Manipuri Filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma Returns Padma Shri to Protest Citizenship Bill

“The Bill is against the interest of the people of the Northeast and the indigenous people of Manipur."

New Delhi: While Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted his party’s decision to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha because of its commitment to the children of “Maa Bharti” at an election rally in Jammu, renowned Manipuri filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma stood up against the proposed legislation in Imphal.

At a press meet held at his house, the 82-year-old veteran filmmaker announced his decision to return the Padma Shri granted to him by the Centre in 2006 to oppose the Bill.

Sharma asked the people of Manipur and the Northeast to not support the Bill. “The Bill is against the interest of the people of the Northeast and the indigenous people of Manipur. Several people here have opposed the Bill but it seems they (the Centre) are determined to pass it,” Sharma told reporters.

An important name not just in Manipuri cinema but that of the entire Northeast, Sharma’s films have bagged several national awards besides being the only one from the region – so far – whose film was selected in the ‘Un Regard’ section of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival (Ishanou in 1991). He also got the top annual award of France’s Three Continents Festival, the Golden Montgolfie, in 1982 – so far the only Indian filmmaker to bag it.

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Sharma’s decision to surrender the Padma Shri is the second incident of government honours being returned in the Northeast to protest against the Bill. On January 30, as many as 125 families of those who lost their lives in Assam’s anti-foreigner agitation (1979-85) who were granted the Martyrs Award by the BJP-led government in the state, took out a rally in Guwahati and returned the mementos as a mark of protest.

Since the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, there have been relentless protests against it in the northeastern states. All the regional allies of the ruling BJP passed a unanimous resolution opposing the Bill.

Two chief ministers belonging to the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance – Conrad Sangma of Meghalaya and Zoramthanga of Mizoram – also met Union home minister Rajnath Singh to express their concern over the issue.

BJP’s ally in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad, a party born of the Assam Accord, left the alliance government, opposing the Modi government’s decision to go ahead with the Bill.

The Bill awaits the nod of the Rajya Sabha to become a law.

As per the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955, Hindu Bangladeshis and some other non-Muslim groups from Afghanistan and Pakistan will be granted Indian citizenship based on their religion, even if they entered the country illegally.

Granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis is contradictory to the Assam Accord, as per which anyone who entered Assam after March 24, 1971, from neighbouring Bangladesh would be detected and deported to their country of origin. Besides the indigenous people of Assam, those from the other north-eastern states are also of the firm opinion that the Bill would not be in their political and cultural interests.