Internet suspension in Assam did not stop people from mobilising – and singing songs of protest

With social media blocked, television has played a key role in mobilizing protestors.

 

In spite of internet services being suspended in Assam since December 11, protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act continue to rage in the state. In the absence of social media, television news seems to be the go-to alternative for people to keep abreast of the protest calendar.

“We get all our information about the protests on TV,” said Nabanita Borgohain, a lawyer who was part of the All Assam Student Union’s “jailbharo” – fill the jails – protest on Monday.

Chiranjib Deori, a student attending the same protest, said he was “completely dependent” on television news now that there was no internet. “I came here because I heard the AASU’s call to people to come out on TV,” he said.

Adversarial media

The government’s attempts to curb the spread of protests seem to have been thwarted by the Assamese media, particular television media. They have made no secret of their opposition to the Act, which fast-tracks undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh eligible for Indian citizenship.

As the legislation made its way through Parliament to become law on December 11, Assam broke into protests – some of which turned violent. At least five persons have been killed so far. According to the popular local claims, the Act will regularise thousands of undocumented Bengali Hindus in the state, further marginalising populations identified as indigenous to Assam.

The Assamese media’s position is an extension of their position on immigration-related matters. The Assamese press wholeheartedly backed the update of the National Register of Citizens in the state, which is intended to be a list of “genuine” Indian citizens living in the state, sifting out undocumented migrants.

“Television has very well played a very important role in these protests,” said Mrinal Talukdar, who hosts a popular news and debate program on Pratidin Time, a leading Assamese news channel. “I am very proud to be part of the Assamese media right now which is showing such great character and courage against the ruling BJP government – the kind that few others have shown in BJP-ruled states of the country.”

In fact, the narrative on television has been so decidedly anti-government on some Assamese news channels that there are murmurs that the regime has gone to the extent of disturbing their transmission. “I can provide no proof, but it’s a fact that my programme is facing technical disturbances, though commercial breaks are free of such troubles,” alleged Talukdar.

 

Demonstrators take part in a musical concert to protest against the Citizenship Act in Guwahati on December 15. Credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP

Arunabh Saikia

 

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