• Hostels become detention camps: Army lays siege at colleges in Assam

    Sabrang India

    December 16, 2019

    Assam is boiling over the Citizenship Amendment Act and the fire has started to spread to other states in the northeast, with curfews already put up in Tripura and Meghalaya.

    As protests intensified after the bill got Presidential assent and became law, the Army conducted flag marches and police resorted to indiscriminate firing killing three people. The government cut-off the internet and SMS services, apart from threatening media outlets from showing the reality of the situation. Water and electricity connections have been cut off. But the government has now started painting the same picture in Assam that they did in Kashmir – Everything is normal.

    The situation has now turned into a massive example of human rights violation with the atrocities inflicted on the people of Assam.

    Mental and physical torture

    On December 12, 2019, the paramilitary forces laid siege to the Cotton University hostel, Guwahati University and Assam Engineering College hostels in Guwahati, and imprisoning students in the premises. The girls are facing health and hygiene issues but have nowhere to go because the Army has locked them up indefinitely. There have been verbal accounts by locals in Tezpur saying that the Army has exercised its power against women, dragging them by their hair portraying their sheer brutality.

    A voice note of a student accessed by Sabrang India shows the horror in her voice. She says that the Army and police have donned a civil dress to attack the protestors so that they cannot be identified. Though there are only peaceful protests taking place, the police are allegedly entering the hostels and brutally harassing students. She says there’s a third party involved in this and that the situation is very tense at the moment.

    Women protestors peacefully marching towards Jorhat MP Tapan Gogoi’s residence were also allegedly harassed and obstructed by the male police. Two days ago, there were no women policemen deployed to look after the safety of the female protestors.

    In Cotton University – which is the main hub of the uprising in Assam that is now being led by the students and other universities, the Army is allegedly inhumanely forcing girls to abandon their protest and go home. The Army is also allegedly entering the houses of civilians illegally, taking away young men and women from their homes and arbitrarily beating them up.

    The paramilitary forces have also vandalized the media houses of Prag News and Pratidin Times and beat up journalists asking them to toe the line with the government’s directives to not telecast the protests on their channels. However, media outlets like the Guwahati Times are still pursuing their duties fearlessly and getting out information to the public.

    Police drag away female protestor, while her child tries to stop them.

    Tracking people down

    The BJP IT cell is also working hard at deleting videos of police and Army brutality put up students and locals outside of Assam or by TV channels. They are also resorting to intimidation by monitoring all the posts about the protests being shared. An Assamese local studying in Mumbai who commented on a post about CM Sarbananda Sonowal alleged that she got threatening calls by a man at 1 AM where he said that the authorities would shoot the protestors and then bring in people from the ‘outside’. He threatened her saying that one day she would also return to Assam and when she did, he would make sure she face the consequences.

    Actor and film-maker Monuj Borokotoky told Sabrang India that a lawyer from Delhi warned him against replying to those who were opposing the protest as all of them belong to the IT Cell of the BJP. Monuj, who was constantly being tagged by the IT cell in posts against the agitation, was told to block them because it was their intention to track protestors and harass them.

    The poison of communal polarization

    A student recounted how her Muslim friends have started to feel unsafe after the communal divide angle has been put into the protest. She recalls her friends telling her that people who used to visit their homes regularly, have suddenly started viewing them as ‘illegal immigrants’.

    Farooq, a volunteer working with CJP India reported heinous violence against Muslim labourers in Dibrugarh. The workers employed for labour at the Dhamal railway station and a college in Assam, were first made to kneel and were then beaten up badly by some goons who were trying to insinuate violence against the minorities and give the protest a communal spin. They were also asked to sing the state anthem of Assam and were thrashed for not being able to do so. Farooq ran from pillar to post to help them out, the police even came to rescue them at the behest of the contractor who had employed them, but the goons attacked them again. The police fled and the labourers at the railway station ran to an outpost where they are still staying in fear for their lives. They haven’t had anything to eat or drink since yesterday morning. Three of the men injured in the firing at the college are recuperating at a hospital, while the others are waiting to be rescued to safety.

    At first, these goons were thought to be members of the AASU, but according to sources by locals, the goons belonged to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This proves to be just another tactic of the government – misleading the whole movement, trying to say that the Assamese are against the Hindu-Bengalis or the Muslims, something that is far from true.

    Sources report that everywhere in the state where the protests have turned violent, it is either the police itself or radical elements not affiliated to any student groups that are creating unwanted and unprovoked chaos to portray a vicious picture of the students who are protesting peacefully.

    The democratic right of the people to protest is being trampled upon, with the Army obstructing peaceful protests and creating chaos to terrorize the public.

    Violence is being fomented by the authorities themselves and Assam is witnessing a war-like situation with the authorities targeting the youth, the backbone of the state.

    The government, especially the BJP government represented by CM Sarbananda Sonowal is denying the discord and displeasure of the Assamese people branding their fears as rumours. The government is now telling that Assamese that only the ones left out of the NRC, the Hindus, will get citizenship and the others will be sent back. Where they will be sent back and who will take them, no one knows.

    BJP Assam Senior Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has reduced matters to mockery by undermining the protests and is now allegedly eyeing to grab the CM’s post for himself. An FIR was filed against him by the students of Cotton University for allegedly shouting ‘Jai Bangladesh’ at the Assam legislative assembly premises earlier this month.

    While only three people are reported to have lost their lives, the unofficial number has touched twenty five. The complete number of injured persons is unknown.

    Assam has been in turmoil for four straight days with protests burgeoning in intensity. The extremists have tried to give the agitation a communal spin and represent the youth to be violent elements shattering the peace of Assam. There is no count of the number of human rights violations with crimes against women, arbitrary firing by the authorities, quashing the democratic right to protest, attacking the media, shutting communication services, daily necessities being out of reach and the situations for the injured getting worse by the minute.

    Police brutality is gaining momentum with the support of the authorities in power. First Kashmir, then JNU, and now Assam. Who will be next?

    First published in Sabrang India.

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