Guwahati, January 12, 2019:
With Bhogali Bihu around the corner (festivities begin on January 15), the North East in general, and Assam in particular, finds itself in the throes of a Revolution. Thus, Bihu celebrations are muted, with ‘bandhs’ becoming the norm. Many indigenous communities with varied interests find themselves locked in a struggle against the Government sitting at the Centre. While some feel that their voices are not being heard, others feel that their rights and privileges are being trampled upon.
2019 got off to a rocky start with the agitation of the six indigenous communities of Assam seeking grant of Scheduled Tribe privileges gaining momentum. But this issue took the backseat once Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Silchar and announced the BJP’s plans to implement the highly contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Modi’s announcement was met with an uproar by the Assamese community who are usually contemplating which fish to fry during the ‘Uruka’ (Bihu-eve) community-feast this time of year.
People state-wide took to the streets, burning effigies of the ‘Jatiya Nayak’ CM Sarbananda Sonowal and shouting slogans of ‘Joi Aai Axom’. Seventy organizations, led by Akhil Gogoi of the KMSS, staged black flag marches and protests, including one in national capital Delhi, where seven Assamese men stripped naked in a historic display of dissent. Student organizations also staged protests across the country to show their contempt for the Bill.
A Northeast ‘bandh’ was also called on January 8, where many protestors clashed with police. Protestors were fired upon in Tripura. In Assam, charges of sedition were filed against Akhil and noted Marxist intellectual Hiren Gohain for showing opposition to the Bill. They have since been granted bail, but Gogoi has stated that he will stage a 24-hour fast on ‘Uruka’ in protest against the Government’s policies.
With the chaotic atmosphere that is prevailing in the state, it is expected that Bihu will take a backdrop to the struggle of the people to stop the Bill, which is expected to be introduced in the interim Budget session, starting on January 31, from being passed.
The usually fun-loving Assamese people are finally waking up to the possibility of an Asomiya jati-less Assam and the newly awoken Asomiya jati seems ready to forego the pleasures of Bihu for the scars of struggle. But perhaps this Jatiyotobadi awakening is necessary to ensure the survival and identity of the indigenous people this festive season.