Assam Artists Demand Compensation from Arunachal Government
GUWAHATI: Artistes, including singers, film personalities, musicians and composers took out a rally in Guwahati on Sunday condemning the Arunachal Pradesh mob attack that damaged their property at the venue of the first Itanagar International Film Festival (IIFF).
The rally, organised by All Assam Artistes Suraksha Mancha, began from Commerce point to Chandmari area of the city demanding that Arunachal Pradesh government give them compensation for the damage caused to their musical instruments, sound systems and other equipment.
They said on February 22, over 50 artistes went to Itanagar from different parts of the country, including Assam to perform at the IIFF.
One of the Assam artists who witnessed the violence unfurl and lost property worth lakhs, Sumon Kalyan Dutta, informed G Plus that the protesters targeted the venue as the event was supported by the government. “Their protest was against the government's move on PRC. As the programme was government supported they targeted the festival venue and burnt everything to the ground. In the process, seven generators were also burnt. For the protesters, the cars inside the venue became easy targets. They started breaking the glasses and used petrol bombs to burn the vehicles. From the looks of it, these were mostly 17-18 year old kids, both boys and girls,” said Dutta.
Reportedly, the Arunachal Pradesh government has agreed to pay compensation for the loss of life and there are on-going talks surrounding compensation for artists who lost their equipments and vehicles.
Chief minister Pema Khandu announced ex-gratia of Rs 20 lakhs each to the three killed in police firing during the mob violence in Itanagar and a government job to one of their family members. He said compensation up to Rs 10 lakhs will be provided to those injured.
A city-based artist on the condition of anonymity informed G Plus that the artists have provided details of all the equipments and vehicles lost to the event group which was responsible for organising the film festival on behalf of the government. The event group will now be filing an FIR and follow legal process to seek compensation from the government on behalf of the artists.
City-based artists narrowly escape mob fury at Itanagar
It was a narrow escape for artists from Guwahati and other parts of the country at the Itanagar International Film Festival (IIFF) as a mob ran amok at the venue destroying everything they could lay their hands on. The people were protesting against the government's move to grant permanent resident certificate (PRC) to six non-tribal communities.
Artists and delegates from all over the country had reached the venue to take part in the festival on the request of the Arunachal Pradesh government.
Sharing his experience with G Plus, Sumon Kalyan Dutta said, “All our equipments have been destroyed. Two Innova vehicles of ours were burnt along with 30 odd other vehicles inside the concert venue. The lead and bass guitars were inside the cars. Additionally, sound and light equipment worth over Rs 5 crores was burnt down. Four inflated cinema halls worth Rs 4 crores each were reduced to ashes.”
Dutta informed G Plus that when the violence erupted around midnight, not a single policeman was present at the location. There were around five hundred people protesting against the PRC amidst which the government wanted to carry on with the programme.
“We reached on 21st February as we were escorted from the state border. Everything was fine till 4.30 PM in the evening and suddenly stone pelting started. At around 11.30 PM as the situation went out of control one guy was shot in the police firing that ignited the whole situation. Their idea was to burn the secretariat right next to the hotel where the delegates and artists were staying. They were targeting the government vehicles initially but when a person was shot it spiralled into more violence,” he narrated.
Another popular band from the northeast, Alobo Naga & the Band, lost their vehicle and instruments worth Rs 6 lakhs.
“It’s hard to explain the relationship and the emotional attachment we had with our instruments, no money can repay the intimacy we build with our instruments over these years. We lost more than 25 items, some of which had been with us for over a decade,” expressed the lead singer of the band.
Another renowned Assamese artist Kopil Bora who was also in Itanagar, sharing his harrowing experience with G Plus said, “It takes just 20 minutes to reach the Assam border from Itanagar but it seemed like the longest journey of my life. It was like a scene out of a movie. We were inside a hotel near the secretariat where the action was going on. In the morning it was a peaceful rally but later it turned violent. There was stone pelting and suddenly they started burning vehicles right in the middle of the road. Thankfully the delegates, participants and artists were not harmed and somehow managed to flee the spot. However, they lost all their belongings and instruments and their vehicles were reduced to ashes.”
What is PRC?
Permanent resident certificate is a legal document issued to Indian citizens that serves as evidence of residence and is required to be submitted as residential proof for official purpose. It helps in availing domicile-linked quotas for admission to educational institutions and in government jobs.
Who gets PRC in Arunachal Pradesh?
Communities listed as Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes (APST) have been given PRC status because they are considered the original natives of the state. Several other communities have been demanding the status to get domicile-linked benefits. These non-APST communities say that while their names are on land records, they do not get “pattas” (ownership documents).
What has the state government proposed?
The BJP-led government in Arunachal Pradesh considered issuing the PRC to six non-APST communities living in Namsai and Changlang districts and to the Gorkhas living in Vijaynagar. Amongst those communities are Deoris, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Adivasis and Mishings. Most of these communities are recognised as Scheduled Tribes in neighbouring Assam.
Why do APST communities not want other communities to get PRC?
APST communities say that giving other communities PRC will dilute the Bengal Eastern Frontier (Regulation) Act 1873, which says that all non-residents and visitors to Arunachal Pradesh must get a permit to travel to the state and stay there. The APST communities say that allowing residency to other communities will lead to many non-tribals entering the state.
Why has it become a political fight?
While some APST communities feel the BJP-led government is pursuing the issue for political ends at the cost of “locals” others have supported giving PRC to non-tribals living in the state for a long time, with a caveat that it will only be used for educational and employment purposes.
Has the matter ended?
Amidst protests and violence erupting in the state, chief minister Pema Khandu, on the night of February 24, announced that PRC will never be taken up in the state keeping in mind the sentiments of the people. No incidents of violence have been reported in Arunachal Pradesh since the announcement but the situation remains tense.