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People living along Indo-Bangladesh border in Assam divided on Citizenship Act


It was not, and is not a religious issue in Assam, but the Citizenship (Amendment) Act seems to have found acceptance among the Hindu Bengalis living in the border villages of Karimganj district while an equal number of Bengali Muslims in the area are against it.

People living along Indo-Bangladesh border in Assam divided on Citizenship Act
It’s all calm at the southern part of Assam along the Karimganj sector of the riverine Indo-Bangladesh border - a small section of people had resorted to protests earlier, without disrupting law and order. People living along the border in Karimganj district are divided in opinion over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act -- it was not, and is not a religious issue in Assam, but the Act seems to have found acceptance among the Hindu Bengalis in the border villages while an equal number of Bengali Muslims are against it.
Debdulal Das, a resident of the bordering village of Sarisha, Karimganj, said it is a “good decision by the government” to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“The Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan have long faced religious persecution, and today they find great relief in the Citizenship Act. I also believe that genuine Indian Muslims will not be harmed in any way, as assured by the government. Then what is this ‘Andolan’ about? Assamese language has long been prevalent and shall remain. Bengali children also go to Assamese schools, learn Assamese language and culture. Where is the threat here?” asked Das who earns his living as a small-time contractor in the area.
On the other hand, Ekbal Ahmed Choudhury, the Principal of MK Gandhi College in Fakirabazar town called it “unacceptable” and “unconstitutional”.
Call for peaceful uprising 
“The Act is unconstitutional, it violates Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution - I will never support it. India attained Independence through ‘Andolan’, and this democratic uprising against CAA should continue - we must not resort to violence,” said Choudhury who lives along the Fakhirabazar area of Indo-Bangladesh border, about 8 km from Karimganj town.
For people living along the northern Dhubri sector of Indo-Bangladesh border in western Assam, their “friends” from Bangladesh have more than a single perspective to share on the issue. The views intersect with existential fears of the indigenous people, and support for the Act is much lower here - 90% of Muslims in the border villages of Dhubri strongly oppose it.
Living at a distance of 500 metre from the border at Jhaskal village, 45-year old Deep Roy believes that “minorities are managing to live in tough conditions” in the neighbouring country.
“We have no problem if they come here. I have come to know of many stories of minorities living in Bangladesh -- my friend Biswajit Saha is the proprietor of Partha Sarathi Traders there, and he has told me of the difficulties these people go through. I believe, it is misinformation that migrants would keep coming to Assam from Bangladesh with the implementation of CAA,” said Roy, a businessman who hails from the Koch-Rajbongshi community that makes about 17-19 percent of the population living along the 134.5 km border in northern Dhubri -- the undivided Goalpara district, of which Dhubri is a part has a rich history to tell about the erstwhile Koch dynasty.
Not far away from Deep Roy’s residence, and at a distance of 4 km from the fully fenced border lives Mizanur Rahman Sarkar, a librarian at the Golakganj College. The 50-year-old temporary government servant of Lakhimari village is, however, wary of the threat posed by the Citizenship Act.
“I have been to Bangladesh a couple of times, and I have never met or heard of any victim of religious persecution. Of the 22 percent population of Hindus in Bangladesh in 1970, they are now left with just 7 percent -- almost 31 percent of Hindus in Bangladesh occupy government jobs. I spoke with one of my friends there – he said not just Hindus, but even Muslims in Bangladesh see India as a big country of opportunities. Since Independence, they have been coming to Assam, not because they suffered persecution, but for opportunities,” said Sarkar.
Migration burden
“This Act has created problems in the entire country. The government has set a cut-off date of 2014 -- what if tomorrow, in 2020 or later, someone under the pretext of suffering religious persecution in Bangladesh wants to come to India – what will they do with those people? It will create division between communities under the same religion. Assam will once again have to bear the migration burden,” he added.
Meanwhile, Abu Hanifa Ahmed who lives at a distance of about 200 metre from the border fence, said that the Citizenship Act goes against the Preamble of Indian Constitution.
“The Preamble declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic, but this Act goes against these principles. The world looks upon as a great democracy. Initially, it seemed to be a communal Act, but more so an insult to the Assamese people. It has hurt our sentiments,” said Ahmed, a farmer from Barbhangi border village in Dhubri district who takes pride in the fact that he graduated in the early nineties from Gauhati University.
However, Ahmed went on to narrate how he has coped with the stereotypical representation of Muslims in Assam -- a result of common misconceptions.
“Instead of feeling vulnerable, I am often hurt to find that people consider all Muslims living along the border as Bangladeshis. During the Language Movement, the people in undivided Goalpara district had accepted Assamese as the state language -- my children are studying in Assamese school, my ancestors studied in Assamese institutions. We cannot accept anyone now from across the border
-- they pose a threat to our language and identity.”
(With inputs from Jyotirmoy Chakraborty and Gourish Nandi)
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