Monday, 30th October 2017

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Different protest voices at Jantar Mantar

We have no problem between Hindus and Muslims; the Assamese don’t hate Bengalis, our problem is illegal Bangladeshi immigrants: Activist

By Pheroze L. Vincent in New Delhi
  • Published 15.12.19, 2:09 AM
  • Updated 15.12.19, 2:09 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Protestors during a demonstration, #NOTINMYNAME, demanding the withdrawal of Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi PTI

Thousands of agitators packed into Jantar Mantar Road on Saturday, filling up every inch of what would be half the size of a football ground, as multiple demonstrations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) rocked the capital’s protest zone, often with opposing slogans.

The nearly 2,500-strong protesters came from different groups, including the Not In My Name (NIMN) collective and Muslim and Northeast outfits.

Many meandered through the crowd, trying to make sense and sometimes joining the protests.

The biggest crowds were around the NIMN stage where speeches were interspersed with poetry and music, the only audible expression in the din of slogans.

“This fight is for the existence of Muslims, Dalits and others the BJP looks down upon. If you attack the artery of the Constitution —secularism — every neighbourhood will speak out… the law may have already been passed, but the dawn is never late. In the history of India, before and after Independence, laws have been taken back,” Abdul Moeed, a protester near the NIMN stage, told The Telegraph.

At the protest of youths from the Northeast, Arman Ali, a disability rights activist from Assam, weaved through the crowd on his wheelchair. “The process (of updating the National Register of Citizens) was peaceful until the CAA was passed. This draconian law will push Assam and the Northeast 30 years back…. We have no problem between Hindus and Muslims; the Assamese don’t hate Bengalis, our problem is illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.”

Ali admitted that the aim of the larger crowd was against the NRC — which he supports — and that despite the proximity of the protests, there had been no attempt to discuss the difference of views.

This is a dilemma Xattriya artiste Srijani Bhaswa Mahanta also faces. “There is no space for individual nuances,” the JNU student from Assam said. “I oppose the CAA and we are going for a candlelight vigil at Assam Bhavan. But there are also problems with the NRC. It’s a huge scam with no account of actual expenditure that has led to many suicides and now the government says we will do it again. We can’t keep proving our citizenship.”

The student said there were videos of Bihari shopkeepers and migrant labourers being forced to chant “Joy Ai Axom (Hail Mother Assam)”, and being roughed up. “But the moment you say that there are some xenophobic tendencies in Assam too, you are ostracised. If we don’t recognize these problems, we have a stalemate and we can’t go forward…. The least the government can do after so many lives and careers are being sacrificed is to have peoples’ consultative groups to discuss our objections.”