The Persistent Plight of Settlers in Assam
By Aayush Anand
22 September, 2015
The dead kid in blue shorts and red t-shirt has become the ideogram of the Refugee crisis in Syria and in UK. Enough wrath has been generated by the national and international media infuriating the righteous human inside each, to come forward and raise a concern about the depleting humanity in the pretext of foreign policy and political rivalries.But the noteworthy irony is the same media's ignorance towards our own government's policy as a result of which thousands and lakhs of people are at risk of being abandoned by the country they have considered their homeland for decades.
National Register of Citizens is the register which contains the names of all Indian citizens. The updation of NRC is the process of enlisting the names of the persons of their descendant citizens based on the data of the electoral polls of 1951 and 1971. The NRC updation is being done as per the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship(Registration of Citizens and Issues of National Identity Cards)Rules, 2003(As amended by 1. G. S. R. 803(E), dated 9th November, 2009 (with effect from 9/11/2009.) 2. Ministry of Home Affairs (Office of Registrar General, India ), Order No. S.O. 596(E), dated 15th March, 2010, published in the Gazette of India, Extra, Part II. No. 504 S.3(ii), dated 16th March, 2010 p.1.).The two statuses affirm that the eligibility status should be ascertained based on the NRC, 1951, Electoral Rolls up to 1971 and in their absence any admissable documents upto 24th March(midnight)1971.
This exertion, initiated through a gazette notification was due to be completed within a time span of three years.The publication of the final NRC's date were advanced by the judgment delivered by the honorable Supreme Court, dated 17th December 2014. Some would argue that the arrangement is tailor made to extradite refugee settlers that have been living in state for decades now. The issue of infiltration and expulsion of foreigners in Assam has kept center stage in the political theatre of the state for over three decades now. In 1947, when Sylhet, then a district of Assam was lost to Pakistan on basis of the outcome of an allegedly rigged referendum, a communal carnage took over the subcontinent which resulted in displacement of people. The internal political turmoil coupled with communal riots first in East Pakistan and then in Bangladesh made sure people constantly circumvented the boundary in hopes of finding peace from communal bias and better living standards.But to the people's misery, they left Bangladesh to avoid barbarity only to be welcomed by it in the Indian state as well.
The Assamese elites took the infiltration to their stride and considered the refugees a threat to their language and culture. Soon an anti-foreigner movement spearheaded by the All Assam Students Union(AASU) was initiated during 1979-85. The six years long violent agitation left hundreds dead and thousands traumatised. In spite of all that and lack of any statistical measure of cross-border movement of people, AASU's movement was successful in convincing the establishment that a rapacious infiltration was happening in Assam which if not heeded to urgently would leave the state's culture suffering.
The agitation subsided after the establishment of Assam Accord in August 1985. All those foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenship, including the right to vote; those who had done so after 1971 were to be deported; the entrants between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for ten years but would enjoy all other rights of citizenship. Soon AASU metamorphosed into Asom Gana Parishad and its victory in Assembly elections legitimized the racial killings and nobody talked of the Nellie Massacre in which more than 5,000 Bangladeshi migrants were mercilessly butchered.
After much bloodshed, struggle for identity and mass agitation the docket of refugee is back to haunt the agonized settlers, three decades later. The citizen register which was supposed to be updated for the whole nation according to the gazette, is only being done in Assam showcasing the Government's clear prejudice against the settlers. With lack of any understanding between Bangladesh and India, the settlers face the risk of being abandoned in no man's land. When our forefathers crafted the democracy, their intent would have been to serve one and all equally. Sadly, today the same democracy and the farce of diplomacy and politics it comes with has set it up against people's birth right endeavor to pursue happiness. True, the infiltration will affect our country adversely. But is uprooting the lives of many the only possible solution?
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