April 2, 1983. Sugarcane farmer Haren Saikia was among 30 people guarding their village Ponka in Assam’s Golaghat district, then a sub-division. The agitation against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh was at its peak. A violent assembly poll, held in February and boycotted by the agitators, had just ended. Saikia and other night vigilantes — all supporters of the agitation and those who opposed the poll — feared that the villagers from nearby Rajabari Borgoria, comprising a large number of immigrants from Bangladesh, could make a surprise attack on them. But the hit came from elsewhere.
As an eyewitness later informed the villagers, Saikia and six others were lined up, tied to each other with clothes and shot at, one by one, by the police. After piecing together various versions of her husband’s death — a memorial built in their village calls the deceased “Ponka Sapta Swahid” (seven martyrs of Ponka) — Saikia’s widow Putali suspects the hand of Mustaquin Ali, the most influential person of Rajabari Borgoria village, in her husband’s killing.
“Mustaquin was known to our family. He was once deported to Bangladesh, but somehow managed to return. He falsely implicated my husband as the one who created trouble in their village just to settle old scores,” alleges Putali, now 67. Her anger towards Mustaquin, a Muslim, has not ebbed in the last 34 years. But make no mistake: Putali’s fury is directed at the immigrant, not his creed. And that’s evident in her reaction to a proposed tweak in the Citizenship Act that will consider the religion of foreigners.
“Irrespective of religion, a foreigner is a foreigner… I have heard the government is modifying the law to welcome some new Bangladeshis. It has hurt me a lot,” she says, in a chat over two hours with this writer.
Source: The Economic Times