India: Assam police slap sedition charges on Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi at meeting against citizenship bill
January 15, 2019, 5:01 am

Assam police have slapped sedition charges against three people who spoke at a public meeting held in Guwahati on January 7 opposing the citizenship bill, a senior official said on Thursday.

Well-known public intellectual Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi, who leads peasants rights organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, and Manjit Mahanta have been named in the first information report. Mahanta is the convenor of the Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill.

“We have registered a case under sections 120 (B), 121, 123, 124 (A) at the Latasil Police station,” Guwahati commissioner of police Deepak Kumar confirmed.

“The meeting was held without permission. We are investigating it,” he said.

Upen Kalita, the officer in charge at Latasil police station and the complainant in the case, said police have video footage of the public meeting and they have registered a case based on that evidence. Others present in the meeting are also under the ambit of the probe.

Interestingly, Assam’s former director general of police Harekrishna Deka was also present at the meeting.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, seeks to provide citizenship to minorities, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday and is pending in Rajya Sabha.

In a region where the fear of the ‘outsider’, especially illegal immigrants, has been a dominant theme for the past many decades, many feel if the bill is passed by Parliament, it will lead to a sudden rush of Hindus from Bangladesh, who in turn would pose a threat to the indigenous communities. Several student bodies and civil society groups have been opposing the bill for months.

he meeting held at the Guwahati club area of the city was attended by former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta among others where protestors raised black flags.

“This is a desperate measure by a cornered government,” said Gohain.

“In response to Akhil Gogoi’s statement where he called for the independence of Assam in view of Centre’s neglect of Assam’s legitimate demands, I explained that this issue of independence could arise only if and when all other democratic avenues for fulfilling Assam’s demands are exhausted,” Gohain said.

“And the state and other political organisations reject these democratic demands,” he said, adding he has always opposed secessionist thinking.

Gohain said he had to stand up thrice during the course of meeting to “set things right”. “These people, instead of lodging a case should applaud me,” he said.

Gogoi was not immediately available for comment.

On the sidelines of the January 7 meeting, Gogoi told Hindustan Times, “We have explored all other ways of protest. The only way left is to demand sovereignty.”