Assam, a state in northeast India, has risen again with a mass movement against the provisions of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which involves granting citizenship on religious grounds. Numerous petitions by students, advocates, intellectuals, and others against CAA are pending before the Supreme Court, so although the matter is sub judice, the various issues involved are in the public domain and are continuously debated and discussed. Therefore, I intend to bring up here certain aspects of the issues involved in relation to the realities in Assam and other northeastern states.

The crux of the CAA as far as Assam is concerned is again in relation to the ‘foreigners’ problem for which the state had to undertake a massive movement during 1979 to 1985 when the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) contributed the leadership that culminated in the signing of the Assam Agreement with the Congress government led by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The newly formed regional Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) party, composed mainly of AASU leaders, came to power in Assam in 1985. However, the so-called people’s government did very little in its first and second terms. end later in terms of detection and deportation of foreigners and to effectively prevent the continuing influx from neighboring Bangladesh.

The influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh to Assam and other parts of the Northeast and India is not a new problem. It was there in the British period when Bengal consisted of both East and West Bengal; he was there during the Partition; continued in the post-independence period with a new impetus in the “vote bank” policy of successive governments in Assam; it intensified during the Pakistani invasion of East Pakistan in 1971 and after the formation of Bangladesh the same year. Since then, Bangladesh has been a friendly neighbor to India, and despite numerous rounds of bilateral talks on various issues, including the influx, almost nothing solid was done to prevent further migration or deport existing ‘foreigners’. ; Alien screening laws were introduced, changed or repealed with no tangible results and ‘effective fencing’ work at the border never got off the ground amid accusations of a ‘traditional’ corruption racket by letting in illegal immigrants for a few dollars, not to mention the largely ‘unmanaged’ river routes to Assam.

Now, let’s move on to some salient features of the Assam Movement. The hard facts first: the ‘foreigners’ in Bangladesh belonged to two Indian religions: Hindu and Muslim; the ‘foreigners’ spoke a prominent Indian language: Bangla or Bengali; Indian Bengalis emotionally believe that they were all part of the same community before Partition and most of them therefore cannot help but feel a great affinity for ‘foreigners’. Thanks to these ‘historical facts’, political vested interests and others always created a ‘conscious confusion’ about ‘religious or linguistic minorities’ and ‘foreigners’, and this, as was claimed, always led other Indians to believe that the Movement was communal and directed against “outsiders” and not against “foreigners”, apart from the internal conflict between the local population of Assam and the Indian Bengalis living there. During the time of the first Assam Movement, some of us were studying in Delhi, while all Assam students missed a full academic year. We held a kind of ‘Delhi chapter’ of the movement by organizing protests and meeting with various political leaders; our focus was on pointing out the non-community nature of the movement which was directed against ‘foreigners’ regardless of their religion or language and not against ‘outsiders’ or ‘minorities’. At least during my life, there has been almost nothing to distinguish an Assamese Hindu from an Assamese Muslim; such was the peaceful coexistence in the state that it incorporated many other tribes who lived there for centuries and who had their distinct culture and languages. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts over the past few decades, we have yet to convince other Indians of our non-community movement and that our only concerns are the deportation of foreigners and preventing further influx from Bangladesh. However, vested interests and vote bank politics and polarization never hear any real arguments.

The CAA has brought in its wake an existential threat to the Assamese-speaking community in Assam, because the proposed granting of citizenship to all Bengali-speaking Hindu foreigners who arrived before December 31, 2014, while the deadline for illegal immigrants agreed in the Assam Agreement was on March 24, 1971, it is established to make the local population a linguistic minority in their own state. This is also true for some tribes in the northeastern states like the Khasis in Meghalaya. The people of the region also see in this an outright betrayal of their elected representatives from the ruling parties, for although the law was passed by both houses of parliament, not a single vote from the ruling members of the Northeast parliament was against it. And how are the governments of Assam and other NE states looking at the mass movement? Before moving on to that, we must introduce a political perspective. The overwhelmingly installed BJP government in 2016 in Assam spoke at the time of deporting all foreign Bangladeshis from the state, and when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was started in Assam under the supervision of the Supreme Court, people he saw as a genuine effort to detect and deport foreigners. However, after the exclusion of several million suspected foreigners in the NRC, most of them Hindus, even the state leaders of the BJP expressed their discontent and then began to say that this NRC was just the beginning and that a campaign would be launched. more comprehensive later. despite the thousands of crores of rupees spent. In this regard, the introduction of the ‘Citizenship Amendment Bill’ (CAB) was important, because it was clear that the CAB aimed to achieve what the NRC could not. And that paved the way for the protests to include the NRC, CAA and even the National Population Register (NPR) in the movement against as suspicious movements in the alleged overall divisive and polarizing political agenda of the Hindutva parties. This complete picture made the movement pan-Indian.

However, one of the basic reasons for the pan-Indian protests is the alleged constitutional violation by the law, as it went against secular ideals by attempting to grant citizenship in terms of religious affiliation. Indian Muslims, a minority community in Hindu-majority India, began to feel insecure and saw themselves as targets of the proposed act or moves. All other political parties, regardless of their ideologies, also began to vehemently protest due to the constitutional violation and communal politics. From the beginning, the Union Government and the state governments of the northeastern states saw the move as unwarranted, because they constantly claimed that all CAA, NRC, NPR are for the ultimate good of the Indian citizens, and immediately focused on The initial violence committed by some scoundrels during the movement to punish the created elements and opposition political parties for misdirecting or diverting people sitting in protest for shameless political capital. They refused to accept that people consisting of students, artists, intellectuals, advocates, farmers, women, parties/activists, regardless of their ideologies and ordinary people, cannot be continually ‘misguided’ by any vested interest. Also, the opposition political parties in Assam and the Northeast are not well liked by the people and were shunned by the people in the early decades for their misdeeds.

Now about ‘religious persecution’, the newly coined term introduced on the spot; this is actually limited to a few religions, including Hinduism prominently. Why is the government suddenly concerned about ‘persecuted minorities’ in a few carefully selected countries? This is ostensibly seen as vote bank electoral politics to polarize the population along religious lines; The main thing at stake is the 2021 assembly election in West Bengal, where a prominent section of Hindu immigrants will benefit from CAA, and then in Assam and other NE states where the party has effectively established its rule. Furthermore, while concern about ‘persecuted minorities’ in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be justified to some extent, the same in Bangladesh is dubious. During the Pakistani invasion of then-East Pakistan in 1971, persecution of Hindus might have been a problem, but over the decades there has been no evidence of similar repression of minorities. The influx of Bangladeshis since pre-independence days has always been independent of religions, as both Muslim and Hindu immigrants continued to come to India, possibly for economic reasons.

The government has been saying all along that the people are wrong, but for its part it has sadly not given specific clarification as to why the minorities in India, the threatened communities in the Indian states, the secular-minded people of the country should not no concern at all. Why, can they afford to keep Bangladesh out of the CAA purview, because there is no evidence of religious persecution of minorities there and Bangladesh remains a friendly neighbor? Hardly, thanks to the far-reaching ‘electoral’ repercussions for Hindutva elements that would possibly flow from such an omission. This also puts the selection of only a few particular countries and a few particular religions under the purview of the law under scrutiny.

Assam cannot back down now, until concerns about its threatened existence are gently allayed. The Supreme Court hearing on the CAA petitions is scheduled for January 22, 2020, and people are putting their hope solely in that highest authority for justice. People know their leaders say that the Assam 2.0 Movement is meant to be a long-term one with no specific expected results. They have abandoned winter festivals, picnics, other forms of celebrations and even their harvest festival, the Magh or Bhogali Bihu which is coming in a few days, is a great uncertainty. However, the leaders emphasize: students must continue their studies; employees/professionals must carry out their subsistence activities; the development work must not be interrupted, and after securing all this, they must sit dedicated and committed to the movement, almost on a daily basis. The Government must cast off its arrogance and focus on doing good to the very people who had elected them with high hopes, and must find a long-term solution instead of opting for short-term measures such as granting Internal Line Permits or the execution of certain provisions. of the sixth schedule of the constitution in relation to the welfare of certain tribes in the region. Assam, again, is at a crossroads, and what could possibly be a turning point in the state’s history, and we fervently hope that they will achieve their democratic victory as soon as possible.

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