Manipuri filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma returns Padma Shri to protest citizenship bill

Veteran Manipuri filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma on Sunday said he would like to return his Padma Shri that he was awarded in 2006 in protest against the central government’s Citizenship Bill. The 82-year-old made the announcement in Imphal.┬áThe filmmaker has made 14 feature and 31 non-feature films.

He said the plea of the Northeast people to not let the bill pass was not being heard by the Centre. “The bill is against the interest of the Northeast and its people, especially in Manipur. All the leaders of the states in the Northeast have already requested the central government to reconsider (on the bill’s passage). “But yesterday when I was following the news, our honourable prime minister announced that the bill would be passed soon. He also requested the chief minister of West Bengal to help him pass the bill. That means the government, rather the BJP, is determined to pass this bill. They are not listening to us,” Sharma told PTI.

Citing the example of Tripura, the filmmaker said history would repeat itself in Manipur if the bill is passed. “We have already seen this in Tripura. Tripuris are having no say in Tripura… The population of Manipur is only 28-29 lakhs, which is less than the population of a district in Uttar Pradesh.

“The smaller states like Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya have protection. Even then they are protesting because if the bill is passed the indigenous people will have no place. They will be wiped out. It may not happen now, but it will happen 50 years from today,” he said. Sharma said returning the award was the only way in which he could raise his voice against the bill.

“I’m not a politician. I’m not at all concerned with the politics. I’m just a filmmaker. I have seen a lot in life. But this is the worst. If the bill passes, there will be no place for us. This is against the Northeast. “I can’t do anything else. This is the only way in which I can protest… We feel neglected. Some kind of racial differences are happening… If not paid attention, the consequences will be severe. I’m worried about this,” he said.

Protests have rocked the entire northeast against the proposal to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries.

Critics have called the proposal blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by the BJP to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.

Last month, family members of the people who lost their lives during the anti-illegal immigrant movement in the eighties – who were given an award by the Sarbananda Sonowal government in 2016 – decided to return the awards.125 such families took out a rally in Guwahati to return the awards as a mark of their protest against the bill, which the victim families see as an insult to the memories of the 855 people who lost their lives during the Assam agitation.

The bill, which seeks to give citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has been passed by the Lok Sabha. The bill will be tabled for approval in the Rajya Sabha in the next session, where it is expected to face resistance from the opposition Congress party. The BJP does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

While people have hit the streets to protest against facilitating the entry of outsiders, social groups allege discrimination against immigrants on religious grounds. At least four chief ministers from the Northeast have raised their concerns on the bill until now. Recently, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga visited the national capital in a combined effort to make the centre scrap the controversial legislation in the face of raging protests across the region.

Meanwhile, the joint platform protesting the Citizenship Bill in Manipur – the Manipur People Against Citizenship Amendment Bill (MPACAB) — has called for a total boycott of use of Hindi language, ban on playing the National Anthem and visits of the Prime Minister and the Home minister until the Bill is withdrawn. They have also given a call for intensifying the protests.

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