Police firing in Assam

Kashmir Times. Dated: 12/13/2019 11:00:10 PM

Excessive use of force by security forces will further escalate the tension between the agitationists and Assam government

Death of at least three persons in police firing incident in Guwahati, capital city of Assam on Thursday evening when the group of agitators turned violent, is both unfortunate and tragic. It is all the more tragic that the agitators have lost their lives for no fault of theirs and targeted by the police force from a close range instead of resorting to firing in the air to disperse the mobs. The firing in air and repeated tear-gassing failed to have any effect on the agitators, who took to streets in thousands after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 (CAB) was passed in both the Houses of the Parliament on Wednesday evening. No amount of remorse on the part of the ruling parties can bring back those precious lives. The Northeast, particularly Assam, has reacted with violent agitation to the passage through Parliament of the CAB, which makes illegal migrants, who are Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan eligible for citizenship in India. It is important to note that the fear that the CAB will result in an influx of migrants from across the border and alter demography of Assam has provoked people to take to streets. The agitationists in thousands have defied curfew restrictions to burn vehicles, target public buildings and made an attempt to set a Railway Station on fire to register their anger. This situation threatens to undo the gains of the relative peace that the region has enjoyed in the past two decades. It could destabilise New Delhi's Act East policy. Political players in the region and at the Centre must urgently come together and work to allay public fears and ensure calm in the region. In the backdrop of these developments, the people of Assam and its adjoining states have every right to protest in a democratic set up if they are not satisfied by the decision making of the central and the state government. Excessive use of force against the protestors is likely to flare up the anger among the people in the Northeast Region and disturb the peace and normalcy. Already, the centre has reportedly moved some columns of security forces from Jammu and Kashmir to Assam and other states for assisting the civil administration to tackle the protest demonstrations.
Now the CAB, and the National Register for Citizens (NRC) before it, have stoked tensions that had flared up in the region, particularly Assam, in 1970s and 1980s. The fear of demographic change has been the rigger for sub-nationalism or local nationalism movements, including the Assam agitation, in 1970s and the insurgencies in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. The movements stemmed from the colonial policies for exploitation of the region's resources and were sharpened by the fallout of the Partition, which the region experienced twice, in 1947 and 1971, which witnessed an unsettling population, particularly in parts of Assam and Tripura. Somehow, these scars had started to heal over time, and a stable peace had set in. Unfortunately, the NRC, which the BJP aggressively promoted in Assam, and now threatens to extend nation-wide, along with the CAB, have revived these fault lines. It is also sad state of affairs that the CAB pits Assamese against Bengali, if the NRC process revived the debate over who is an 'outsider' and who is the original settler in Northeast Region. Some of the exemptions related to the Inner Line Permit (ILP) to allay the fears of Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, and the Schedule 6 areas, may have temporarily helped to avert a consolidated opposition to the CAB in the region. However, fears have been exacerbated in the Brahmaputra and Barak Valleys in Assam and Tripura that these places will have to bear the weight of the probable inward migration of Hindus from Bangladesh. At last, the onus is on the NDA-government to reach out to the restive groups and take the necessary steps to address and alleviate their fears. Electoral exigencies and ideological beliefs cannot be the decisive factors in shaping the policy for the Northeast. Its repercussions will reflect in India's relations with its neighbours apart from shaping domestic politics.



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