‘Free Palestine’ slogans in Assam’s remembrance rally erupts controversy | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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‘Free Palestine’ slogans in Assam’s remembrance rally erupts controversy

ByBiswa Kalyan Purkayastha
May 18, 2024 04:14 PM IST

People in the three districts of Barak Valley observe Bhasa Sahid Divas (language martyrs day) on May 19, remembering the sacrifice of eleven youths during the language movement in 1961 in Silchar

Silchar: A controversy erupted in Assam’s Silchar on Friday evening after ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Stop Killing in Gaza’ slogans were raised during a rally conducted in remembrance of the 1961 language movement in the Barak Valley.

People in the three districts of Barak Valley observe Bhasa Sahid Divas (language martyrs day) on May 19 every year (Representative Photo)
People in the three districts of Barak Valley observe Bhasa Sahid Divas (language martyrs day) on May 19 every year (Representative Photo)

People in the three districts of Barak Valley observe Bhasa Sahid Divas (language martyrs day) on May 19, remembering the sacrifice of eleven youths during the language movement in 1961 in Silchar.

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Friday’s rally was organised by Sammilita Sanskritik Mancha, an umbrella of 32 socio-cultural organisations. In the rally, people were seen displaying ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Stop Killing Children and Innocents in Gaza’ posters during the rally with the president of Sammilita Sanskritik Mancha, Biswajit Das, saying that the 1961 language movement was a fight against oppression by superior classes (state government) and what is happening in Gaza today has a similarity with that.

“We are followers of Rabindranath Tagore. We believe we are global citizens, and we have to raise our voices against both local and global issues. We have sympathy for the Palestinians and also for those facing Russian attacks in Ukraine,” Das said.

He said the slogans were raised by the Chorus organisation, which he founded, not by the others who attended the rally.

“For us, the moment of remembering the language movement is an opportunity to speak against all the injustice, and we raised our voices against the killing of innocents and children in Gaza. The other organisations which took part in the rally may not agree with us and we didn’t force anyone to support us,” Das said.

However, this was criticised by the masses on social media with netizens saying that politicising the language movement was “not appropriate”.

Senior theatre activist and journalist Sayan Biswas wrote on Facebook, “I took part in the rally because of the respect I have for my mother language because we didn’t forget the sacrifice of the martyrs. But I don’t support irrelevant posters or slogans. My organisation Ajker Prajanma Theatre Group doesn’t support this act.”

Joydeep Dutta, a social activist from Silchar wrote, “Today’s rally looked like it wasn’t organised for remembering the language martyrs instead it became a platform to criticise the government. We don’t support this”.

Responding to this, senior advocate and former member of the Foreigners Tribunal in Karimganj Sishir Dey said, “No movement is apolitical, the language movement of 1961 was also against a decision of the government. We cannot bring back those 11 youths who died during that movement, but we can pay them tribute by raising voices against the wrong decisions the government is making today”.

Eleven youths, including a 14-year-old girl, were killed allegedly in police firing at Silchar Railway Station on May 19, 1961 while protesting against the Assam Language Act 1960, which intended to declare Assamese as the only official language of the state.

However, following their death, the state government changed the decision, and Bengali became the official language of the three districts of Barak Valley. Similarly, Bodo became the official language of Bodoland.

During Friday’s rally in Silchar, some organisations demanded official recognition of Bhasa Sahid (language martyrs) for those eleven youths.

“After the incident, the Mehrotra Commission investigated the case, but the report was never made public. We demand the government to make it public because we deserve to know the truth,” Gauhati high court lawyer Taniya Laskar said.

Apart from this, some organisations on Friday raised their voice against the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the struggle for citizenship in the name of doubtful voters and demanded the destruction of detention centres in the state.

Over 100 workers of Cachar’s Doloo tea garden also attended the rally and demanded their garden be given back. The Assam government in May 2022 uprooted 41.9 million tea bushes to construct a Greenfield Airport there. However, the Supreme Court has halted the project, saying that the tea bushes were uprooted without environmental clearance. 

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