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Two Years After the anti-CAA movement - A way forward from the past cries

12 Jan,2022 06:37 PM, by: Pooja Dasgupta
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The agony and suffering brought forward by the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely carved a painful mark to bear for the rest of our lives. However, for the people of Assam, just a couple of months prior to the global outbreak that took precedence in March 2020 unfolded the tale of vandalised properties, burning tyres, pitch dark streets and an ominous sentiment overpowering the state in December 2019.

A massive violent protest against the infamous CAA shook both regional and national authorities out of their chairs overnight. Internet was down, shops were shut and schools, colleges & offices in Assam came to a screeching halt, as several pockets of Assam witnessed an uproar resisting the change in the Citizenship Amendment Act.

The ask - no place for immigrants in Assam, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. For those unfamiliar with the controversial act, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 allows room for immigrants of select religion who came to India on or before December 31, 2014 from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to apply for Indian citizenship after residing for five years in the country.

For any person outside of Assam, the provisions covered under the CAA seem decent, especially from the perspective of a global society striving for inclusiveness. However, in Assam the implementation of the Act can have a dangerous implication that potentially goes against the long fight put up by the indigenous communities of the region to fight the influx of illegal immigrants posing a threat to the ethnic identities of the land at the time. This takes us back to the historic Assam Accord of 1985 which was signed to preserve the ethnic identity of the Assamese community. As per the Accord, immigrants arriving to Assam on or before March 25 of 1971 were granted citizenship status, thereby closing doors to any further intake of immigrants which had already caused enough turmoil within the state.

This violent phase in the post-independent era has ever since left a bitter experience for the Assamese and Bengali indigenous communities residing in the two opposing valleys, Brahmaputra and Barak, respectively.

Over the years, the tension has cooled down and a certain degree of harmony has prevailed in the region. The youth who bore witness to an extended nightmarish incidence during the eighties have now passed over the responsibility of cultural preservation to a newer generation of present-day youth in Assam. Admittedly, changing times have fostered developmental progress in response to other pressing matters such as improving the infrastructure, education and healthcare facilities, in addition to boosting employment in the state. This has allowed room for increased acceptance, and the indigenous Bengali community of the region have joined other indigenous communities in Assam such as Bodo, Karbis, Rabhas, Missings and others in collectively working towards the all-round development of the state.

Why did CAA instigate violent protests in the region after many decades?

Unlike rest of India, the matter over CAA is a sensitive subject in Assam. The updation of NRC in Assam brought some closure to the people who had been long waiting for the proper implementation of the Assam Accord and rule out the immigrants residing in the region in the guise of Assamese citizens. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 on the other hand, came in conflict with the NRC update, thereby challenging the validity of the Assam Accord of 1985. The matter was bound to reignite the sentiments of the past, especially when the wounds were still fresh. 

Naturally, the protests over CAA took a violent turn, as properties were vandalised, streets were deserted and normalcy came to a pause. A few unfortunate souls also got caught in the crossfire unintended. However, the protests were not against the prevailing Bengali community or any other diaspora residing in the state. The protests were also not targeted towards any religion or language. The sole sentiment of the protest had one unified appeal - No more immigrants.

Nobody in Assam; be it an Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Karbi, Missing, or any of the several indigenous communities of the state,  wish to bring back the horrid cries of the past. The people have moved on; all that is required is a collaborative approach to mitigate the important issues in the state, that includes unemployment, infrastructure development and boosting the local economy for establishing self-reliance and sustainability among the people. 

The way forward in Assam

The outburst against CAA was indeed a stark reminder of the past cries and battles fought. However, the fact that all the communities of Assam came forward with a united front in 2019, instead of turning against each other, is an indication of how far we have come from the past.

Much to the dismay of the general public in Assam, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 is a reality. And if we are to keep aside our sentiments and rationally look at the bigger picture - the resolution lies in moving on.

The truth is that a lax in border security had already led to many immigrants settling down in our region looking for a new start. The NRC updation did help in ruling out the immigrants to a large extend, but none of their supposed homeland have interest in taking them back or the present Govt. of Assam in any hurry to validate the result. The resultant outcome has been to detain them in detention camps set up; with more standalone centres in the pipeline to be constructed.

If we are to objectively assess the current situation, we can do away with spending further on detaining immigrants and instead utilise these funds for improving healthcare facilities in the state. Implementation of CAA can be unsettling for many, but if it helps in relieving the number of detainees and aid the Govt. in prioritising more developmental projects in the state, the end winner would be the people of Assam.

The fight of the bygone days to protect the Assamese language has found resolution with changing times. Today, Assamese is recognised globally and the use of digitisation can be effectively used to further propagate the significance regarding all the ethnic communities in Assam. 

We have newer means to advance our indigenous identities through innovative reforms and by fostering development ushered in by a new breed of local businesses in the region. That should be the way forward, and out of the vicious cycle of angry protests that often lead to more harm than good in the society.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Critical Script or its editor.

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