Fixing Racial Ratio?

Bibekananda Ray

In 'Open letter to Indians' (19-25 August), Hiren Gohain seems to give qualified support to Assam government's on-going exercise of finalising a National Registration of Citizens, of which a draft report has been published. It was first done in 1951 census; the present move is an updatation of citizens, listed in the census, or in any electoral rollup to 24th March 1971 or in any of other admissible documents issued up to that date. Although it is being done at the behest of the Supreme Court on a PIL, the zest of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Guwahati is obvious. Else, it would have begun in other States too! The move dates back to the AASU regime in early 1970's when a virulent Bangali Khedao (Expel Bengalis) movement rocked the Brahmaputra Valley and took toll of hundreds of resident Bengalees. It is now in a different garb! The government has fixed a deadline for filing petitions for deletions by the wrongly listed, because the draft report contains ludicrous entries. A rough estimate has it that the unlisted forty lakh plus names will come down to some ten lakhs. That way, the draft is a mockery of ten-yearly census by the RGI.

In 121 years (1826-1947), migration of people from other various provinces of British India occurred, after the Yandabo Treaty (signed on 24 February 1826). The Raj did not object to continuous migration of Bengali peasants to Assam. In 1931, C S Mullan, the Census Superintendent even warned that such invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry immigrants might someday 'permanently' alter "the whole feature of Assam and destroy the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilisation". A government White Paper on 20thOctober 2012 said: "Following Partition and communal riots in the subcontinent, Assam initially saw an influx of refugees and other migrants from East Pakistan", finally estimated to be around five lakh.Considering the gravity of the situation, the Central Government passed the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 mandating expulsion of illegal immigrants. It is to identify such immigrants that the first NRC was prepared during 1951 Census; the move had a setback when from October 1952 the regulations of passport and visa came into being between India and Pakistan. Illegal infiltration did not abate; the RGI in 1961 census report enumerated them to be 2,20,691. In 1965, the Central government urged the government of Assam to expedite completion of the NRC and issue to non-migrants National Identity Cards but withdrew it in 1966, having found the task impracticable.

Between 1948 and 1971, there were large scale immigration from East Pakistan (that became Bangladesh in 1972), to which in 1979 the AASU and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP)protested vehemently and urged their detection, disenfranchisement and deportation; this came to be known as the Assam Movement that lasted six years, taking toll of thousands of migrant men and women and leading finally to the signing of the landmark Assam Accord by the AASU and the Central and State Governments on 15th August 1985 at the behest of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Accord ended the agitation but the detection and expulsion of immigrants did not take place. Two Pilot Projects were started in Kamrup  and  Barpeta districts in 2010 but were given up within a month, following a mob attack on Barpeta Deputy Commissioner's office and a police firing, killing four. The NRC update appeared to be an impossible task but because of writ petitions by Assam Public Works, the Supreme Court in 2013 directed the Union and the State Governments to complete the update, of which the draft NRC is the outcome.

Not only Assam, being contiguous to Bangladesh, West Bengal, Tripura and Manipur too became targets of immigrants in 1946, 1971 and thereafter. The first wave comprised Hindus and other non-Muslim races who left the territory in panic after the 'Exchange of Population' move began after Independence until it was aborted following massacres of Hindus in West Pakistan. The second came after East Pakistani troops swooped down on Hindus and Muslims to quell the freedom movement, led by Sheikh Mujibar Rehman. The exodus should have ended, or thinned, after Bangladesh was created, but it did not. Nearly 50 years after the birth of an Islamic land, people are still crossing into three Indian States to settle permanently. Kolkata hospitals are choc-a-block with Bangladesh patients, as outdoor treatment is nearly free (two rupees for registration) and treatment is modern. The migrants of 1946-47 are said to have been issued EPIC and ration cards and given right to acquire assets and live. It is a pity that neither the Congress nor the Left Front governments in Kolkata sounded alarm over this illegal immigration for fear of losing votes. Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee who blew whistle when she was a minister in NDA-I in 2005 has now turned volte face and cries wolf over the NRC move in Assam.

The fact is, the native Assamese fear, someday they will become a minority in their own State, if illegal immigration continues. Even travels across and short stays anywhere in Assam will confirm this fear; it is a pity, how immigrants, particularly Bengalis and Marwaris have nearly monopolised trades and businesses. Under Article 13 of the Constitution, every citizen has right to move and live in any part of India; if migrants are given citizenship, they will have this right and nobody can question them. National registration is not a bad idea; the issue of Aadhaar cards is a good beginning. Some day, India will have to emulate Singapore to fix, by legislation, a kind of racial ratio of population to amicably solve this contentious issue. Frontier editorial in 12-18 August'18 issue put the problem in correct perspective.

Vol. 51, No.11, Sep 16 - 22, 2018