Amid protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Assam, the BJP-led government in the state faced major embarrassment when family members of the people who lost their lives during the Assam agitation of the eighties - who were given Martyrs award by the Sarbananda Sonowal government in 2016 - decided to return the awards. 125 such families today took out a rally in Guwahati to return the awards as a mark of their protest against the citizenship bill, which the victim families see as an insult to the memories of the 855 people who lost their lives during the Assam agitation.
"My brother gave his life for the cause of the Assamese people. So did the 855 martyrs. Their sacrifice led to the Assam accord. The core fundamental of Assam accord is deportation of illegal migrants and there is no question of whether the migrant is Hindu or Muslim, if he is illegal, he has to be sent out. But this bill dilutes the Assam accord. Illegal Hindu migrants would get citizenship and we are opposed to this. This BJP government won election with a promise to save the land, culture and rights of indigenous people but now they are compromising their promise for votebank politics. We won't tolerate this," said Chandra Kanta Talukdar, younger brother of the first martyr of Assam agitation Khargeswar Talukdar.
The martyrs' award comprises an amount of Rs 5 lakh and a memento. While the victim families have started returning the mementos, most of the families have expressed their inability to return the amount since they have already used the money in public works.
Every year, December 10 is observed as Swahid Diwas (Martyrs' Day) in Assam to commemorate Late Khargeswar Talukdar, the first martyr of Assam Agitation. Talukdar was killed in police action on December 10, 1979.
"BJP has cheated the people of Assam over this bill. And thus today we feel that the sacrifice of these people should not go in vain thus we will protest to stop this and we hope our award return will shake the centre and state," Bibha Rani Kalita, wife of another martyr Dhireshwar Kalita, told NDTV.
The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which walked out of the alliance with the BJP earlier this month over this bill, also took out a massive protest rally in Guwahati and came in support of the families.