As you sip on your cup of Assam tea while casually browsing through your social media feed, Assam is in a state of total crisis. The beautiful land of tea gardens and one-horned rhinoceroses is in utter chaos—we are talking internet shutdowns, strict curfews, lathi-charge, tear gas, and even the shelling of guns. Our family and friends are in constant fear, our homes are running out of food and ration, but our brethren are unequivocally protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019.
Assam has been a proud home to different ethnic communities who speak different dialects, practice different religions, and assert their own unique cultures and traditions. I know that Assamese people are very accepting of every community that is rooted in the soil of the great Indian nation. We firmly believe in the provisions of the Constitution of India. But the main problem that the Assamese community has been fighting all along is illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
The geographically isolated northeast India shares the longest foreign borders with Bangladesh, the erstwhile East Pakistan. Even after the separation of India and Bangladesh, these borders have been irresolute and penetrable for millions of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, other than the refugees of the Bangladesh Liberation War, who now inhabit significant areas across the entire state.
According to the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, the largest concentration of these immigrants are in Assam, West Bengal, and Bihar. Over the years, the existing illegal Bangladeshi population in Assam, along with the constant influx of more illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, started burdening the Assamese community. Further, it puts the entire state at the staggering risk of foreign domination.
It is important to note that Assam has a resource crunch due to its geographical limitations, high frequency of earthquakes, and devastating annual floods. Till date, the Assamese community faces an inherent lack of education, healthcare, employment and economic instability across the entire region. This situation has only been worsened by the increasing population of illegal immigrants which has pushed the ethnic diversity of the entire region to the brink of extinction.
In 1979, a 6-year-long student-led agitation demanding the identification and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants was launched in Assam. This culminated in the Assam Accord 1985 that stated that foreign immigrants who have come to Assam after March 25, 1971 will be detected and deported as per the law with immediate effect. But in reality, the then government never sent back these illegal immigrants and yet again more and more illegal Bangladeshi immigrants infiltrated across the porous India-Bangladesh border.
Today, there are more than 2 million illegal immigrants in Assam and the Indian Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 introduced by the government gives them the right to become the citizens of India on religious grounds if they have come to India on or before December 31, 2014. This is where the problem amplified and the entire state went into protest. Assam is protesting against this Bill as it does not take into account the interests and demands of the Assamese community, the very people who were promised the Assam Accord three decades ago. It does not provide any concrete clauses to safeguard the land and the identity of so many indigenous communities that are not covered under any other constitutional provisions. The entire Bill rides on religious disparity and attempts to forget the sad state of Indian GDP, poverty, unemployment and population explosion.
Barring a few miscreants, these protests are largely non-violent and peaceful yet the protestors have been heavily targeted by the government which has declared an internet blackout and curfew in the entire state. There is firing unleashed on street marches, and, within educational institutions, men and women are being thrashed and killed amidst constant baton-charge and shelling.
People are running out of food, medical supplies, and fuel within their homeland while their helpless relatives based outside Assam are constantly calling them before a complete shutdown severs all communication. Moreover, the media has been censored and there is little representation of the true picture of the Assam agitation.
Amidst this tensed atmosphere, the Assamese community wants to request all the countrymen to understand that we just want our voices to be heard, we only want justice for our community and we will keep at our struggle against the citizenship amendment bill. We do not endorse any form of attack on religion or religious minorities, our fight is only aimed at saving the ethnic identity of Assam.
We are the Assamese, and this is our story.