Definition of Assamese
I am following the ongoing NRC (National Register of Citizen) updation process not only because of its long term political implications in the state; but also, it is emotionally very close to me. On July 21, 2010 my nephew Mydul Mullah (25) was one among the lakhs of marginalized Muslims of Barpeta district who were demonstrating in front of Deputy Commissioner’s office at district headquarter demanding error free fresh NRC. Eventually, police brutally cracked down on the picketers, police fired upon the democratically demonstrating people without any provocation. Mydul Mullah along with his three comrades Khandakar Matleb (20), Siraj Ali (27) and Majam Ali (55) were killed in police firing. Tarun Gogoi government was forced to suspend the faulty NRC pilot project due unprecedented public outrage.
The illegal migration issue has been one of the most significant topics in the political atmosphere of Assam since 30s of last century. Six years long Assam Movement was claimed to be a secular, nonviolent new social movement to drive out the illegal foreigners. But the analysis of scholars and social scientist reveal that as soon as the Assam movement accommodated right wing RSS workers into its leadership, the whole movement turned against the Bengal origin Muslims of the state. Most brutal massacres like Nellie, Chaolkhuwa, Nagabandha etc were put into action, in broad day light thousands of people were killed. After six years of deadlock, the movement culminated through signing off ‘Assam Accord’ in 1985. The accord says that the immigrants, who came to Assam after 25th of March, 1971 will be detected and deported from Assam. Updating the 1951 National Register of Citizen was one of the mandates of the accord to identify the so called large scale migrants in Assam. Subsequent political history is known to every once, the agitators took over the state power. Newly formed Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) ruled the state for 10 long years but couldn’t identify large scale Bangladeshi, they miserably failed to implement the accord.
After nearly three decades, now the NRC updation process is progressing under direct supervision of honorable Supreme Court of India. The community which is being branded as illegal Bangladeshi cordially welcomed the process. It is really a matter of delight that most of the civil society organizations and community leaders belonging to Bengal origin Muslims are wholeheartedly working to make the NRC the updation process successful. Many of them are working day and night to create awareness among the masses. The community leaders are organizing hundreds of meetings and workshops to educate people about the nuances of NRC updation process even without any support from the government. It seems that the community which has been always branded as illegal Bangladeshi immigrant has pledged to end the shame for once and all at any cost.
But the self proclaimed custodians of Assamese nationalism, who were suffering from so called identity crisis, soon realized that the NRC updation will eventually dry up the prospects of being professional protester. Some of the organization already approached the apex court demanding amendment of Citizenship Act and to stop the ongoing NRC updation process. On the other hand the both print and electronic media have started propagating against the process. On every other day they are publishing opinion and editorials questioning the NRC updation process. The leading English newspaper of Assam ‘The Assam Tribune’ published an article “The migration imbroglio and NE” which directly propagates that the ongoing NRC updation will legitimize the illegal Bangaldeshi as Indian nationals! Veteran journalist Dhirendra Nath Chakravarty, a known right wing admirer, said that Bengal origin Muslims can be Indian but not Assamese. He didn’t even hesitate to suggest seceding of certain Muslim dominated area from Assam. Though historically, Bengal origin Muslims have officially adopted Assamese as their mother tongue way back in 1951 and have been working to promote and preserve Assamese language since 19th century. During language movement and medium movement in Assam, the community fought for Assamese language and succeeded. Without their support, Assamese language would have been a language of minority in Assam.
Secondly, right wing groups continued their effort to polarize the Assamese society in religious line to halt the NRC updation process. Communal hate mongers like Prabin Togaria and Subramanian Swami started spreading venom in Assam. Swami in his consecutive two visits to Assam gave controversial statements which are enough to incite communal tension. Once he asked the Bangladeshi Muslims to accept Hinduism if they want to stay in Assam and on another occasion he suggested to destroy the mosque. But Assamese society outrageously rejected those statements.
When these attempts miserably failed to serve their purpose, they find out another way to create a political storm in the state which is going to poll next year. They found speaker of Assam Legislative Assembly Mr. Pranab Gogoi as messiah of indigenous Assamese people who are facing so called threat of being minority in their own state. It is worthy to mention here that in one of my earlier article I have mentioned his perception about the Muslims of Assam as well as his respect towards democratic values and ethics. When a group of MLAs from main opposition party asked the government to clear its stand on the issues of rehabilitating thousands of conflict induced internally displaced persons of lower Assam, who are living in relief camps for more than two decades, Mr. Gogoi compared the legislators with crow and expelled them from the house. This time also, violating the parliamentary norms he initiated a discussion at his individual capacity with the civil society groups of the state to come up with a definition of ‘Assamese’.
The question arises, why the definition of Assamese is required when NRC updation process is undergoing under direct supervision of honorable Supreme Court of India? The clause six of Assam Accord talks of providing constitutional safeguard to the Assamese people. This is a known fact that Assam as a state has been deprived by the central government throughout the post colonial history. The natural resources of the state have been harshly exploited by the central government. The development data says that in post colonial era Assam is on downward spiral. Hence, Assamese people need extra attention and constitutional safeguard. This safeguard or positive discrimination described in the accord is obviously meant for the Assamese people not for the outsiders for foreigners. And the accord also says that the person, who immigrated to Assam after 25th March, 1971 will be detected and deported. It is important to clarify here that the accord didn’t talk about providing constitutional safeguard to ‘indigenous Assamese people’ but to ‘Assamese people’, which includes all the communities irrespective of caste, creed, language or origin except those who entered the state illegally after 25th of March, 1971. As per the provisions of the accord honorable Supreme Court of India has given directive to the state government to prepare the modalities to update the NRC. It is now clear that this orchestrated debate over definition of Assamese is an attempt to nullify the importance of a fresh updated NRC to solve the long standing illegal migrant issue of Assam. This is also an attempt to vilify the Assam accord which is the result of six years long agitation and at the cost of thousands of innocent lives including the victims of infamous Nellie massacre.
We will conclude our discussion by analyzing the definition provided by speaker Pranab Gogoi and its political implications. Mr. Gogoi said in his report that he has held discussion with civil society organizations including CSOs belong to Bengal origin Muslim community. He defined indigenous Assamese people by taking 1951 as the base year. However, his definition goes against the basic tenets of Assam Accord, as the accord didn’t incorporated the term ‘indigenous’ while prescribing constitutional safeguard for the Assamese People. Secondly, Mr. Gogoi couldn’t address the questions raised by many organizations which strongly oppose his divisive definition of ‘Assamese’. There are some practical problems with this definition – i) Assam government has informed the assembly on record that the 1951 NRC is not available for all the districts of Assam, some of the districts have partially. Census report says that in 1951 census many areas were not included in the census due to poor transportation and connectivity. Moreover, it is almost impossible to retrieve any other supporting documents like school certificate, land records, employment etc considering the socio-economic conditions of that era. ii) As per government record 53000 Muslim families fled to the than East Pakistan in 1950 due to communal violence in Assam, out of which 41000 came back under Nehru-Liyaqat pact. Naturally, those families are not figured in 1951 NRC as well as 1951 census. Hence, speaker Pranab Gogoi’s definition is impractical ab initio.
The pick moment of this orchestrated drama was very interesting to follow. Mr. Gogoi read his report before the house in the state assembly and intended to submit it to the government officially and asked the government to implement his definition to provide constitutional safeguard. The ruling Congress party rejected his definition and the government refused to receive the report at his official capacity, as it doesn’t come under the ambit of speaker’s role, whereas BJP MLAs supported the speaker. Later on Mr. Gogoi submitted the report to the government on his individual capacity. The analysts read the development as a golden opportunity for the speaker to get closure to BJP as he has developed a bad blood with the chief minister Tarun Gogoi as well as other members of the cabinet. One of the minister openly said before the media that a section with vested interest has already started pressurizing the government to halt the NRC updation process.
This time Bengal origin Muslims are really working hard to get rid of the menace called illegal Bangladeshi immigrant. On the other hand, those individuals and organizations which have been shouting for decades demanding NRC updation are now opposing it. However, role of the state government is also not beyond doubt. Why it didn’t take step to stop this divisive project by speaker? Why chief minister Tarun Gogoi is not taking action against him? Meanwhile, Supreme Court of India has slammed the state government for submitting poor affidavit on the progress of NRC updation work.