instances of opposition against the Act had been from the state of Assam and the Brahmaputra Valley in particular. It was from here that the protests spread across the nation. Parallels were fallaciously drawn between protests in Assam and protests in the rest of the country but the truth could not be farther. The Assam protests were rooted in history and not in their dislike for the present ruling dispensation. They were fundamentally different in their origin and in their demand. While, on the one hand, the riotous protests across the country excluding Assam were largely based on misinformation and confusion over the Act, the protests in Assam, on the other hand, were influenced by historical events and have remained mostly peaceful and highly civilised. The Assamese society has many times displayed stern values in voicing their opinions.
After Jihadi elements belonging to organisations like the Popular Front of India were apprehended, and the hidden nexus of political goons and homegrown Urban Naxals was exposed, it was the united voice of the Assamese society that was primarily responsible for the containment of anti-national elements. The fundamental reasoning behind the authenticity of the anti CAA protests in the Brahmaputra Valley can be drawn from the fact that Assamese people were in the past deceived by their very own leaders of the great Assam agitation. The Assam agitation had promised to bring relief to the over-burdened state. However, after a six-year-long struggle to free Assam from parasitic illegal immigration, the agitation ended in the signing of the Assam accord in 1985.
People of the state felt betrayed, as the leadership of the Assam agitation chose to accept illegal migrants (mostly Muslims) till 1971. The reasons for their acceptance of this date remained unknown. While the agitators had the mandate to fight for 1951 as the cut-off year, yet their quick digression to 1971 came as a blatant betrayal to the sentiments of Assamese people. People of Assam were neither consulted by the agitators nor by the Congress government before enforcing the year 1971 forcefully on the Assamese people. The agreement achieved after a tacit understanding between GOI and the agitators resulted in the formation of deep resentment among the masses. The decision to accept 1971 as the cut off year rigorously and irreparably changed the demography of Assam (see Rtd. Gen. SK Sinha report). Decades of this resentment sitting dormant in hearts of every citizen burst out in the form of recent outrage across the Brahmaputra Valley.
Furthermore, false narratives and figures were promoted among the masses claiming a total of 1.9 crore Bangladeshi Hindu refugees are ready to storm into Assam once the bill is passed. The real number of refugees that will benefit is only a mere 32- 60 thousand people. False propaganda combined with existing resentment rooted in Assam’s history as well as the apathy of the administration in creating awareness beforehand formed a volatile cocktail of anger and distrust in the government. Unfortunately, these dynamics were skilfully utilised by clandestine forces to disturb the peace and harmony in the region.
The present scenario in the Brahmaputra valley has multiple variables. There is no silver bullet to resolve the crisis. Yet, people of the Brahmaputra Valley need to brainstorm, if they should concentrate their energy against CAA as a whole? Or should they direct their energy in demanding the exclusion of Brahmaputra Valley and accept the implementation of CAA in the Barak valley? This is a question of a practical decision, not an emotional one that the valiant Assamese society has to decide on or reject unanimously.
Jai Maa Bharati
Joi Aai Axom!
(About Author:- She is a Delhi based research scholar with vast experience of ground research in North-East India. She has authored scores of research papers, articles, intervention papers and books on NE conflicts, insurgencies, socio-political and cultural issues.)