I have been watching the situation developing in Assam since last couple of years. Having been allotted to the IAS cadre of Assam, and working there in various capacities, I have come to regard Assam as my other native state . I was collector (DC) of three districts in Assam during 1979 to 1985, the peakest days of the Assam Agitation, which was against illegal foreign nationals who have infiltrated into Assam, during which thousands were killed. In the third district where I served as DC, Nagaon, about 4000 people were killed in a single night(Nellie massacre) . Lakhs and lakhs of houses were burned down. Mercifully, and slowly Assam limped back to normalcy.
I was very apprehensive of fresh trouble during the SC monitored revision of NRC(National Register of Citizens) . The NRC revision means documenting illegal migrants in Assam and the onus is on the person named to prove she or he is a citizen. Lakhs of people have been named as illegal migrant, and have been going from pillar to post to show their bonafides. Heart-rending stories have emerged about people who have lived in Assam for generations and hold all kinds of documents, and yet left out of the register – a clerical error could cost a person their citizenship. Not just Muslims, Hindus also have found their names missing. It is a fraught time for millions of people, who are starting at a bleak, perhaps stateless future. The situation was explosive, but the people maintained their balance . Though the NRC revision went without incidents, it has definitely sown seeds of trouble and any thinking person could visualise the looming crisis. While the draft NRC excluded 4 million people, the final NRC left out nearly 2 million. No one could say what will be the fate of these two million people? Will they be herded into detention camps for life, will they be disenfranchised and allowed to live as stateless people or what ——–?
No body was happy with the NRC. The BJP MLA from Silchar(a Begali speaking District) says that around 95-96 per cent illegal Bangladeshi Muslims have found their names in the NRC . “On the other hand, a major portion of Hindus have been excluded from the list. We can never accept this NRC where illegal Bangladeshi Muslims have been included” .
The CAA has brought in further trouble. With the passing of CAB, the entire North East has gone up in serious protest against the new legislation. Even as protests over the amended Citizenship Act ignited violence in Assam and elsewhere in the northeast, the agitation reached the shores of West Bengal with protesters vandalising public property and clashing with the police.It is reported that curfew was relaxed in Assam’s Dibrugarh and Meghalaya capital Shillong, but parts of West Bengal were in throes of violence
The Assamese are not fanatical about religion. There are Assamese Hindus and Assamese Muslims and they live in harmony. The Assamese are however very proud and concerned about their indigenous customs and culture and cannot tolerate the dilution of their ethnicity by massive migration of outsiders coming and settling in Assam. The CAA will legitimise all those Hindus, jains, christians etc (only exclusion is Muslims) who have illegally entered into Assam and such people are not required to show that they were religiously persecuted in Bangladesh. In effect, every illegal infiltrator prior to 2014 (except a muslim) will be gifted Indian citizenship This is what the Assamese are worried about. The CAA is superimposing its Hindu-Muslim lens atop the Assamese-Bengali fault-line
In the Assam Accord of 1985, the entire objective of a revision of the NRC (National Register of Citizens) was for identifying and deporting the illegal immigrants, most of whom have come from East Pakistan, former Bangladesh after March 1971. The Citizenship Amendment Act now moves this timeline to include Hindu immigrants identified by the NRC to 2014.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Director and Assamese journalist Sanjoy Hazarika explains : “The NRC and the CAA are like twins conjoined at the hip. One undoes what the other does. So the NRC, which had support in Assam and the North East, went through a complicated process and interventions from the Supreme Court. There was course correction of this process and then the final list put the number of excluded people at 19 Lakhs. That may not be the final NRC but this is what we have now. Of these 19 lakhs, a large majority is Hindus of Bengali origin that has obviously come from East Pakistan and Bangladesh. Now the CAA says that everyone is legitimate except the Muslims. That’s the contradiction, which changes the goal post from 1971 to 2014. That’s 43 years! For Assam that is the crucial connection, which is why it becomes a special case for the state.”
First Post (Dec 16,2019) notes that ”the CAA essentially draws distinction based on religion when the real issue that AASU and the Assamese have fought over is illegal immigration. If one has to resettle Bengali immigrants than why not settle all? Why just Hindus? Apart from also ignoring challenges of re-settlement of smaller communities like the Chakmas living in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the NRC has not served the purpose of identifying illegal immigrants as per a narrative structured by past.”
– C Babu Rajeev IAS (Rtd), Former Additional Chief Secretary, Assam.