Opinion: When FIRs are filed to intimidate artists, democracy has little meaning left

Assam Police registered FIRs against 10 people over a poem which questions the authorities on citizenship issue. According to Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, the illegal muslim migrants have been left out from granting citizenship

Opinion: When FIRs are filed to intimidate artists, democracy has little meaning left

After receiving a complaint, Assam police last week filed an FIR against 10 people over a poem which talks about the citizenship issues being faced by several people in the state. FIRs to curb dissent in India is not a new phenomenon, it has been happening since inception. 

In several cases, artists who have strongly voiced out against the establishment have been subjected to subjugation by the Indian state. The FIR registered, in this case, is a prime example of the authorities oppressing and attacking the freedom of speech. 

According to media reports, the complainant Pranabjit Doloi said that the intention of the accused is to show Assamese people as "Xenophobic" before the world which is a serious threat to the social harmony and national security. "The real intention of this poem is to motivate and provoke their community against the system," Dolio asserted.

The FIR has been registered against 10 people and most of them are Bengali Muslim poets and activists who project their work under the label ‘Miyah’ which means a gentleman. However, the word has a negative connotation in Assam referring to Bengali Muslims.

These activists are trying to overthrow the pejorative narrative around this word. Moreover, their poetry also challenges the citizenship verification which is being carried out in the state by the Indian government after the citizenship amendment bill, 2016, was cleared in the Parliament.

Special Treatment for Muslims?

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, which seeks to amend the existing citizenship act of 1995, aims to provide citizenship to the illegal migrants from the neighbouring countries – Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan - who belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Jain or Christian community while leaving out the Muslim sections in its provision.

According to the provision in the bill, those who can present documented proof that they or their ancestors entered Assam before March 24, 1971, will be provided with citizenship while the rest will be declared as “foreigners”. The ongoing exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be concluded after its final list is published on July 31 this year. 

Calling it an “Anti-Assam” bill, the citizens in Assam have opposed the same. The bill has been hugely opposed in the state by the regional parties along with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally Gana Parishad. All opposition parties including Congress have also expressed their disappointment.

It won’t be wrong to call the idea behind this amendment bill as an “evil” plot against the Muslim community. To grant citizenship to an individual on the basis of religion is offensive to the secular fabric of the country and is against the Indian constitution. On top of that, those who are expressing their opposition against the same are being intimidated through such FIRs. 

An artist's take

Aamir Aziz is a writer, singer and actor based out of Mumbai who has raised his voice against the 'Mob lynching culture' across the country. He says that something has gone terribly wrong with our democracy if the same is threatened by poetry. 

What do you feel about the FIRs being filed against the poets in Assam?

"If a democracy feels threatened by poems written to express the pain and suffering by the sufferers themselves, we should understand immediately that something has gone terribly wrong with the same. I feel these FIRs are to exemplify that protest in any form will not be tolerated. Otherwise, I don't think poetries expressing sufferings can ever cause a "threat" to the social harmony, these poems carrying the fragrance of love since it's Genesis how can they be xenophobic?"

Do you think that the citizenship amendment bill exclusively attacks Muslim community in Assam?

"It's obvious and doesn't require any investigation I guess, because in the very beginning the home minister himself has clearly explained the purpose of NRC and this bill (to leave out Muslim migrants from granting citizenship)."

Do you feel that it has become a trend to curb dissent by misusing the law?

"Yes, indeed the law is being used to bail the criminals and jail the dissenters."

Note: This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. Mumbai Live neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.

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