GUWAHATI: In Assam, it is the fear of being swamped by Bangladeshi language and culture that is driving the anti-CAA protests.
As thousands of people in Assam take to the streets to voice their opposition to the amended citizenship law, old icon Bhupen Hazarika and newer idol Zubeen Garg have helped the protests find a tune.
Biswa Bijoyee Naujowan by Hazarika is sung by people during protests against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, besides Jai Aai Asom (Glory to Mother Assam), a powerful song of the State that has now become the rallying cry of the movement, says a PTI report.
At any tea stall in Chandmari or paan shop in Ganeshguri in Guwahati, people can be seen listening to Garg’s famous songs like Maya or Politics Nokoriba Bondhu on mobile phones.
Garg, 47, who is now one of the most vocal faces of the movement against the CAA, says culture is a very integral part of any person’s or community’s identity. “This movement is also about our Assamese identity, driven by our ancient culture and traditions, clothes, food, language and songs,” he said, adding, “Youths and women of Assam are our major strength in this agitation against the CAA. And, together we sing songs during protests, infusing energy into each other.”
While the agitation in Assam against the contentious law seeks its revocation, many protesters said they have joined the movement because of perceived fear of Assamese culture “getting subjugated” in the wake of influx of Bangladeshi immigrants to the State.
“We don’t want to become a cultural or linguistic minority in our own home State. In the past, Bengali language had been imposed on Assamese, and we fear it might happen again in future,” said film producer Garima Garg. “So, this movement is also driven by an urge to safeguard our cultural legacy. And, I am happy so many youths have joined it,” she added.
“We are not being anti-Bengali, we have read Rabindranath Tagore and we even have a Rabindra Bhawan in Guwahati. But, we are just worried about our own culture,” said Garima, who is wife of Zubeen Garg..
“Assamese have always taken pride in their culture, from literature to cinema, clothes to songs, but perhaps many had taken it for granted… And now with mass protests, that cultural connection is really tugging at their hearts and those who love Assamese culture, for them the bond has become stronger,” she said.
From Latasil playground to Chandmari grounds, two major centres of protests in Guwahati, a large number of artistes, wearing gamosas, have joined the movement, singing songs to show dissent.
Besides the Gargs, several other personalities from the music, arts and film fraternity, including actors Barsha Rani Bishaya, Prastuti Parashar and Nishita Goswami, and singers Krishnamoni Chutia, Dikshu and Manas Robin, have vocally supported the movement and taken part in various protests.
Jai Aai Asom and Biswa Bijoyee Naujowan were two of the major songs performed by artistes on stage at these venues and even in marches by Guwahati advocates recently, the lawyers had sung the Bhupen Hazarika classic to register their protest against the citizenship law.
In Dighalipukhuri, near Latasil playground, where protesters are detained, huge, iconic statues of legendary singer Hazarika, and RG Baruah, hailed as the ‘architect of modern Assam’, dot the lake park.
Ask any protester, young or old, if they know iconic exponents like RG Baruah, also the founder of first English daily of the Northeast – The Assam Tribune – or pioneering filmmaker of Assam Jyotiprasad Agarwala, poet Lakshminath Bezbaroa and playwright Phani Sarma, and he or she nods head in the affirmative.
The Ganeshguri flyover, which saw intense protests on December 11-12 with rings of fire lit up across its stretch by agitators, is incidentally named after Assamese cultural legend ‘Kalaguru’ Bishnu Prasad Rabha.
Neighbouring the Dighalipukhuri is the District Library where statues of Rabha, Agarwala and Sarma majestically stand together on its premises, with its wall carrying the old slogan ‘No CAB’ scrawled on it when the legislation was being debated in Parliament.