Known history of Assam is a colourful and glittering mosaic of different communities, tribes, sub-tribes, caste and creed following various religious faiths. Although, as in the rest of India and the world, numerous battles were fought in the Brahmaputra valley mainly for political dominance, at the end of the day the mosaic of indigenous people remained virtually unaltered despite numerous political and military heads having appeared and disappeared at different times.
Further, social reformer like the great Vaisnavite saint Mahapurush Sri Sri Sankardeva laid down a totally new social fabric in line with his philosophy of unity and tolerance among the people, irrespective of community, caste, religion or language, which in turn constituted the cementing element in the emergence of the greater Assamese society.
On several occasions, the political and military powers passed on to the hands of foreigners, as during the Burmese invasion or during the British raj. But even during those periods the indigenous people never felt that their culture, identity or the very existence could be over-run by some foreign elements. Now that seven decades have gone by since independence, the indigenous people of the State seemingly find themselves under the greatest threat to their very identity and existence.
While, Bangladeshi influx (both Hindus and Muslims) over the decades had its impact on the demographic and cultural paradigm of Assam, it was sincerely believed by the people of the State that an updated NRC would usher a good deal of corrective measures to protect the identity of the indigenous people.
Unfortunately, that is seemingly not to be, at least as of now. The last stage of the NRC update process now appears to be hanging fire in the matter of verification process of the 40 lakh plus names that have failed to find entry to the final draft NRC. With confusion ruling the roost among the commoners, the high and hallowed status commanded by the NRC update process hitherto in the eyes of the people, seem to have diluted significantly.
At times, the confusion even attracts an element of joke during casual discussion. How the high brows comprehend the issue is not quite understandable for the common man with all logic and reasoning seemingly deserting him so far as the NRC is concerned. He simply understands that if it is an update process it must be on the basis of the original document.
Accordingly, the high hopes among the people that the NRC could come in as a huge protective measure for the indigenous people seem to be fast losing ground. Ironically, a significant section of 40 lakh plus people who have failed to find place in the final draft NRC are indigenous people, mainly belonging to ethnic and tribal communities.
Still worse, the indigenous people of Assam never faced so huge a threat to their very existence in their own land as they do now. The extra-constitutional Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 being prepared by the BJP-led Government at the Centre for its passage in the Parliament has the potential of opening up the floodgates for the entry of Hindu Bangladesh nationals in crores into the state and become citizens of India.
While the Assamese speaking population of the State is roughly estimated to be around just 1.3 crore and the rest of the indigenous population account for an immensely small figure, the entry of crores of Hindu Bangladeshi nationals would straight way reduce the indigenous population of the State to a tiny minority and in due course to refugees or near refugees in their own land. After all, in any country what matters for political dominance is the numerical strength of a community. As of now, the ugly head of the Bill precariously hangs like the Sword of Damocles over the socio-cultural, linguistic, multi-religious, economic, demographic and political identity of the indigenous people of Assam.
On the other hand, so far as the NRC is concerned, no matter how fair an NRC finally sees the light of the day, the clearly anti-Assam Bill on becoming an Act will be empowered to reduce the painstakingly prepared NRC into a piece of waste paper. While the NRC update process is based on midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut off year, armed with the protective provisions of the extra-constitutional Bill, all Hindu Bangladeshi nationals entering Assam up to 2014 would become citizens of India, causing the NRC to land up in the dustbin of history.
Again, while presently the year 2014 is considered for granting of citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi nationals, nobody can guarantee that there would be no extension by another 10 years and another 10 years and another 10 years…and another 10 years.
Such a possibility cannot be ruled out in view of the apparent cherished dream of the Sangh Pariwar, headed by the RSS with the BJP as its frontline political wing, to realize a Hindu Rashtra in a constitutionally secular India. From that point of view, if at all the Bill becomes and Act, it is almost certain that many more amendments of the Constitution promoting the principles of a Hindu Rashtra would make way to the anvil in quick succession.
Again, for the BJP, the Bill, on becoming an Act, will definitely make Assam a Hindu Bangladeshi (turned Indian) majority State which in its wake will create an impenetrable vote-bank of Hindu Bangladeshis (turned Indian) for decades and decades together. Without any campaign, every election may prove to be a cake walk for the saffron brigade.
On the other hand, the Modi-led Government at the Centre, supported by the ‘yes-men’ at Dispur, is seemingly so adamant in passing the Bill in the Parliament that realizing the massive opposition to the Bill in the Brahmaputra Valley, a crude drama was enacted under the name and style of Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).
The JPC began its business with a farce in Delhi by calling some selected people for a hearing. With the cry against the Committee and the Centre on the issue rocking the State, the JPC took to its second farce – hearing in Assam. On this count, the JPC adopted an open, blatant and anti-indigenous people approach in the matter of the Brahmaputra Valley.
While the people of the 3 districts of the Barak Valley were blessed with 2 days of hearing, the 30 districts of the Brahmaputra Valley were restricted to 1-day hearing. Mathematically and comparatively speaking, if the 3 districts of south Assam could have 2 days of hearing, the 30 districts of the Brahmaputra valley were entitled to 20 days of hearing. In short, the JPC committed a nasty farce in the Brahmaputra Valley while displaying its contemptuous disregard towards the people of the 30 district of the valley.
Whereas history is the reservoir of wisdom and knowledge, the like of import of Hindu Bangladeshis in crores or any other nationals of one country to another country is unheard of in the annals of history. Obviously, the saffron brigade is clearly guided by its game-plan of Hindu vote-bank and principles of Hindu Rashtra. Again, in the matter of culture, language and related issues, the shuddering fear among the indigenous people that they may be reduced to a lost tribe after the Bill becomes an Act is genuine in the superlative degree.
It is this burgeoning fear that recently led to 46 local organizations to call for a State-wide bandh which evoked spontaneous response from the people, bringing life to a grinding halt in the Brahmaputra Valley. While any bandh has an adverse effect on the economy of the region with the daily wage earners being worst hit, the bandh call by the 46 organizations seemingly turned out for the indigenous to be choosing between temporary loss of bread and loss of identity and ‘jati, mati, bheti’ for all times.
No matter what the Government or the high brows of the judiciary say in the matter of bandh, the people decided to be a part it to hold on to their ‘jati, mati, bheti’. Another ‘Saraighat’ has just begun and many more may be on the anvil.
Zaheer Akram Bora is a Guwahati based journalist. He can be reached at: [email protected]