By Kishor Kumar Kalita
The proposed amendment of the Citizenship Act, 1955 has raised a number of serious questions that concerns the linguistic identity of Assamese speaking people and the demographic changes they are facing as a result of proposed legal provisions to confer citizenship to a group of migrants, particularly the Hindu Bengalis. The Central government’s intended move has also raised an enduring apprehension among the indigenous people of this State, frequently experiencing the process of minoritization due to ubated influx that eventually result in socio-psychological domition of the majority groups, both in terms of language and religion, over the indigenous minority of this region. The Government of India is attempting to amend Section 2, section 7D and the Third schedule of the above-mentioned Act through an amendment bill i.e. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, that has generated much hue and cry among the people of Assam. People are considering the present amendment a threat to the linguistic identity of the Assamese speaking people and a systematic mechanism to wipe out the provisions of Assam Accord which came into being as a result of decadal struggle of the Assamese people to safeguard their culture and identity.
The intended amendment has produced serious apprehensions among the Assamese people as well as other linguistic minorities of the State, particularly people speaking the tribal languages. Such apprehensions can be summarized as follows:
First, the proposed amendment has raised memories among the tive people of a dark chapter in the history of Assam in the nineteenth century when the British colonial administration imposed Bengali language as the medium of instruction with the intention to amalgamate the local people of the State with the subjects of Bengal. The then commissioner of Assam Francis Jenkins postulated a reason for the introduction of Bengali language in Assam when he said: “Whilst the adoption, therefore, of Bengali as medium of instruction to the Assamese seemed expedient, under every circumstance of policy, for the gradual amalgamation of the people Assam with our subjects in Bengal, with whom they are in direct communication and immediate neighbor and the administration to the affairs of this newly province…” (Source: Jenkins to Grey, Gowahatty, December 7, 1854, cited in Barpujari’s ‘The American Missiories and North East India’, Page 150). The indigenous people of Assam have already witnessed the rapid demographic changes in neighboring Tripura, where within a three decades of post independent period, because of the aggressive existence of lakhs of Hindu Bengali migrants, the indigenous Tripuri communities became a minority. It is worthwhile to mention here that the total population of Tripura was 6,45,707 in 1951 while the number of the registered Hindu Bengali migrants was 6,09,998 during the period 1947 to 1971.The percentage of the indigenous communities of that state was reduced to 39.19% in 1971 and from then onward, the overall state of affairs in Tripura was gradually captured by the migrant Bengalis. A similar phenomenon is in the process in Assam and the exterl aggression is posing a severe threat to the existence of Assamese and other indigenous cultures and languages in this State. The proposed amendment will facilitate registration of a huge number of foreign tiols as Indian citizens, which would eventually accelerate the process of extinction of local languages as well as culture.
Secondly, most of the indigenous communities of Assam are demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status while at the same time asking for protective constitutiol mechanism to safeguard their culture and identity. Such demands evolved in a context where a community with lesser numbers frequently has to counter an aggressive majority community, with often bitter experiences of psycho-social inferiority. The Government of India is now adopting a paradoxical strategy through which it is promising to provide protective legal and constitutiol instruments to these communities, while at the same time moving ahead to amend provisions of the Citizenship Act — which will ultimately open the door to illegal migrants to settle in Assam. There is no doubt that rapid increase of a particular community in the State as a consequence of this amendment will affect representative politics in the State, and the indigenous people will have little space in the State polity in the near future.
Thirdly, the Assam accord signed in 1985 is a legitimate instrument through which a number of legislative and administrative promises emated. A series of judicial and administrative measures are now in progress as a result of implementation of Assam Accord, out of which the identification and expulsion of foreigners may be considered as the prime one. Moreover the preparation of tiol Register of Citizenship (NRC) is also considered a crucial demand of the people of the State in the context of decadal disturbances centering around citizenship. The proposed amendment being put forward by the Centre is nothing but an electoral promise to appease the Bengali Hindu community of the country, through which the BJP is seeking a permanent space in the politics of Assam. The local communities of the State are therefore viewing with trepidation this proposed amendment, which will jeopardize the implementation of Assam Accord and reduce the historic struggle of the Assamese people into insignificance.
Lastly, a group of people have been arguing for amendment of Article 371B of the Indian Constitution for conferring special status to Assam on the same footing as Kashmir, and for making constitutiol assurances to fulfill the Assam Accord. The proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act virtually negates such suggestions. Therefore, conscious citizens of the State want a complete withdrawal of the said proposed bill. If the Central government under the leadership of Bharatiya Jata Party wants forceful ectment and implementation of the said provisions, then it would definitely go against the wish of the Assamese people. Furthermore, it would accelerate the process of ‘durable disorder’ in this part of the country with new element of turbulence and social enmity.
(The author is a practicing advocate in Gauhati High Court)