The anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests that started in Assam and other northeastern States in December and spread to the rest of the country were united in their opposition to religion-based citizenship under the Act and there was a need to bring these movements together, activists said on Wednesday.
The group of activists spoke at a press conference organised by academics under the banner of the Free Akhil Gogoi Campaign, which is demanding the release of Mr. Gogoi, a peasant leader in Assam who has been under arrest since December 12 in the wake of the anti-CAA protests.
Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India party and Hum Bharat Ke Log said while there were different concerns of the anti-CAA movement in the Northeast, where the fear was “indiscriminate inclusion”, and the rest of the country, where “unfair exclusion” was the worry, the movements needed to be brought under one banner. He said the movements rejected religion-based granting of citizenship under the CAA, which fast-tracks citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who came to India before December 31, 2014.
Holiram Terang, former MLA from Assam, said the government had tried to spread “propaganda” that the northeastern States that have Inner Line Permit or come under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution would be exempted from the CAA. But, he said, the government had settled refugees from then-East Pakistan in the 1960s at two locations in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district, where a tribal council had been in place, without even informing the council. He said the “binary of Hindu-Muslim” was not there in the Northeast, however, the concern was that the region would not be able to accommodate more refugees once they are given citizenship.
A ll-India protests
Avik Saha of the All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee said the working group of the body would meet on Friday to discuss plans for all-India protests to demand the release of Mr. Gogoi, who is a member of the group as well.
Pranjal Kalita, a student leader with Satra Mukti Sangram Samiti, said Mr. Gogoi had been arrested on charges of being a Maoist due to a photo of him at an event attended by a Maoist in 2009.
“If that was the case, then what was the Assam government and the Home Ministry doing for 10 years? Those arrested after the anti-CAA protests, including Akhil, are not being asked about any Maoist link, but about when they will contest elections,” he said, adding that he was asked the same when called in for questioning earlier this month.
Supreme Court advocate Colin Gonsalves said the use of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was intended to keep the person in jail, and not conviction. Mr. Gogoi has been charged under the UAPA and the case handed over to the NIA.