Guwahati: For the family of Sam Stafford, a 17-year-old who died days before Christmas last year, the festival is a grim reminder of his absence. The class 9 student died from gunshot wounds on 12 December 2019, as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) turned violent in Assam.
“On the first day of December, Sam would hang the star outside, he would clean the house, wash all curtains and ask Ma to help him put up the lights. The first Christmas without him was a struggle… We are never going to celebrate Christmas again,” Sam’s sister Mousumi Begum told ThePrint, fighting back tears as she remembered their days together.
Sam wasn’t the only one. Four others also lost their lives during the anti-CAA protests last year. On Saturday, commemoration programmes and prayer services were held across the state in their memory — Sam, Dipanjal Das, Abdul Alim, Ishwar Nayak and Dwijendra Panging.
The CAA, which provoked large scale protests in the state, seeks to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 31 December 2014.
For Sam’s mother, Mamoni Stafford, the past year has been a haze, as she slipped in and out of depressive episodes.
“My mother lost her mental equilibrium after Sam’s death and is currently under treatment. She has not been able to recognise anyone for the past few months, and would often run out to the streets looking for Sam. Sometimes, when she remembers, she would cry profusely all day, and tell everyone how well he played the tambourine and other musical instruments,” Mousumi added.
Like Sam’s, life will never be the same for the family of 17-year-old Dipanjal Das. Dipanjal was a temporary worker at the Sainik Bhawan in Guwahati and a resident of Chhaygaon in Kamrup district. He died when the police fired several rounds at protesters during an anti-CAA rally in Guwahati’s Latasil ground, where several artists, led by Assamese singer Zubeen Garg, had assembled.
“I miss him most during festivities. We will not be celebrating Magh Bihu (one of the three Bihus in Assam) in January. He used to come home and take the lead in arrangements, buy new clothes for us,” said Dipanjal’s sister, Sangeeta Das.
Though they have not got a closure yet, both Mousumi and Sangeeta said they will continue to stand by the people of Assam to protest against the contentious law.
“Sam did not understand much about CAA except that it is harmful for the community, for our state. And he could have stayed home that day, but he went out to support others in the movement. Anything for our motherland,” said Mousumi.
Anti-CAA protests after a lull
Chanting “CAA aami namanu” (we will not accept CAA) and “Joi Aai Asom”, a rallying cry of protests in Assam, different groups came out Saturday to demand justice for the five victims and withdrawal of the CAA.
The protests have resumed after a “brief lull due to coronavirus pandemic”, Shankarjyoti Baruah, general secretary of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), told ThePrint. The students’ body launched a series of rallies known as ‘gana hunkaar’ (peoples’ roar) across Assam, except in the Bodoland Territorial Region where counting of votes for the tribal council poll was underway.
“There has been no justice, no inquiry against the five deaths. No one from the government visited these families. We will not stop. Since 10 December, we have resumed protests, and we will continue in a peaceful, democratic way,” Baruah added.
The AASU finds support from the Sanmilita Aikya Mancha, a conglomerate of several groups, including the Akhil Gogoi-led Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and the Left parties. Torch rallies and candlelight protests were also organised across Assam Saturday evening. The Congress and the newly-formed political party Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM) also lent their support to the renewed movement.
“We have long been protesting against CAA. After Gogoi’s arrest, we have protested from time to time. The KMSS and 70 organisations will organise anti-CAA protests in all districts,” Deben Sarma, KMSS vice president, told ThePrint, while also urging Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to take a stand against the act.
“We have recognised the five young unarmed men as martyrs. The government should do the same. Delhi has only exploited Assam for its assets and now wants to permanently settle those living in detention camps in our land. The Assamese community will soon be destroyed as our tongue-tied CM looks on. We ask him to come out and show support for his people,” Sarma added.
‘No impact on 2021 polls’
The ruling-BJP government in Assam, however, remained confident that anti-CAA protests will have no impact on the party’s prospects in the assembly elections next spring.
“People of Assam have realised why some had led protests against CAA. Because they had political interests — after forming new parties, they now want to win elections. How many Bangladeshis have come after one year of protests? Of course, the Assamese community shares sentiments, but the issue cannot be manipulated for political gains. People will vote for development and for their future, not for insecurities,” said Assam BJP vice president, Pulak Gohain.
Assam saw the formation of four regional parties this year. The Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) was jointly formed by AASU and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chhatra Parishad (another students’ union). Former AASU leader Lurinjyoti Gogoi, who was at the forefront of the anti-CAA movement, is likely to lead AJP as its president or general secretary.
Another party called the Raijor Dol was floated by 70 organisations, led by the KMSS. Former journalist and Rajya Sabha member Ajit Bhuyan is the founder of AGM, while renowned filmmaker Jahnu Barua is one of the guiding forces behind the United Regional Party-Assam, formed by advocate Arup Borbora.
Earlier in October, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) President Atul Bora had hinted that the regional party will continue its alliance with the BJP for next year’s assembly elections despite the CAA.