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Barak valley tense over Citizenship law, meeting of Assam groups cancelled

Authorities make organisers call off meet to be attended by pro-talks ULFA leaders, cite tension

india Updated: May 28, 2018 21:47 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Silchar
Citizenship Bill,Assam,United Liberation Front of Assam
Activists of Brihattar Asomiya Yuva Manch had their heads shaved as a mark of protest against the Citizenship Bill in Guwahati. (PTI File Photo)

Two days before the meeting organised by Khilonjia Manch in Assam’s Cachar district to push for the scrapping of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was due to be held, the authorities have got the meeting cancelled citing fears that tension may increase between the two groups warring over the proposed changes in the bill.

Wednesday’s meeting would have been attended by pro-talks leaders of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), including its general secretary Anup Chetia, who are up in arms against the Centre’s move to amend the citizenship laws to ensure that six minority communities, except Muslims, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are not treated as illegal immigrants in the country.

Assam’s Brahmaputra Valley (large parts of which is against the bill), and Barak Valley (which supports granting citizenship to Bengali-speaking Hindus from the neighbouring countries) continues to be divided over the proposed law. While those in support see “a solution to the suffering” of the Hindu refugees, those opposing the proposed amendments call the move “communal and anti-Constitutional”.

“It (the meeting) could have created tensions between two groups,” Cachar superintendent of police Rakesh Roushan said.

In Barak Valley districts of Karimganj, Hailakandi and Cachar, which has a high density population of Muslims, the situation could have taken a violent turn, the authorities feared.

Groups demand Bill

“We want the 2014 voters’ list to be the basis of Indian citizenship,” said Ajay Roy, the general secretary of Sammalita Sanskritik Manch, an umbrella group of cultural organisations in Barak Valley that had opposed the meeting. “We will hold protests and show black flags if they come.”

During the visit of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Bill to the state earlier this month, Silchar, the headquarters of Chachar district and the largest city in Barak Valley, saw more than 300 groups, largely representing Bengali-speaking Hindus, come out in support of the bill. The region has witnessed several waves of migration, especially after the partition in 1947.

Religious divide

The largely Assamese Brahmaputra Valley, including the pro-talks ULFA, have found an ally in some Muslim groups in the Bengali-speaking Barak valley.

“A large number of Barak Valley Muslims are opposing the bill as it differentiates on the basis of religion,” says Siddique Ahmed, a former minister and Congress leader from Karimganj.

“Muslims in Barak know that they are original inhabitants,” he said. The Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front, which has a significant presence in the Barak Valley, too, has opposed the bill, and so has the Muslim Students Union of Assam, siding with the sentiment in the Brahmaputra Valley, which sees the bill as a violation of the Assam Accord of 1985.

The bill has political parties, like the Congress, divided along communal lines. Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha, party MLA from North Karimganj, said that “only fundamentalist Muslims” are opposing the move to amend citizenship laws.

“While there should be no distinction on the basis of religion, the partition victims need to be considered,” he said. explaining his conditional support to the bill.

BJP convinced

BJP leaders in the Barak Valley, on the other hand, are convinced that the party’s decision to bring in the amendment remains intact even as Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal recently said that the state government would wait until work on updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was complete before making its stand clear.

Senior BJP leader Kabindra Purkayastha, a former Union minister, distinguishes the Bengali-speaking Hindus from the Muslims. “The Muslims wanted Pakistan, they got it. Those who came to India did not come as refugees,” he said.

Asked about the opposition from the Brahmaputra Valley, the leader said, “The BJP knows that once the NRC is completed, the number of Bengali-speaking Hindus who are not in the final draft will be significantly less than the Muslims, which is when the BJP will be able to convince the groups in the Brahmaputra Valley that these people are not going to be any burden. The BJP leadership knows it.”

First Published: May 28, 2018 21:46 IST