With bonds, notices, and beefed up security, cops try to quell Assam’s CAA disquiet

A police spokesperson denied allegations about bonds.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
At least seven have been detained so far.

From the increased security and barricades at key official establishments to notices to opposition figures and activists, the Assam police is trying hard to tackle any protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act rules notification.

Amid announcements from Union ministers about the possibility of CAA rules being rolled out ahead of Lok Sabha polls, tensions had been palpable in several parts of Assam – where five people had died during protests in 2019 after the controversial citizenship law was approved by Parliament. 

Objections in Assam to CAA are about the grant of citizenship to illegal immigrants, unlike other parts of the country where an alphabet soup of CAA-NRC-NPR had triggered concerns about exclusion of Muslims.

However, amid heavy security deployment, there were sporadic protests in parts of Assam – by student organisations and other groups – on Tuesday.

The police has now issued legal notices to 16 leaders from the United Opposition Forum, which includes regional parties and state units of national parties, directing them to withdraw their call for a strike, or the ‘sabartmak hartal’, to protest against the CAA rules.

Bamboo barricades had been placed in many parts of Guwahati and security was beefed up at the Legislative Assembly and the Janata Bhawan on Monday evening. Police deployment has seen an increase on the streets of Guwahati since March 1.

And for the last couple of weeks, the state police have also been issuing notices to activists and making them  sign ‘bonds’ to ensure there is no disturbance to the law and order situation in the state.

At least seven people were detained in the fresh protests on Tuesday. An Assam police spokesperson claimed they all were released later.

Meanwhile, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Tuesday said he will be the first to resign even if one person, who has not applied for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state, gets citizenship. 

Who signed the bonds?

Activists from the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and its sister concerns along with activists of Bir Lachit Sena and All Assam Students Union (AASU)  were among the dozens who have been asked to sign bonds with a surety of Rs 2 lakh  under section 107  of CrPC, which pertains to cases of emergency when a breach of “peace” is imminent. 

Some of them were also served notices under section 149 of CrPC for their “potential involvement in activities related to the Citizenship Amendment Act agitation”.

KMSS had played a significant role in the anti-CAA protests in Assam in December 2019. Four of its leaders, including Akhil Gogoi, were also arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act during the protests.

The notices

Meanwhile, the legal notice to opposition parties by DCP (crime) in Guwahati directed them to withdraw their strike failing which they will face legal action. “There is every likelihood of breach of peace and security leading to disruption of normal life” and it is “likely to lead to road blockade, forceful closure of shops and other business establishments, damage to public and private property”, it read.

The notice further stated that calling a ‘sabartmak hartal’ “will lead to a highway and railway track blockade, which has been declared illegal and unconstitutional by various judgements” by the Supreme Court, Kerala High Court and Gauhati High Court.

The notice reiterated Assam DGP GP Singh’s threat about recovering any damage to public property from protesters.

Since March 1, DGP Singh has been posting appeals on X, asking people to refrain from any protest. Singh also shared videos of violent protests in December 2019, saying that Assam police will not let it happen in 2024. “Some people have spoken about the right to protest…I want to refresh the memory of people with what such words led to in December 2019. Vandalism & arson, including at our revered Srimanta Sankardev Kalashetra.”

Bonds, police visits

Activists claim the police are harassing them to quell any possibility of protest.

KMSS cadres claim that at least seven activists from the outfit have been detained in Sivasagar, Tinsukia, Dhemaji and Dhubri so far. “Two of our activists, one each from Tinsukia and Dhubri, were detained  even before they staged any protests. They were on their way to protest but police picked them up and detained them,” Lakhyajyoti Gogoi, president of youth wing of Raijor Dal, told Newslaundry.  

“Government is using police force to quell our right to protest and freedom of expression. Police are also visiting our houses to ask us not to protest. Today, the police visited my house twice while I was outside,” said Pranjal Kalita, general secretary of Raijor Dal’s sister outfit Satra Mukti Sangram Samiti, adding that more than 20 of the group’s activists, especially office bearers, have been asked to serve such “bonds”.

Activists claimed more than 50 had been made to sign these bonds. Newslaundry has seen copies of at least five bonds.

Issued by additional district magistrates and under section 107 of the CrPC, the bonds suggest that some  report “reveals that the person may likely to commit breach of the peace or disturb the public tranquility or do any wrongful act that may probably occasion a breach of the peace or disturb the public tranquility and after careful examination of the report.”

Ritumoni Hazarika, organising secretary of KMSS,  was also allegedly asked to sign the bond but he refused. “I did not sign it and have filed a petition in the court opposing this kind of undemocratic  thing,” Hazarika claimed.

AASU general secretary ShankarJyoti Baruah also claimed that the district and state level office bearers were asked  to appear before the authorities for the signing of similar bonds. “However, none of our members signed those bonds,” he claimed.

Meanwhile, AASU has launched a series of protests opposing the implementation of CAA in the state. It has also filed a petition challenging the CAA rules in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

However, the Assam police denied that any such bonds were issued or that police visited activists’ houses. “I have no idea about any of these things. I am not sure if district SPs have done something. No such orders are issued from the headquarters,” said Assam police spokesperson Prashanta Bhuyan.

‘Momentum will intensify soon’

Lurinjyoti Gogoi, the former general secretary of AASU who spearheaded the anti-CAA agitation across the state in 2019, said the protests against CAA rules are set to intensify. “People have a clear understanding that the act would be harmful…the general public is still against CAA and the momentum of the anti-CAA protest would soon intensify,” Gogoi said. 

Gogoi had formed a regional party named Axom Jatiya Parishad in 2021 and had unsuccessfully contested assembly polls. This time, he is a probable opposition candidate for Dibrugarh Lok Sabha constituency, which is likely to pit him against former CM Sarbananda Sonowal. 

The 2019 anti-CAA protest had dented Sonowal’s image as an Assamese nationalist leader. The AASU, which had honoured Sonowal with the Jatiya Nayak (national hero) title in 2005  after the Supreme Court struck down the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act 1983, withdrew the award after the BJP government at the Centre enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019.

Meanwhile, Srinkhal Chaliha, leader of Bir Lachit Sena, has also called for a protest in Sivasagar district’s Rang Ghar on Wednesday where both Akhil Gogoi and  Lurinjyoti Gogoi are likely to be present. “What we have realised is that if you want to scare BJP, you have to ensure their loss in the political arena. That can only be achieved if we can ensure a reduction of at least 20,000 of their votes in every Lok Sabha constituency. To ensure this, we are thinking of taking this protest to every village of the state,” claimed Rantu Pani Phukan, chief secretary of Bir Lachit Sena.

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