On February 2, as many as 42 scholars and academicians from across the country wrote to the National Investigation Agency against the interrogation of noted historian and Professor Arupjyoti Saikia. Expressing “distress” at the “intensive grilling” of the professor, the scholars and academicians have also requested the NIA to treat him with the “dignity and respect” that a scholar of his stature deserves.
Saikia, who teaches History at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, was questioned for several hours on Saturday, February 1, by the NIA in connection with the ongoing protests in Assam against the Citizenship Amendment Act. He was summoned by the NIA’s office in the outskirts of Guwahati on Monday again, for the second time in three days.
Even though the NIA has not yet disclosed the reason behind interrogating Saikia, his legal counsel Shantanu Borthakur was quoted as saying that he was called as a witness in connection with a case against peasant activist and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader from Assam, Akhil Gogoi. Gogoi, along with two other members of KMSS, have been in judicial custody for over a month now, and have been slapped with the draconian Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act for helping Maoists set up a base in Assam under the cover of anti-CAA protests.
The statement, which has been signed by eminent historians like Ramachandra Guha and professors Partha Chatterjee, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Nandini Sundar, Nivedita Menon, AR Venkatachalapathy, and Srinath Raghavan, notes the “exemplary” contribution of the professor in the field of history. It reads, "Professor Saikia is an adornment to the literary and intellectual world of Assam and of India. He is also an individual of high moral character; gentle, soft-spoken, and utterly non-violent. His devotion to his students at IIT Guwahati is exemplary.”
"We, a group of Indian scholars and academics from across the country, write in distress and with concern with regard to the ongoing ordeal of Professor Arupjyoti Saikia. Professor Saikia is one of the country's most distinguished and respected historians. The author most recently of a landmark history of the Brahmaputra River, he has also written significant works on forest and agrarian history. For his contributions to scholarship, Professor Saikia is hugely admired, indeed venerated, in his native Assam. He also has a very high reputation nationally and even internationally, with his scholarship recognised by a prestigious fellowship from Yale University," it adds.
The statement further reads, “That a scholar of such standing, and a human being of such decency, has been called for intensive grilling by the NIA is deeply distressing. We urge that the NIA treat him with the dignity and respect he deserves, and allow him to continue his professional work unimpeded.”
Expressing his shock at the ordeal of the prominent Assamese scholar, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted, "I am absolutely shocked and dumbfounded by Arupjyoti's ordeal. He is one of our most outstanding historians and his most recent book on the Brahmaputra is a classic. I wholeheartedly endorse the appeal made by these distinguished scholars."
Notably, key Northeast BJP leader and Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, had last month alleged that an academician working with a central government educational institute was involved in anti-CAA protests. He had also said that electronic evidence linked a leading Assam academician to a plot to burn down the Assam Secretariat at the Dispur capital complex.
Assam has been raging with protests against the amended citizenship act since the proposal of the Bill in 2016. Following the passage of the Bill in Parliament in December last year, protests intensified across the state and lakhs of people poured into the streets. Five people were killed as the Army was brought in to suppress the protests. Curfew was imposed in several areas across the state, along with suspension of internet for over 10 days.