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Who is Indigenous?

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  25 March 2018 12:00 AM GMT

The word indigenous has been doing the rounds far more intensely these days even as it had hit subtiolist imagition in Assam right when the AASU took to the streets in 1979 to oust the illegal aliens from Bangladesh teeming in millions and resorting to tricks of all kinds to register their mes in the State’s voters list. The same year, a parallel outfit, but with guns in the hands of its members, sprouted out of a sovereignty imagition – the ULFA. These boys wanted total liberation from the ‘colonial’ clutch of the Indian Constitution. The Treaty of Yandaboo, 1826 was their inspiration. They said that before the treaty Assam was an independent entity, hence it must remain so even now. Indigenous was their pet word too. And now, as if the vestiges of their romance with sovereignty and what they would call ‘revolution for the emancipation of the Assamese masses’ must again be resurrected, a pro-talks ULFA leader, Anup Chetia, who had spent about six years in a Bangladesh jail, recently blurted out that the tea tribes of the State could not be indigenous here! His claim is that those who resided in Assam before the Treaty of Yandaboo, inked on February 24, 1826 that led to Assam’s merger with the British, are the only rightful indigenous people. The date – February 24, 1826 – is a monumental obsession with the ULFA. It has failed to come out of that date cocoon despite the winds of change that have blown in different new directions since then.

It is in this context that the mass convention organized by the Chah Jagoshti Adivasi Joutha Mancha in Dibrugarh on Saturday assumes great significance. An unprecedented crowd thronged the convention, which was in protest against the bizarre Anup Chetia discourse. While AASI adviser Samujjal Bhattacharjya made it categorical that the State’s tea tribes are an “integral part of Assam without whom the Assamese society is incomplete”, eminent author and former Axom Xahitya Xabha president Dr gen Saikia made it plain enough that the controversy following Chetia’s comment is senseless and there is no need to classify the tea tribes as they are already “Assamese people”. But what is remarkable about Dr Saikia’s candour is this: that migration of people from one place to another is a tural process and will continue for eternity, and that a mere date – February 24, 1826 – cannot be a true indicator of one’s indigenousness. What he had in mind was simple and progressive: that one’s contribution to the region concerned – Assam in the instant case – should rather be considered far more than that date. We welcome this. Assam’s tea tribes have to their credit a huge contribution to the State’s economy, apart from their solidarity with the real causes of the State such as when their students made sacrifices during the Assam Agitation against illegal Bangladeshis, as Bhattacharjya has rightly observed. Therefore, no one has the right to classify them as non-indigenous, and their problems are also the problems of the State, as he has again rightly said. But this does not suit the expedience of the likes of the pro-talks ULFA leader in question.

Here is a mighty rebuke to the Anup Chetia ilk. They better mind it for their future course of action. Times have changed, and the present generation of the greater Assamese society has other pressing issues in hand, such as quality education, skills aspiration, employment, and its participation in a meaningful and sustaible development story. As for the word indigenous, its broader definition still eludes us even after about 33 years of the Assam Accord’s iuguration, and there is no reason to believe this definition will not elude us further. For, there is no consensus at all, nor is there any serious and sincere attempt to arrive at one.

For a 'Thinking' Lot

Former RBI Governor Dr Raghuram Rajan, whose intellectual flamboyance needs no mention, has a grand idea. Currently Professor of Fince at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, what he is “trying to do is to create a new generation of thinking Indians who will contribute to the development of globe”, and he and his team “intend to bring something to the table that simply doesn’t exist in our country today but is very much warranted for our future”. The idea is Krea University, a liberal arts university, even as it will offer sciences courses, to be established at Sri City in Andhra Pradesh out of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) corpus of funds pouring in from a dedicated group of corporate donors, including the Mahindras and the Jindals, in association with Dr Rajan. Likely to be set up with an initial investment of Rs 750 crore by 2020 in a 200-acre campus, the university will offer a four-year undergraduate programme in liberal arts and sciences leading to BA (Honours) and BSc (Honours) degrees, unlike the three-year programme in vogue. Dr Rajan will be an adviser to the university’s governing council manned by corporate honchos.

Dr Rajan says he is excited about the Krea University possibility. Our universities are eminent for stereotypical thinking. They are not known for out-of-box ideas and ingenuity. Their dismal ranks in world university rankings are a clear pointer to that fact of our academic and intellectual life. PhDs here are mostly a mere means to go shopping in the job market or for promotion in the ladder of the teaching hierarchy. Time to break this is now, given the country’s youth aspirations and the call for a knowledge society. At the same time, a university cannot merely remain a teaching-learning architecture of old-fashioned teachers and bored learners. Knowledge accumulation and generation must be an exciting enterprise. Therefore, what the brainchild of Dr Rajan and his team seeks to achieve will be keenly watched.

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