PRC tussle in Arunachal: Mob vandalise Itanagar International Film Festival venue

The venue of the first Itanagar International Film Festival at IG Park in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, was vandalized by unknown miscreants on Friday night as protestors clashed with police against the PRC issue in the state.

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Multiple cases of stone pelting and vandalism were reported from various parts of Itanagar on February 22. Several organizations called for a 48 hour Arunachal Bandh on February 21 in protest against the granting of permanent residence certificates (PRCs) to non- Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes (APST) of Changlang and Namsai districts.

Artists travelling to Itanagar to perform at the Itanagar International Film Festival (IIFF) had a tough time as they were “caught in the middle of firing”. Popular Nagaland-based singer Alobo Naga said that the mob burned down their car along with all their musical instruments which were at the venue of the Itanagar International Film Festival. “The mob burned down our car (Innova) including all our instruments along with all the other vehicles parked inside the venue (IG Park). The stage, sound system, portable movie theatre, trucks, gen set etc. all down the ashes,” the singer wrote on Facebook.

Bollywood filmmaker Satish Kaushik, along with several others from Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam were stuck at the hotel because of the protests. “We are around 50 filmmakers and artists who are stuck here at our hotel rooms. Some of the artistes were stuck at the venue itself. The situation is tense here. I hope peace and normalcy prevails,” said National Award winning filmmaker Utpal Borpujari while talking to The News Mill.

“I along with my team was stuck at the venue auditorium itself. We spent the whole night inside the auditorium… terrified. We lived a moment of uncertainty of our survival in such a situation. The IIFF crew stood with the people and provided food and help to the people who got stuck. It’s one of the most terror-stricken moments for us. We saw how cars were blown away and public property getting destroyed. Around 5 in the morning we came out of the auditorium and walked down our hotel which was nearby,” said national award winning Sattriya danseuse Anwesa Mahanta who was in Itanagar to perform at the film festival.

There was no official statement on the film festival till the filing of this report.

Earlier on Friday, protestors set ablaze vehicles and also burned the offices of All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) and All Nyishi Students Union (ANSU) in Itanagar. Many were injured as reports of police firing flooded the social media.

The protest erupted after it was announced by Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu and deputy chief minister Chowna Mein in December last year that 6 non-APST communities residing in the Changlang and Namsai districts will be given a ‘New Year gift’ by granting them PRCs.

The grant of PRCs to these communities was recommended by a Joint High Power Committee (JHPC) constituted by the state government on May 1, 2018 to study the PRC issue.

The proposals have evoked resentment among several community-based groups and students’ organisations, who claimed that the rights and the interests of indigenous people will be compromised if the state government accepts it.

The recommendation of the JHPC was to be tabled in the ongoing session of the state Assembly on Saturday, but late on Friday night, chief minister Khandu informed that keeping in mind the strong opposition to the proposals, the recommendation will not be tabled during this Assembly session.

“Keeping in view the present situation, government has decided not to take the PRC matter in current Assembly Session,” the chief minister tweeted.

Union minister of state for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju also tweeted that the matter will not be tabled during the current Assembly session. “I spoke to CM @PemaKhanduBJP ji. Due to the ongoing situation & protest against JHPC report on Permanent Residential Certificate to land holding non-APSTs in Changlang & Namsai Districts in Arunachal Pradesh, Govt has decided not to table the matter in current Assembly Session,” he tweeted.

Rijiju further called for peace and said that the rights of the indigenous people will be protected at any cost. “I appeal everyone for peace. Violence will help nobody. The State govt has assured that the rights and constitutional safeguards of the indigenous people will be protected at any cost,” the Union minister and MP from Arunachal Pradesh tweeted.