Racism is a grotesquely obnoxious trait that lashes across the fair face of humanism and almost converges into the realm of savagery. It may be as old as humanity itself or at least several millennia old. In ancient days, racism was mainly based on colour of the skin, the origin of stock or race etc.

Beginning with the 20th century, racism came to be exercised on various factors – the colour of the skin, language, religion, place of birth, race or stock of descent, gender and the like. In the recent times even some world celebrities like sportspersons and others have openly spoken out of being victims of racism because of the colour of their skin, religion, looks, place of residence et al.

Interestingly, with a view to ensuring equality among the citizens of India and foil any attempt at discrimination/racism on various grounds, the Constitution has enshrined as fundamental rights Article 14, Article 15 and Article 16 among others in its chapter on Fundamental Rights in Part III.

Enshrined in the chapter titled ‘Right to Equality’ of Part III of the Constitution, the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 14, titled as ‘Equality before law’, reads as follows: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”  Likewise, the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 16, titled as ‘Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment’, reads as follows:

(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.”

While Article 14 guarantees equality before law, Article 16 guarantees against ineligibility and discriminations on grounds like religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them. Constitutional expert Brij Kumar Sharma observes that if a discriminatory exercise violates Article 15 or Article 16, the “validity of the Act (law/ order/ action) is to be attacked with reference to that Article. If the matter is not covered by these two Articles then it may be challenged under Article 14 which has a wider coverage.”

Likewise, to quote renowned constitutional authority Justice (Retd) Durga Das Basu, “Art 14-16, taken together, enshrine the principle of equality and absence of discrimination.”  In the matter of Article 16 Justice Basu states in unambiguous terms that the fundamental right guaranteed under the Article is available to citizens and that it prohibits discrimination against any citizen in the matter of employment under the state on grounds like religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them.

That indeed is law as laid down by the Constitution and interpreted by the Supreme Court and legal experts. Unfortunately, at times, the ground reality appears to be quite opposite, courtesy government whimsical actions.

Interestingly, on October 7, the Assam government made the official announcement that the civil service aspirants of Barak Valley who have not studied Assamese, Bengali, or Bodo languages will be exempted from appearing in the qualifying language paper in the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) CCE examination.

The announcement was made on the chief minister’s official twitter handle, stating, “Providing relief to students of Barak Valley who have not Assamese, Bengali, or Bodo languages, the CoM has decided to exempt these students from appearing in qualifying language paper in APSC CCE exam.”

While the Barak Valley civil service aspirants for APSC CCE who have not studied Assamese, Bengali or Bodo have been officially exempted from appearing in the language paper, the same relief has not been granted to the APSC CCE aspirants from the Brahmaputra Valley who have not studied Assamese, Bengali or Bodo.

It may be pertinent to state that there are thousands of such aspirants in the Brahmaputra Valley. Primarily the aspirants hailing from English medium schools and schools affiliated to CBSE have not studied Assamese, Bengali or Bodo in both the valleys. However, the government favours only the Barak Valley aspirants.

Hence, the question arises as to why has the Assam government shown such great favour to the APSC CCE aspirants from Barak Valley? Is it not discrimination against the Brahmaputra Valley aspirants? It is clearly a case of one extra paper for the Brahmaputra Valley aspirants while the Barak Valley aspirants will have to do without one paper.

In short it is more workload for the Brahmaputra Valley aspirants and lesser workload for the Barak Valley aspirants. More workload obviously means a tougher examination awaits the aspirants from the Brahmaputra Valley.

Logically speaking, with the APSC CCE Prelims examination to be less tough with lesser workload, a larger number of aspirants from the Barak Valley are likely to get through the APSC CCE Prelims examination in comparison to those from the Brahmaputra Valley who will have to take the exam with a greater burden of one extra paper.

This in turn gives rise to the possibility of more aspirants from the Barak Valley qualifying for the Mains exams. This in turn, as per common sense view, may lead to a final outcome of more ACS, APS etc officers emerging from the Barak Valley. One wonders if it could be a long-term roadmap of the present dispensation in view of the CAA and the red carpet laid out to millions of Hindu Bangladeshi nationals.

Having said that, it may be pertinent to state that the Assam government  could probably have taken the opinion from a chain of legal experts on the Constitution, particularly in the matter of equality, before blessing the APSC CCE aspirants from Barak Valley with lesser workload. While this writer is not a legal expert, Article 14 and Article 16 on the face of it do not justify the government order ‘providing relief’ to the Barak Valley APSC CCE aspirants.

One only hopes the government and other experts would throw light on the issue, although it is clear that at the ground level such explanation would not make any difference.

Further, the stony silence observed by some so called Assamese ‘jatiyabadi’ (chauvinist) groups, students’ bodies, civil society organisations, political parties/groups and others over the issue appear to be queer, freak and deranged.

One may only understand this silence as their having accepted the government stand as perfectly on the right and legal track. Hence, there is not even a whisper against the government stand. On that count, one may only congratulate Dispur for so effectively executing such plans and policies while upholding peace across the state. Indeed what prevails is not just peace; it is tranquillity, nay, monastic tranquillity.

One may recall that in the 2019 Parliamentary polls, a huge section of the greater Assamese society that considers itself as ‘more indigenous than others’, voted lock, stock & barrel  for the BJP that promised in its poll manifesto to bring in the  CAB again.

As many as nine of the 14 Lok Sabha seats from Assam went to the saffron brigade amid high celebration and jubilation. With this mandate from the ‘more indigenous’ population, CAB was passed by both the Houses of the Parliament and with the President’s assent it is now CAA – a law of the land.

Meanwhile, the BJP chief has made it clear that the CAA would be implemented soon, the delay being caused by the pandemic. While it is only a matter of time before the administration has to take care of tens of millions of Hindu Bangladeshis, the government may be of the view that on this count magistrates, police officers and other administrative officials from the Barak Valley may deliver much better than their counterparts from the Brahmaputra Valley. And hence, more such officers from south Assam may be a requisite.

Be that as it may, whatever be the ulterior motive or the long-term hidden roadmap of the government, as of now, the Assam government, the civil society and the people of the state need to be showered with kudos for being such great architects of ‘monastic tranquillity’.

One may only hazard a guess that a lot of ‘mantra’, ‘magic’ and ‘management’ must have been fine-tuned in the superlative degree to gear up the administrative process with ‘parivartan’ for due care and comfort of the CAA beneficiaries besides grant of ‘mati’ and ‘bheti’.

Talmizur Rahman

Talmizur Rahman is a Guwahati based senior journalist and commentator. He can be reached at rahmantmz5@gmail.com