Family members of martyrs’ of Assam agitation on their way to the DC’s office to return their awards in Guwahati
Family members of martyrs’ of Assam agitation on their way to the DC’s office to return their awards in Guwahati|EastMojo image

Assam Agitation martyrs’ kin return awards over Citizenship Bill

In 2016, a citation and Rs 5 lakh were offered to the families of each of the 860 ‘martyrs’ who died during the six-year-long anti-foreigner movement in the state between 1979 and 1985

Harsha Pareek

Guwahati: Perturbed over the BJP government’s push for the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, around 200 families of Assam Agitation martyrs lined up at the Kamrup (Metro) deputy commissioner’s (DC) office on Wednesday to return the awards offered by the BJP-led state government in 2016 in recognition of their sacrifices.

Being the first phase of their protest, similar ‘Award Wapsi’ exercises will be carried out across the various districts of the state in the days to come, the protestors said.

A citation and Rs 5 lakh were offered to the families of each of the 860 martyrs who died during the six-year-long anti-foreigner movement between 1979 and 1985 -- popularly known as Assam Agitation -- which culminated in the signing of the historic Assam Accord.

While many raised questions over their decision to return only the awards, but not the monetary compensation, the families clarified that they are willing to pay the money in installments if allowed to do so, as they have exhausted a major chunk of the honorarium.

In 2016, the BJP government had accorded the ‘martyr’ status to all those who lost their lives during the Assam Agitation and offered financial assistance to their families.

Terming the Bill as an insult to the ultimate sacrifice made by the martyrs, a member of the coordination committee of the martyrs' families said, “We have been warning the government since 2016 to withdraw the Bill as it nullifies the Assam Accord, an agreement which took six years and several lives to come into existence. Assam has already suffered a lot. Our people laid down their lives fighting over the issue of illegal migrants and the government now wants to give legal status to these migrants.”

Almost in tears, a woman, who lost her only brother to the anti-foreigner movement, said, “We are so disheartened at the BJP’s decision to push for the Citizenship Bill. We conferred CM Sarbananda Sonowal with the title of Jatiya Nayak (community leader), hoping that he will take the state forward but never expected him to betray us in such a manner.”

The various clauses of Assam Accord were an important attempt to address the issues pertaining to Assam, including all-round economic development of the state, constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people, among others. But, most importantly it mandates that those who settled in the state after the cut-off date of March 24, 1971 would be weeded out and stripped of citizenship rights.

However, in contrast to the Assam Accord, the Citizenship Bill, which was passed in Lok Sabha on January 8, seeks to facilitate acquisition of citizenship by six identified minority communities namely Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who came to India before December 31, 2014, excluding the Muslims, thereby giving the Bill a communal colour.

With the general election just around the corner and the BJP eyeing 21 of the 25 Parliamentary seats from the Northeast, the popular uprising against the bill may prove to be a dampener for the saffron party’s ambitions in the region.

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