Power, when left unchecked, has the potential to corrupt and currently, the Indian society is a witness to such an unpopular means of wielding power by the present-day government. The ruling party is of the opinion that the ongoing people’s movement in Assam, against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), is a misguided protest being led by political groups with a vested interest; when the fact remains that Indian people, from all walks of life, have given their mandate against the enforcement of CAA.
At the heart of this movement are implicit issues such as identity, development, competing interests, good governance and social justice. The masses of people are openly boycotting the Citizenship Amendment Act, with slogans such as “Go back Modi”, “Go Back Amit Shah” and “Joi Axom”, which indicates the anger and distress that unites the collective in Assam, as well as other parts of India.
CAA is regarded by the general public of Assam, and elsewhere in India, to be unconstitutional and anti-citizen in nature, this understanding stems from the forceful quality of its implementation. For example, suspending and blocking internet services within Assam and other parts of the Northeast, and the imposition of section 144 in Bengaluru as a means to suppress the spontaneous resistance by the people.
After a week without any means to establish communication with the rest of the nation, a lot of pertinent questions emerged. Were the killings of those five odd people, in a riot-like situation, across Assam, by the state police, justified? The police are supposed to ensure the safety of its people and not indulge in brutality. Why is India burning today, if the CAA law is democratic and upholds the vision of the constitution for its people? What development are we talking about today, the development of economy or Hindutva?
Assam, as a society, has always been embroiled in quarrels related to identity since its inception. The issue which pertains to identity has always incited a passionate response from the people of Assam, who are quite unnerved and perturbed by the enactment of the CAA. What does CAA entail for the Assamese community as a whole unit?
By a unit, I mean the tribal and the non-tribal communities of Assam. It’s crystal clear that the Assamese identity is under threat which includes both the tribal identity and the non-tribal identity. However, in the light of the recent events, each side seems to have a subjective interpretation of the effects of the CAA itself. The outcome of such diverse opinions on the law, is dividing the country, which is exactly the response that the government wants to extract out of its people at the moment.
The CAA has been successful in highlighting the friction which has existed between the so-called illegal immigrants and the totality of Assam, and it dates back to the Assam Agitation against “foreigners” from 1979 to 1985. The demand of the movement was to send back the illegal immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh, to their own homelands and we see the revival of a similar demand in 2019.
It is evident that it has taken a long time for the government to find a solution to the concerns of the people of Assam and it has taken the form of CAA. At present, the Assamese people feel marginalised in their own state, as a result of the heavy influx of people from Bangladesh.
As per NRC, 1.9 million of Assam’s residents are not the citizens of India and the total population of the state is currently 33 million, which includes the illegal immigrants as well. The Assamese community questions who will provide these people with jobs and a place to stay? The demography in many regions in Assam has changed over a period of time, where the illegal immigrants outnumber the Assamese people themselves. Another question resurfaces; what constitutes the Assamese Identity, precisely?
I have observed the communities of Assam become united when they contrast themselves from the “foreigners” as we have witnessed in recent times.
I vividly remember the day when my father and I were on our way to Tezpur, and he narrated the Nellie Massacre, as we were crossing Nellie. He told me that it was one of the first communal riots which ever took place in the history of Assam, between the Bodos and the illegal immigrants, comprising of Muslims in the year 1983.
The massacre claimed the lives of 2191 people on both sides and left several children orphaned; years later, I discovered that the NGO called the SOS village, provided shelter to these children with no place to call their home.
I recall a similar incident from Bongaigaon, in the year 2012, when the illegal immigrants and the Bodos had a violent confrontation, where countless people lost their lives again on both sides. It is very difficult indeed to resonate or understand the motivation behind such violent outbursts, but nevertheless important, in the context of the CAA.
One of the primary reasons for such aggression on the part of the tribal communities of Assam is severe land alienation. The tribal communities are largely dependent on agriculture, even today, and the occupation of the illegal immigrants of tribal lands becomes problematic. What is the alternative to ensure peace between the Bodos and the illegal immigrants? If we push this problem for a later day, it is likely that we will observe more episodes of violence in Assam even in the near future.
The CAA should be reviewed and the Centre should approach the enactment of this law in a bottom-up fashion and not otherwise. The emphasis should be on a process of dialogue between the government of the day and all the stakeholders, who will get directly or indirectly affected by the implementation of such an insensitive Act. The Centre should rethink its strategy in appeasing the people of India, by uniting the people, rather than reviving its age-old strategy of divide and rule.