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Fuss over a Definition

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  7 March 2015 12:00 AM GMT

Over the last few days, the Assam Assembly has been greatly agitated over the definition of the word Assamese. Going over the deliberations on the issue, one would think that the ability to arrive at a universally acceptable definition of the word Assamese is a matter of life and death for the entire sub-tiolity. We have had occasion in the past to draw attention to the fact that no other race or sub-tiolity has had to define its me in order to survive or to be entitled to the benefits meant for a tiolity or a sub-tiolity or even a community. For instance, the Germans and the Italians or the French and the British have never had the onerous task of defining what German, Italian, French or British stand for. Nearer home, no one has ever felt the need to ask the Bengali or the Punjabi or the Maratha or the Tamilian to define what these nomenclatures stand for. As such, why should the Assamese be required to find a definition for the word Assamese that would satisfy one and all? One might argue that finding a suitable definition for Assamese has become imperative merely because Clause 6 of the Assam Accord stipulates that “constitutiol, 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.” In a sense, therefore, the very inclusion of this clause seems to have created a problem for us. In other words, if we had not sought the assistance of the Centre “to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people” instead of regarding this as our own sacred responsibility, we might not have got into a gratuitous problem of definition of our own making. We are uware of any other tiolity or sub-tiolity that hands over such responsibilities to some other entity or the Centre instead of taking it as their own duty to protect, preserve and promote their cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage. What Clause 6 of the Assam Accord has done is similar to outsourcing a sacred duty of the Assamese people to someone else.

What we keep forgetting is that an accord cannot take the place of a law regardless of who the sigtories of the accord are unless the accord itself is ratified by Parliament. No wonder, the Indira-Mujib pact and the Nehru-Liaquat pact never had the force of law even though both the pacts have been subjects of discussions within our polity for a long time. Article 13(3) of the Indian Constitution clearly stipulates what are “laws” and “laws in force”. The Assam Accord does not satisfy the conditions of being either a law or a law in force. As such, there is no reason whatsoever to attach any great importance to an accord that has not even been implemented properly in almost 30 years. What was an even more serious blunder was for the Assam Cabinet to attempt a definition of Assamese that was not really required. It came up with the following grotesque definition on August 8, 1989: “The term Assamese people shall include an indigenous tribal, non-tribal and local linguistic population living permanently within the four geographical boundaries of Assam and the people who are at present residing within these four boundaries or all genuine citizens who have accepted the local language and culture of Assam as their own.” The expression “four geographical boundaries” is obviously a crude literal translation of the Assamese phrase “bhougolik saari ximaa” since no one talks of “four geographical boundaries” in English. In English, a State or a region has one geographical boundary that meanders around the State and joins up with the point of the boundary from which the reckoning was commenced. And who did the worthies of the Cabinet have in mind when they spoke of “the people who are at present residing within these four boundaries”? Obviously, they had the Bangladeshis in mind. And since India does not have dual citizenship as the people of the United States of America do, what does “all genuine citizens” mean in a country that is uble to issue citizenship certificates to its citizens but can issue only certificates of residence that put the Indian citizen on the same footing as a foreign tiol living illegally in our country? The definition of the Assam Cabinet was later revised to: “The term Assamese people shall mean and include all indigenous tribal, non-tribal and local linguistic population of Assam living within the four geographical boundaries of Assam and all genuine Indian citizens who have permanently settled within the four geographical boundaries of Assam and accepted practices, propagated and patronised the local language and culture of Assam as their own.” How one wishes someone within the government would show us where the “four geographical boundaries of Assam” exist since only the government seems to have identified “four geographical boundaries”! And does the “local linguistic population of Assam” not include the indigenous tribal and non-tribal populations? We would like a clarification on this point as well. The AASU would rather identify the people listed in the NRC of 1951 and their descendants as Assamese. But what would happen to an Assamese who happened to be working outside the State and could not get his/her me included in the NRC? Or take the case of an Assamese whose me got left out for no fault of his but rather because someone doing the enumerations had made an error? Should he lose his Assamese status for ever merely because of someone else’s human error? Perhaps it would be better for every self-respecting Assamese to refuse to submit to the humiliating exercise of needing a definition of Assamese in order to have an identity that is his/her birthright.

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