The people of Assam are celebrating the harvest festival of Bhogali Bihu, but without laying down the black flags they hit the streets with over a week ago. They say the festivities this year will go beyond just feasting with friends and family, and instead seek to portray a unified society that sees little merit in the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill-2016.
The legislation, which was passed in the Lok Sabha amid protests last week, seeks to expedite the citizenship of non-Muslim migrants from three neighbouring countries. Opposition parties and social activists have slammed the central government's initiative, terming it as discriminatory and politically motivated. The whole of the Northeast has also erupted in protest against the bill despite a clarification by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his party does not mean to "harm the region's identity".
Many across Assam believe that this time's Bhogali Bihu -- a festival celebrated across communities -- can be used to send across a strong message to the centre that religion cannot form the basis for granting citizenship to migrants. "In Assam, Bihu is a festival for all. We are against illegal migrants regardless of ethnicity and religion, but the BJP wants to give citizenship to Hindu migrants. We cannot accept that. All the communities of Assam have come together today, signalling to the BJP that we will teach them a lesson in the Lok Sabha elections," said Iqbal Hussian, a resident of Sonapur, about 35 km from Guwahati.
Mr Hussain was among the many Muslims who joined multitudes of Assamese people of all communities -- tribal or otherwise -- in carrying out the pre-Bihu tradition of community fishing at Bamuni beel near Sonapur. "This is our tradition, and we have been doing this for ages. We fish together and then, at night, partake in the Uruka (a grand feast). This time we want to impress upon these politicians that they should not try to divide or polarise us by means of the Citizenship Bill," said Sourav Das, a local resident.
Meanwhile, agitations continued in Assam on Monday, with Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal being shown black flags by protesters in his home constituency of Majuli. He later received a similar welcome at Kaziranga University, when he turned up to attend its fifth convocation ceremony.
Protesters have also lodged a police complaint against State Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma for delivering a provocative speech in Guwahati last week. He had claimed that Assam would face a Kashmir-like situation in the future if the bill was not implemented.
Police said they are yet to file a first information report in this regard.
Social activist Akhil Gogoi launched a hunger fast on the occasion of Bihu, set to begin on Tuesday, to register his protest against the bill.
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