Congress MLA arrested for ‘controversial statements’ on martyrs of Assam Agitation

In a video clip, the MLA claimed that the eight people who died during the 1983 violence in Chalkhowa in Darrang district were not “martyrs” but “killers”.

Assam Police Saturday arrested Congress legislator Sherman Ali Ahmed for his “controversial statements” on martyrs of the Assam Agitation.

“He has been arrested. Would share case details in due course,” Special DGP G P Singh told The Indian Express. However, he did not share what sections Ahmed was arrested under.

A police official from Dispur Police Station said Ahmed was picked up Saturday evening. “Questioning is underway. We received a few FIRs against him,” he said.

Ahmed is a three-time MLA from the Baghbar Assembly constituency in Barpeta district and was earlier with the All India United Democratic Front before he contested on Congress tickets in 2016 and 2021.

Controversy erupted, with the Assam Congress issuing him a show-cause notice on Saturday, after the legislator made comments on the February 1983 killing of eight Assamese youths in the Sipajhar area — where violence during the recent eviction drive left two, including a 12-year-old, dead.

In a video clip, the MLA claimed that the eight people who died during the 1983 violence in Chalkhowa in Darrang district were not “martyrs” but “killers”, since they were also responsible for the death of many others from the Miya (Bengali-speaking Muslim) community.  He was referring to an episode of violence in Assam’s Sipajhar area between the protestors of the Assam Agitation and the “immigrant” community in February 1983. He claimed that the Miya community had killed the eight Assamese youths to “save themselves”.

Following the statement, several organisations, including the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), BJP and ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), criticised Ahmed for “disrespecting” the “martyrs.”

AASU demanded his arrest. On Saturday, the Assam unit of the Congress issued a show-cause notice to Ahmed for “deliberately acting in a way calculated to lower the prestige of Congress” and sought an explanation for his actions.

The notice signed by Congress general secretary Bobbeeta Sharma said his “communally provocative comments gnawing at old wounds of the past incidents of Assam agitation when people of Assam across communities had suffered” was “insensitive and uncalled for.”

It added that the “insensitive” statements made by him have “great propensity” to destroy the social harmony of the state.

The six-year-long Assam Agitation was launched by AASU in 1979, demanding the identification and deportation of illegal immigrants. The agitation was marked by episodes of violence, the most prominent being the Nellie massacre of 1983 that left over 3,000 people (mostly Bengali Muslims) dead.

The Assam government website describes the Assam movement as “historic”, and “one of the famous movements in post-colonial India mainly led by students of Assam”. It says that during the “six long years of the historic movement… 855 (later on 860, as submitted by AASU) people sacrificed their lives in the hope of an ‘Infiltration Free Assam’”.

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