The city streets were alive with the sounds of music as people gathered for a concert at Assam Engineering Institute in Chandmari to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
The cultural form of protest was a throwback to the Assam Agitation in the 1980s.
The concert, which attracted thousands of people, including popular singers, artistes, poets and actors, was the brainchild of popular singer and actor Zubeen Garg.
Zubeen had asked artistes to perform and people to participate in the cultural protest in large numbers, during the 10-hour hunger strike by the All Assam Students’ Union on Friday.
The singer said, “Some elements are causing trouble in lieu of money. They are being identified. I appeal to them not to indulge in violence, but our peaceful protest will continue.”
Singers, artists and actors responded to Zubeen’s call and turned up in thousands for the Concert for Peace and Harmony — Voice of All Artistes of Assam and came up with songs, speeches, poems and live art.
The protest at Chandmari ground on Sunday had also attracted over 15,000.
It was reminiscent of the protests during the Vietnam War in the 1970s by singers like Bruce Springsteen, with Bob Dylan’s protest song Masters of War being one of the most famous.
There were also the concerts like the multi-venue Live Aid, for famine relief in Ethiopia in 1985 — the most-watched live concert ever.
Singer Bipin Chaodang was the first to launch into patriotic songs after informing the crowd about the large-scale protests in Upper Assam in the last few days.
“Protests are happening in all villages and towns of Upper Assam but the Internet blackout has not allowed the news to spread. I was reluctant to leave home but could not resist Zubeen Garg’s call. I admire his work and his decision to organise this protest concert is great,” he said.
Chaodang brought the crowd alive with his Joi Aai Axom (glory to Mother Assam) and Bihu dhol bojai lo, a song asking the people to enjoy Bihu while they can before the state is taken over by people from Bangladesh.
Zubeen started with the hit, Politics nokoriba bondhu (……) and ended with a stirring Xunore xoja poja khohi khoi jai (hut made of gold erodes).
Singer after singer, from Krishnamoni Chutia to Dikshu and Manas Robin, took up the microphone and belted out popular songs, mainly patriotic and those related to the protest.
Actresses like Barsha Rani Bishaya and Nishita Goswami delivered rousing speeches against the act.
“Before an artiste, I am an Assamese and I will continue to oppose the bill. The people who are protesting are not fools. We cannot allow anybody to destroy our community, culture and tradition. I ask the government to consider the appeal of the people,” Barsha said.
“I feel sad for the mothers who gave birth to traitors like Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma. They are receiving curses of the people. Tomorrow, the ministers will be Bangladeshis,” said Nishita.
All the artistes appealed for peaceful but sustained protests.
Similar protest concerts were also organised in Dibrugarh and Jorhat on Sunday, with the participation of leading local artistes.
Choreographer Uday Shankar said, “I have been an emotional wreck during the last few days but finally decided to return the two state film awards I received during my career.”
Singer Manas Robin said, “We should not make leaders overnight. They are always cheating us. Birendra Prasad Baishya (AGP MP) spoke in Assamese, for the Assamese in Parliament but voted for the bill.”
Actress Prastuti Parashar said, “At one call we run to do battle, such are the Assamese people.”
AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharjya, president Dipanka Kumar Nath and general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi launched into diatribes against Sonowal and Sarma for allowing the bill to be passed and labelled them traitors to the Assamese people. They also spoke of a satyagraha from Monday.
Zubeen implored everyone present to go home before the curfew started.
“Stay safe” and “Joi Aai Axom” were his parting remarks.