(The writer is a research scholar, Department of Instrumentation and USIC, GU. He can be reached at [email protected])
Illegal migration to the Northeast, particularly to Assam, is not a concocted story. It has a long history. During British period, British officers used to bring groups of hard-working people from different parts of India, especially from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) for their convenience. They asked them to settle in forest land, riverine sars etc and entrusted them different uphill tasks. Gradually migration to Assam became a continuous occurrence. Flow of illegal migration has not been stopped after independence also. The government did not take any fruitful steps to discontinue this illegal practice rather it used these people as vote bank and extended all government facilities to them. These undue advantages inspired them and articulated their gratitude by casting votes in favour of ruling parties. In course of time, it becomes a serious threat to indigenous people of Assam. It poses real challenges to the Assamese culture and language. Time to time different regional and national political parties protested against illegal migration. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) initiated world famous Assam agitation against the foreigners staying in Assam in 1979. Main slogan of the agitation was to deport illegal migrants from Assam. After sacrificing 855 martyrs in the six years (1979-1985) of agitation an accord was signed among the Central Government, the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parisad (AAGSP). This is known as the Assam accord, and was signed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi on 15th August, 1985. Under Assam Accord, foreigners who had entered Assam before 25th March (midnight of 24th March) 1971 were to be given citizenship. Religious persecution was no consideration. The rest had to be expelled. Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people. But after 35 years also the Assam accord has not been implemented. The irony is that the Citizen (Amendment) Act, 2019 have paved the way of getting citizenship to a person (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian) who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and has lived in India for six years. This Act has diluted and violated the Assam Accord. Now it (CAA) becomes a Damocles sword which is hanging the over Assamese people.
The real truth is that in Assam there were only 48.38 per cent Assamese speakers in 2011 against 48.80 per cent in 2001 and 57.81 per cent in 1991 (language census). On the other hand, there were 21.67 per cent Bengali speakers in 1991, 27.54 per cent in 2001 and 28.91 per cent in 2011 (language census) in Assam. While Assamese speakers have declined in every decade, Bengali speakers are increasing in the State. Assam has already experienced a dark age of the Assamese language from 1836 to 1873 (37 years), during which Bengali eclipsed the Assamese language. The Bengali language was imposed over Assamese. Therefore, it is natural that indigenous Assamese are scared of for their identity and protesting against the CAA. This Act has become a real acid test for Assam. In the parliament on 14th July, 2004 Union Minister of State Prakash Jaiswal stated that the estimated number of illegal Bangladeshis in Assam as on December 31, 2003 was 50 lakh. If we project 18 per cent decadal population growth of all India growth rate, i.e 1.8 per cent annually, then we can imagine that illegal Bangladeshi population will be near about 60 lakh in Assam. It is not a negligible number. Assam is going to be second Tripura in near future where indigenous Tripuris have become minorities, and still struggling for their identity.
Recently the Assam government has declared that the Assamese language and culture would be protected under clause VI of the Assam accord. The new land law is also being introduced to save Assam’s land from foreigners. But all these are in very initial stage and not enough to save language and culture of Assam. Assam already has taken a huge burden of foreigners for 20 years (1951 to 1971). The state is suffering from chronic flood problems, unemployment problems and a many more. These are laying unsolved due to political twist. At this stage the CAA would push Assam to foreigners dumping ground and indigenous Assamese would lose their uniqueness on their mother land. Assam must be out of the ambit of the CAA to save Assamese from the brink of extinction.