On Friday, the stir in Assam against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act entered its fourth straight day even as the city of Guwahati and several districts remained under curfew.
The discontent of citizens was felt across the state even as the death toll rose to four with Bijendra Panging of Dibrugarh succumbing to his injuries on Friday. The 30-year-old from Kankan Nagar village, Dibrugarh was among the protesters who faced a lathicharge from the police.
Guwahati, the epicenter of protests, witnessed a mass gathering with thousands from different walks of life, including celebrities, eminent personalities, district workers and teachers participating in the All Assam Student Union's 10-hour mass hunger strike and raising their voices against the Act.
"Withdraw this Act or arrest us all. This will be our slogan as we plan to start massive protests across Assam in next week," said AASU adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya. The student organisation announced a three-day satyagrah in all districts from 16 December. They also plan to go door-to-door to make people aware of the consequences of the Act. The student body will also carry out protests in other parts of the country and accommodating voices of those residing outside Assam. Appealing for peaceful protests, AASU leadership has announced there will be no demonstrations after 5 pm.
"The Assamese sentiment is neither Hindu nor Muslim," said ASU general secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi. " It can't be destroyed by a handful of bigoted politicians. We are already overburdened with lakhs and lakhs of illegal immigrants and we just can't accept any more regardless of what community they belong to. We have initiated a case against the Act in the Supreme Court and we will fight till last drop of our blood. No Sarbananda Sonowal or Himanta Biswa Sarma can surrender the fate of the Assamese people into the hands of illegal immigrants. This government has deceived people with misinformation about the Act. I want to ask where they got the data of 5 lakh 55 thousand Hindu Bengali people awaiting citizenship grant. This Act violates Assam Accord and we can't let this happen."
Artist Zubeen Garg appealed to the youths to protest in a democratic way. "Anyone wearing a mask and setting cars ablaze or vandalising public property is not Assamese. Youths can make or break a country. It is time we start making our state by contributing in our respective fields and with firm and determined democratic protests against the Act which we have all rejected. I have already discussed with AASU how can we carry forward the legal fight and since it is our only hope we must act together," Garg told News18.
Garg has announced a protest programme against the Act on Sunday at Chandmari field and requested that all Assamese musicians join him.
The AASU and several other Assamese organisations have approached the Supreme Court to challenge the Act, as have several national bodies. In solidarity with AASU, North East Students' Organisation " comprising student bodies of all northeastern states " will also file a case in the apex court. While Assam Public Works, the petitioner in NRC case, has announced they will not take to the streets but fight the Act in the legal sphere.
Assam Sahitya Sabha president Paramananda Rajbongshi, termed the Act 'vicious' and announced they too will take up a legal challenge. Rajbongshi claimed the Act "means to destroy Assam's language and culture by altering its demography with illegal immigrants". The All Assam Lawyers' Association will also take up another case against the Act in the apex court.
Meanwhile on Friday, the curfew was relaxed partially in parts of Assam, including Guwahati, to allow citizens to stock up on essential commodities. The state supply department urged protesters to allow vehicles carrying essential supplies to pass. The internet ban will continue to until tomorrow.
Some vandalised public property and torched vehicles. Even Assam's cultural hub Srimanta Shankardev Kalakhetra was not spared, with its gate being destroyed. Meanwhile state president Ranjit Das's home was gheraoed and protesters raised slogans against the party leadership. Protesters hung shoes on Das's portrait and took out a rally in NH31 in Sarbhog of Barpeta district.
In another instance, police fired in the air in Jamugurihat of Sonitpur district to disperse angry a crowd chanting slogans against the ruling party and demanding the protection of ati (community) mati (land) bheti (existence).
The BJP and Assam Gana Parishad leaders are facing the ire of the public with the regional political party's lone Rajya Sabha MP Birendra Prasad Baisya coming in for fierce criticism for "betraying the community" by voting in favour of the law.