When you stand for something, you’ve got to stand for it all the way, not half way.
- Kevin Gates
A controversial Bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha on January 8 to legitimise the stay of non-Muslim migrants from India’s neighbourhood has forced many in Assam to lodge protest by fasting during the festival of feasting – Bhogali Bihu. Several people including prominent RTI activist Akhil Gogoi staged a hunger strike from Monday opposing the controversial Bill. Gogoi, who has been vocal against the bill, along with other activists started his 24-hour hunger strike on Uruka or Bihu eve in Guwahati. The strike continued till ‘Mejhi’ is burnt the next day. There is no denying that protests over the CAB have cast a shadow on the three-day Assamese Magh or Bhogali Bihu festivities that began on Monday. Even agitators from several indigenous organisations had urged people to keep the celebrations subdued. The anger, which has building up for decades following the Centre’s alleged neglect and the lack of understanding of a delicate situation, has erupted into widespread protests ever since the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was passed by the Lower House. The ongoing protests have clearly affected the Bhogali Bihu celebrations, which otherwise is marked by endless feasting and merry-making. The Citizenship Amendment Bill has been widely crticised in all the Northeastern states but more vociferously in Assam led by noted intellectual Dr Hiren Gohain among others.
The Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government has slapped sedition charges against Dr Gohain and two other activists — KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi and noted journalist Manjit Mahanta – for remarks made against the Citizenship Bill. The Assam police registered a case of sedition against Left-leaning scholar for allegedly saying at a public meeting that demand for sovereignty might arise if the Centre ignores the voices of the Assamese people against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.This is ridiculous and is a fit textbook case relating to misuse of law pertaining to sedition as he never appealed anyone for an independent Assam, he rather said that there will be a time when people will come out to speak about ‘Sovereign Assam’ if the Government implements the Citizenship Bill. Gohain and others have obtained interim bail from the Gauhati High Court. The registration of the case has caused much public outrage in Assam. In addition to Section 124A (sedition), they have been accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy to “wage war against the government of India” (Section 121) and “concealing a design to facilitate” such a war (Section 123). There is no denying that whatever Dr Gohain has been saying against the Bill , has been in favour of secularism and hence in favour of a democratic India. In fact, it seems that the sedition case against him is just a pressure tactic by a government that is scared of strong dissenting voices against this controversial Bill. Is it (sedition charge against the trio) not a fit case of law being misused to curtail any form of criticism of the government and suppress voice of people?
It is true that mere expression of critical views, howsoever scathing, cannot be an excuse for accusing someone of planning to wage war or promote disaffection against the government. If the sedition charges against the trio not withdrawn it will add fuel to the volatile situation the state has been witnessing for the last few months over the CAB.