GUWAHATI: Assam’s harvest festival, Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu, has this time been marked with protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

During Bihu people in Assam take part in community feasts among other activities. But this time several activists have staged a hunger strike to register their opposition to the bill, which has already been passed by the Lok Sabha.

Large sections of people in Assam and other northeastern states have been protesting against the bill, saying it would nullify the 1985 Assam Accord under which any foreign national, irrespective of religion, who entered the state after 1971 should be deported.

The fresh bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to grant Indian nationality to people from minority communities - Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians - from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, after six years' residence in India instead of 11, even if they don't possess proper documents. It will include all such persons who came here up until December 31, 2014.

“Though I was supposed to be with my family and my kid the situation is such that we have no options left. Our state is heading towards doom. If the bill is passed, India will no more be a secular country. Apart from that, it will bring threat to our language and culture. And we will not let it happen. It’s a moment of do or die. So, we have given up celebrations of Bihu and are staging this protest,” said right to information activist Akhil Gogoi.

Eight individuals staged a hunger strike together with Gogoi, in Guwahati from January 14 afternoon. On January 15 morning, individuals and representatives from different political and other organisations arrived at the spot to support his cause.

“We are all with the cause. We are here to be with Akhil Gogoi. Our state and the Assamese community is in great crisis. We appeal to the chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to listen to our appeal before it’s too late,” said Paramananda Rajbonghsi, president of the Assam Sahitya Sabha, the apex literary body.

Rajbongshi said the Sahitya Sabha had opposed the bill throughout and would not at any cost let it become an act of Parliament.

On January 15 morning, Bihu revellers burn the traditional ‘Mejhi’ (a structure made of bamboo and straw) and pray for a better future. But this year people across the state burnt dummy copies of the bill along with the Mejhi in their protest.

Activists of the Axom Chatro Yuva Sanmilan, a students' organisation opposing the bill, have also staged hunger strikes at Sivasagar and Duliajan in upper Assam.

“We will continue fighting. Our democratic fight will continue till the bill is scrapped. This bill will bring an end to Assam and northeast. We will not accept the burden of illegal foreigners. We are united against the bill and the government,” said Madhurjya Baruah, an advocate and general secretary of Axom Chatro Yuva Sanmilan.

Baruah also appealed to the people of the state to join in the agitation.

The North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) which is the umbrella body of all major students’ associations in the region also called an 11-hour shutdown on January 8 which got immense support from all the corners state.

“This is against the Constitution of India. We don’t want any more illegal foreigners. The northeast is not a dumping ground. We warn the Centre and the BJP government not to play politics with the people of the northeast,” said NESO advisor Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya.

Meanwhile, the Asom Gana Parishad, the former BJP ally which recently broke the alliance for its opposition to the bill, has also planned a month-long agitation across the state.

Apart from that, the popular musician Zubeen Garg wrote a letter to Chief Minister Sonowal calling on him to oppose the bill. Garg, known for his outspoken attitude and political statements, has also vowed to return the fee he took from the BJP to sing a promotional song for the party before the elections.