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MEMORY AND VIOLENCE

From 1979 to 1985: The Anti-Foreigners Movement in Assam

There was a large-scale movement conducted by a student organization and some political parties in Assam. The main aims of the movement were: to detect illegal immigrants from East Pakistan and Bangladesh; to delete their names from the electoral rolls; and to deport them from Assam. 'the issue of foreign nationals attracted the attention of the people of Assam for the first time in 1978. Because of the death of a Member of Parliament, Hiralal Patwari, there was a need for a by-election to the Lok Sabha in the Mangaldoi parliamentary constituency. In the process of holding the by-election, it was discovered that the number of voters in this constituency had gone up phenomenally. Soon after, the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) demanded the postponement of the election and the deletion of the names of the foreign nationals from the electoral rolls. This marked the beginning of the six year long movement, popularly known as the anti-foreigners movement in Assam. The movement gained mass support from the people, and was very active from the end of 1979 In early 1980 several talks were held between the AASU leaders and Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, on the question of the deportation-or-the illegal-immigrants. But no agreement could be arrived at as a result of the talks due to the movement leaders demanded that all those who entered Assam after 1951 should be deported, while the government proposed 1971 as the cut-off date. In the latter part of 1980, the central government became oppressive towards the movement. Mass support did not last long, and from 1981 to1982 the movement stagnated.

While searching for the images of that movement, we met this photographer Mr. Ajit Barua, now paralysed and bed ridden. He showed some negatives of the images of that period, but degraded in quality, dusty and moist. Working as an active freelancer in that period Barua's images are the only collection where the evidence are stored. Even now in Assam people hardly consider photographs and other material as text. Shot in both 120 and 35 mm formats we have restored the negatives and then printed it on photographic paper. Then digitising the images and further enhancing the iamge quality. The captioning of the photograph is a slow process as Barua is unable to move anything but his head. So we believe that image will speak for itself the event.