Where do I stand by state identity in India 2019?

Bhaskar Majumder

Pre-1914 we did not need any Passport-Visa to move cross-border. In fact, border did not have much meaning for the people then. Most of the people lived local, and very few lived global. Apart from the Historians-Philosophers from mainly China-India for understanding the globe by commerce and culture, common people also used to move around like in Bengali literature we find that the Bengalis used to move to Burma (now Myanmar) for jobs. We mention here moving of people for learning-working, and not for conquest by military power.

It is now more than a century post-First World War. The rules also got new look globally from League of Nations to United Nations – of course, under the tutelage of the power, for the former under the British, for the latter under the US. Rules show the frontier for the common people what they are authorized to do. Once the geographic boundaries of independent states get well-mapped, the movement of people starts getting scrutinized for a number of reasons. Let me come to the context of India.

Post-independence in 1947 the state of India started getting many of the regions annexed like Goa in 1963 or Nagaland in 1963. Many of the regions like the Hyderabad dynasty had to come under the rule by the Constitution of India. India came to have a map as we find now. Some of the states in India had special rules like Sikkim, Jammu &Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh. In some such states even today people, inhabiting there for decades, are marked as insiders (indigenous) and outsiders. This raises a question mark even within the necessity of protecting ethnicity or cultural pluralism.

But where does ethnicity start or where does it end? Print media reported that the Nagaland government constituted a Commission on July 27, 2019 to frame the modalities of creating the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN). The RIIN aims to prevent issuing indigenous inhabitant certificates to ineligible persons. Following the June 29, 2019 Notification, the RIIN will help identify the citizens who settled in Nagaland prior to December 1, 1963, the day it became a full-fledged state. It is also being contemplated that RIIN will help to safeguard the state from outsiders. This is a serious matter for the people listed as ‘outsiders’ for they may be declared stateless anytime.

So far I had the idea that India is a single country with a single state upholding sovereignty, in parallel, ensuring free movement of people anywhere in India. What happens if an individual gets a regular job in a particular state that is not his state of origin by birth or by education and joins the job and marries there or the already married person after getting the job moves with family to the state to get settled there for his child’s education? If Nagaland can have RIIN, the state of Goa can claim to do the same as it also got annexed from the control of Portugal much later than the British left India. So can many other states in India unless any of them gets divided as UTs like J & K of late. If Nagaland or Manipur can escape public scrutiny for being tiny states, the major states like West Bengal or Bihar cannot. Two concepts are relevant here: one is for outsiders entering into India from other countries with Passport-Visa as needed; the other is Passport-Visa-free outsiders who enter into Nagaland or Goa or Sikkim from states like Bihar-West Bengal. The related problems are galore. Let me give my own example.

My parents had to leave East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) just ahead of Partition (1947) to come to the most adjoining state West Bengal on the west of East Pakistan (it could have been on the east also like undivided Assam), though my grandfather was willing to go back that he could not for life shortened! What my grandfather lost was not a country but a village! I am in Uttar Pradesh since past two decades, and had been in Bihar for nearly two years in between. My nuclear family is settled in Karnataka since past five years and my mother is in West Bengal. How do I define my identity as insider or outsider? If being indigenous is the criterion, then a time-span needs to be in place to identify me. I spent some years of childhood in undivided Assam independent of my choice, most of my youth in West Bengal independent of my choice, and now in UP following my choice. In case West Bengal or Karnataka or UP makes a list and rejects me as an indigenous person in all these states, then I become expendable – nowhere to go.

Let me give examples of some great men who took birth in India and seen as global men because of their vision. In memorable history, Mahatma comes first. I never saw him as a Gujarati (and in my childhood I did not know the state of his birth or state-identity). Even today I don’t know if poet Nazrul he took birth in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) or West Bengal (my ignorance may be excused). Somehow I could gather the information that Netaji (Subhas Bose) took birth in Cuttack (Odisha) and relocated to West Bengal. Suppose, today they are questioned on their state identity – what could have been the embarrassment! Why? Because how could a person like Mahatma wearing half-dhoti with no pocket/purse keep cards and numbers like multiple Identity cards, PAN, AADHAR and all that to prove his identity as insider or outsider?

In the early 1960s I was in the town Tezpur with my parents in the undivided state of Assam and faced the ‘Bangali Khedao Andolon’ (movement to evict Bengali). A few years back it was on some migrant workers from Bihar elsewhere. One adult person moves for different reasons like transfer of posting in job like my father’s engagement in River Steam Navigation (RSN) Company that covered undivided Assam, Bihar, UP and West Bengal. The children are drawn in the new locations independent of ‘Bangali Khedao’ or any such evil idea. Citizenship Register was not heard of that time. To the best of my memory, I had no card to prove my identity of state citizenship – not even birth certificate up to 1980s excepting one Voter-identity card that reflected more the enthusiasm of the polity. But then common people like me are already hassled for carrying so many cards to prove that I am a living being – living in India.

Whose fault is it to be a stateless person? After all, the child takes birth and exists independent of her parent’s directionless movement intra-country or cross-border in search of living perhaps. There may be other factors also in history that is unpredictable like the child being orphan or lost or potential victim of genocide/riots/... (an example may be Gora the child in Ravindranath’s novel Gora who had no idea till his adulthood what religion he belonged to by birth!).

There is nothing wrong in preparing any list by the state because the state has to administer. Sometimes the state as a concept also becomes fuzzy when it comes to framing laws like Government of Nagaland framing or Government of India framing. As an extension, it may disturb the very de jure federal structure if each state like Nagaland or Bihar, for example, starts taking its own decisions on ethnicity or ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. I think this can be resolved once the esteemed Parliament of India takes a rational decision on this by consensus not only through all-Party meeting but more by involving the federal state representatives and civil society. The first task will be to frame and circulate for public discourse a National Policy on Ethnicity in India.   

 Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Aug 13, 2019

Bhaskar Majumder [email protected]

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