The NRC: What Now?

In 2018, it was declared that there were 40 million illegal immigrants in Assam. Now, after revision, the figure has been reduced to 1.9 million. Have these 2.1 million disappeared overnight? There is no clear policy as to what the state will do with those who are still 'non-citizens' according to the revised final estimate. Mr Jaishankar recently commented in Dhaka that the subject of the NRC is an internal affair of India. This betrays a vagueness about how citizenship can be proved or judged. The BJP has also made it clear that it will go on identifying 'foreigners' in order to drive them out. Will the 1.9 million persons excluded from the Register now live in prisoners' camps, or will they live in Assam but will not have any right, i.e. right to food, right to education, right to healthcare or even right to life?
Those who are somewhat informed of the happenings in Assam over the last four decades or so should know that in Assam, there have been repeated attacks on Bengalis, Hindus and Muslims alike, time and again. Sometimes the attacks were resisted, and sometimes the attackers were on a killing spree. Right now, the purpose of the AGP is to exclude all Bengalis who have been living in Assam for many years, and the BJP's intentions is to spare the Hindus but not the Muslims. In the infamous Nelli massacre that took place in the early 1980s five thousand Bengali Muslims were killed in one night. Even women, children and old aged persons were not spared. Unfortunately, the Assamese chauvinists could use a tribe named Lalung in perpetrating this massacre. A repetition of this horrible episode cannot be ruled out.

 How, when and why did these Muslims come to Assam? This is a question that must be answered in order to expose the nefarious designs of the BJP-AGP combine. In the pre-British days, the "Char areas" of the Brahmaputra river were scarcely cultivable, because they were flooded for a considerable part of the year and the flood water was several feet deep. The Assamese peasants did not know the technology of cultivation in these inundated areas. In the mid-nineteenth century, when the British started setting up tea gardens in Assam, hundreds of thousands of workers were brought from the Jharkhand region to work in the gardens. Feeding them was a problem and solution to this problem required the extension of paddy cultivation. So, peasants of Mymensingh and nearby districts of Eastern Bengal, encouraged and aided by the British, started to settle in the char areas and to begin cultivation of paddy. With their hard work, these peasants, predominantly Muslims and low-caste Hindus, converted the fallow lands into cultivable lands. They mostly settled in the 'char' areas of Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Naogaon etc. The prosperous agriculture of 'char' areas is their contribution.

Owing to the aggressive design of Assamese chauvinist and communal forces, led by Assamese upper caste Hindus, these people have been targets of time to time murderous attacks. The Nelli genocide was a glaring example, but such riots took place on many other occasions also. Not only Bengali-speaking Muslims, but Bengali Hindus were also killed. Now, it is well-nigh impossible for those who settled before the partition of the country and have been subject to systematic riots and occasional natural calamities to produce citizenship certificates after such a long span of time. Besides, there are past examples when even after the show of such certificates, Bengali-speaking persons have been attacked in the name of driving out foreigners. Now, if they are excluded from citizenship, it will certainly be a flagrant violation of elementary human rights. Although exact figures are not known, it is highly probable that a large number of them have been excluded.

 There is continuous propaganda that Assam and West Bengal are flooded with illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. If it were true, the population of Bangladesh would have been considerably reduced by this human flood. But nothing like this has happened; at least there is scarcely any evidence to justify this propaganda. After all, why should Muslims migrate to India from a country where they have no fear of religious persecution? Bangladesh is at present somewhat behind India in respect Human Development Index, but the gap is not a gigantic one. There are many economic problems; problems of corruption, exploitation, poverty etc, but they are not as yet so monstrous as to drive large numbers to India. The well-orchestrated propaganda is clearly designed to further marginalise Muslims socially and politically. The so-called NRC drama accords perfectly well with this propaganda.

In the early eighties of the last century, a well-known leader of the BJP publicly said that the troubles in Assam were due to three forces, the Alis (Muslims), the coolies (the wage-earning tea-garden workers) and the Bangalis (the Bengali-speaking people). This reflected the attitude of the leader who hated Muslims, Bengalis and plantation workers, justifying super-exploitation of them and proving himself a lackey of these exploiters. This mindset is still very much there and is made to work in more subtle and devious ways.


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Vol. 52, No. 12, Sep 22 - 28, 2019