Copies Of Citizenship Act Burnt In Bonfires As Assam Celebrates Bihu

Magh Bihu festivities and citizenship protests are being taken up simultaneously in the northeastern state.

Villagers perform rituals before lighting a 'meji' on the occasion of Magh Bihu in Assam's Tezpur.

Guwahati:

Assam is celebrating the Magh Bihu, its harvest festival, today. People across the state busied themselves with lighting the meji -- bonfires fed with bamboo, leaves and thatch -- to seek the blessings of the gods right from dawn like they have been doing in ages past. Last night, they had participated in the uruka, a community feast with fish predominantly on its menu.

However, there is something different about the festivities this year, given that it has come in the backdrop of sustained protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

For one, activists of the All Assam Students Union are burning copies of the controversial law in meji bonfires across the state. Agitators are even using the main harvest festival -- the Magh Bihu -- as an opportunity to vent their anger against the ruling BJP government, who they accuse of betraying the people's mandate by supporting the legislation in parliament. The excitement of the festivities is there, but tinged with some anxiety about the future.

"Come what may, Bihu will always be celebrated with full spirit. The Assamese people are rooted in the state's culture and traditions, and Bihu is a way of celebrating life. This time, every Assamese is praying that the evil that has been brought upon us dissipates and peace returns to our land once again," Guwahati resident Pranab Jyoti Talukdar told NDTV.

Thirty-year-old Dulumoni Hazarika is educated but unemployed. After participating in protests over the past month, he has now joined the others in bringing homemade sweets and flattened rice to the protest-cum-celebration.

Banners opposing the amended citizenship law are not going anywhere for now. "The situation is very tricky because our community is facing difficult times. The agitation will continue even as we go about our day-to-day routine," Mr Hazarika told NDTV.

A woman found selling traditional sweets such as lados and pithas for Bihu claimed that the unrest has not drastically affected her business. "We made fewer items this time because there was some initial impact on the sales. But the momentum picked up over the last two days, and now the Bihu festivities are on in full swing," she said.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, for the first time, makes religion the test of citizenship in India. The government says it will help minorities from three Muslim-dominated countries get citizenship if they fled to India because of religious persecution before 2015. Critics say it is designed to discriminate against Muslims and violates the secular principles of the constitution.

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