2018 in Retrospect | Assam’s high & low: From NRC, Citizenship Bill to Rima-Hima, Bogibeel bridge

Two major issues – Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 – kept the state on the tenterhooks.

If mob lynching of two Guwahati boys in Karbi Anglong drew outrage and opened floodgates of debates on misuse of social media and fake news, two feisty and powerful girls – one filmmaker and other an athlete –  brought laurels to the state in their respective fields.

The first draft of the NRC was published on December 31(midnight), 2017. The updation exercise of the register to identify f the bonafide citizens of India grabbed the headlines in 2018 and dominated the state politics. The second draft was published on July 30, 2018. The publication of both the drafts received mixed responses across the state.

On one hand, several students, civil and indigenous bodies welcomed the publication but on the other hand, a number of local organizations accused the state government of playing divisive politics in the name of the NRC. The indigenous bodies also slammed the NRC authorities for leaving out the names of genuine Indians. The NRC authorities, on the other hand, assured that those not included in the draft will get ample of opportunities to file claim. The Supreme Court also came down heavily on Assam NRC officials for speaking to the media.

Soon after the publication of the second NRC draft,  West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee warned the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of “a civil war, a bloodbath” in Assam. She said that the list will divide the people and create a civil war-like situation in the country. Mamata accused the Centre of “driving away the Bangla-speaking” from Assam by using the NRC.

When the debate over the updation of the NRC was at its peak, the visit of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship Bill to Assam and Meghalaya in May for public hearings raised widespread concern and drew criticism. The Bill “divided” the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys.

The Citizenship Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016 to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.

The Bill created rift between the alliance partners in Assam –Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and BJP. The split was wide open and the leaders make no bones about it.

The AGP threatened to walk out of its alliance with the ruling BJP in Assam if the “obnoxious” Bill is passed in Parliament and also dashed off a letter to BJP national president Amit Shah. The AGP, which has three of its MLAs in the Assam cabinet, stated that it is “committed to the implementation of the provisions of the Assam Accord and can never support the obnoxious Bill”.

On June 5, a video of two Guwahati boys being beaten to death surfaced and went viral within no time.

In a heart-wrenching video, Guwahati boy Nilotpal Das, before being brutally killed by the mob in Karbi Anglong, was seen pleading to let him go. The video was recorded by one of the villagers present at the crime spot and later it was shared on the social media platforms. In the video, Nilotpal, with his hands folded and face covered with blood, was heard saying, “Don’t kill me…please don’t beat me. I am an Assamese. Believe me, I am speaking the truth. My father’s name is Gopal Chandra Das and mother’s name is Radhika Das…please let me go.” Nilotpal along with his friend Abhijeet Nath were mercilessly killed on suspicion of being child-lifters.

Candle light vigils were hold across the nation and abroad. The accused including the mastermind in the Karbi Anglong mob lynching case were also arrested.

The barbaric, gruesome incident rocked the state. The state government swung into action and launched drive against superstitions. President Ram Nath Kovind approved the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015, converting it to an Act.  The Act aims at eliminating the superstition from the society. The Act imposes a punishment of up to seven years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.

Post the mob lynching incident, which was a result of fake news circulated via social media, the year 2018 saw Assam Police driving home messages to potential law-breakers with a bit of wit via social media. Assam Police ‘rocked’ on Facebook this year. From warning against fake recruitment advertisement to raising voice against domestic violence, stalking and from using the poster of the British rock band Bohemian Rhapsody to raise awareness about fake news to witty tweets on traffic rules – the state police force was seen in a new avatar and the netizens are loving it.

As the year was about to end, on a cold November night, five Bengali-speaking people were killed in indiscriminate firing by unidentified militants at Kherbari near the Dhola-Sadiya bridge in Tinsukia. A group of armed men asked the victims to line up and then fired at them from a close range, as per police.

Justice Ranjan Gogoi became the Chief Justice of India. Hailing from Dibrugarh, he became the first person from the Northeast to do so. He assumed office on October 3 as the 46th Chief Justice of India.

The BJP might have suffered embarrassing defeat in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly polls, it emerged as the single largest party in the Assam Panchayat elections. The BJP bagged 42 per cent of the total seats and the Congress came second securing 34 per cent.

Amidst all the gloominess, the people of the state celebrated when Chaygaon girl Rima Das’ movie Village Rockstars was selected as India’s official entry for the Academy award. However, the film did not make to list of the nine shortlisted movies in the best foreign language film category.

Rima’s Village Rockstars has won four national awards. It was screened at the several national and international film festivals. The story revolves around a girl living in poverty in a village, dreaming of owning a guitar and forming a band with the local boys.

Hima Das from Dhing has had a phenomenal year. Hima waving the national flag and Axomiya gamusa became the cover photograph in local and national media. She came first in the 400 metres at the World Under-20 Athletics Championships in Finland. She clocked 50.79 seconds in the 400m final at the Asian Games in Jakarta in August, won the silver medal and set a national record. Hima also won gold in the women’s 4×400 m relay and silver in the 4×400 m mixed relay. She is the first Indian to win gold at an international track event. In 2018, Hima, who is currently training in Antalya, chased time and won too.

The year came to an end with another good news. On December 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned Santa and inaugurated the Bogibeel Bridge, the longest rail-cum-road bridge on Brahmaputra river. The bridge was a long-standing demand and was a part of the 1985 Assam Accord. An engineering marvel, the 4.94 km bridge is built at a cost of Rs 5,900 crore by the Indian Railways. The bridge will reduce travel time from Assam to Arunachal Pradesh to four hours and will also cut down train travel between Delhi to Dibrugarh by three hours. The three road lanes of the bridge can act as three landing strips for the Air Force too.

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