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Madhubala Mandal was freed from Kokrajhar detention centre the other day because it was a case of mistaken identity. She was picked up by police in 2016 on suspicion of being a foreigner. She had to spend more than two and half years in the detention camp. She is a poor woman and used to work as a domestic help before her detention.

Is this a simple and innocuous thing? Or is it the only such case? No. Already scores of people have faced similar situation and undergone indescribable suffering in the detention camps. A few have also died and some others have committed suicide. How does an Assamese Hindu feel about it? This question is asked because the sufferers, the most of them are either Bengali Hindu or Bengali Muslim. They are linguistic or religious minorities.

As an Assamese and a nonbeliever Hindu, how does the writer of this piece feel about it? The feeling is nothing but of indignation, shame and inhumanity? Do they need to suffer this so that I can maintain and preserve my Assamese identity? I don’t want anybody to undergo such suffering for preserving my identity. Something must be terribly wrong somewhere when such things happen in a society.

There was no denying the fact that at a point of history a large number of poor people from erstwhile East Bengal had come and settled in the low lying areas of Assam, encouraged by the colonial rulers. The local people at the time were naturally apprehensive of this. There was the fear of getting outnumbered by the newcomers. This is a 100-year-old fear.

There are always two ways at looking at a social fissure. One way is the way of compassion and understanding so that the fissure can be mended with minimum damage. The other way is of taking advantage of the fissure and makes best use of it for partisan and sectarian political ends. The entire state of Assam witnessed a turmoil on this issue in early 1980s. The watermarks of the turmoil were everywhere to be seen. But in the intervening time, between 1986 and 2011, the issue remained dormant and there was a relative calm in the state when livelihood issues came to the fore. One expected that through the updating of the NRC, a permanent solution to the vexed foreign national issue will be found. Only for this a large section of independent minded people and organizations supported it. But to complicate the problem, the BJP government at the centre brought in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the rest is history.

It is painful to see that most of the people harassed as foreigners are of economically weaker section who belong to linguistic and religious minorities. Yes, occasionally it happens with one or two Sanaullahs too, but that is not the norm. The norm is Madhubalas. Again, doesn’t the very notion of detention camp violate the basic human rights of a person? If it does, how can this be supported? And they are saying there will be more such camps not only in Assam, but all over the country. If a person violates the law of the land, they should definitely be tried under the existing law or if found guilty may also be imprisoned. But putting people in detention camps indefinitely   on suspicion of their citizenship is gross violation of their human rights. Under no circumstances the detention camps can be supported. These are nothing but a ploy to harass a section of linguistic and religious minority who are economically weak and socially marginalized.

I think the much-hyped thing that even now foreigners from across the Bangladesh border are entering Assam in hordes is a myth. Nobody has ever been able to prove it with conclusive evidence and data. And we have to accept that trans-boarder trespassing is a universal phenomenon. It is not only specific to India and Bangladesh. We have already mentioned the aged old fear of Assamese people getting outnumbered by the foreigners. But despite all kinds of controversies, time has thrown a solution to it by offering the cutoff date of 1971.

If we want to solve this problem, we have to stick to this year and allow the NRC updating process to come to a logical end. However, while doing so we must see that no spirit and provision of natural justice is violated. Once the NRC updating process is completed we should accept it. Whatever may be the number, the people who could not make it to the final NRC list must be treated with all humanitarian concerns.

To find out a lasting solution of a longstanding complicated problem all sections of people must be ready for a measure to compromise. But, some people from both the sides don’t want a resolution of this problem. They want to keep it alive for their political agenda. We have seen how over the decades this issue is being used for political purposes. The Citizenship Bill is nothing but one such instrument. We have seen that historically two kinds of politics are being played upon people. One is the politics of division and the other is the politics of unity. The central to politics of division is identity. On the other hand politics of unity is always centred on variety of issues concerning livelihood of all sections of people.

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Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at:

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