Assamese identity

By Bhaskar Phukan

A catch 22 situation is prevailing here in Assam. Section 6 of the Assam accord, signed in the year 1985, specifies a special treatment to the Assamese in order to safeguard the Assamese culture and the basic interests of the Assamese and here we are at a loss to decide who are Assamese after thirty years of signing of the accord. In other words there has been no consensus among the vast diverse groups that consist the population of Assam as to how many of them can be short listed as Assamese. There have been discussions in a lot of quarters as to the Assamese identity. Lot of discussions ,TV debates and press conferences are adding to the hectic activities to revisit the long unswered and unsettled question and find an acceptable and plausible answer .Not that this is the first occasion when the question ‘’who are the Assamese?’’ has been raised by relevant quarters; the question was raised earlier too. It had come up in the year 2007 and certain quarters, mainly those from the ethnic tribal ones, had suggested that the theory of Martinez Cobo the social scientist of intertiol recognition and repute whose suggestions have been honoured and followed in similar controversies the world over, may be followed. Broadly speaking the Martinez formula suggests that all ethnic groups and tribes that have lived and tilled in the land for generations after generations should be inducted into the Assamese fold. This theory’s application would have been too simple a matter during the late fifties or early sixties and the solution or the answer to the situation too would be too simple and short but the same cannot be said in the present context because the population pattern has changed and mostly due to the infiltration from Bangladesh that was formed in 1971.

One thing must be borne in mind here that the issue has already taken a political turn and like all issues with political overtones, this is one such issue that will be difficult to resolve. There seem to be differences about the issue between the speaker of the assembly and the chief minister and both of them belong to the same political party with the speaker of the assembly having declared retirement from active politics and the octogerian chief minister still nursing ambitions of becoming the chief minister once again who is in need of vote bank. A new force has come to garner strength and that happens to be the party med AIUDF- a party that is very often termed as the saviour of the illegal immigrants quite understandably from Bangladesh. Both the ruling party and the prime opposition party cannot do away with the illegal migrants. In such a situation one can only expect the matter to procrastite further.

It is the policy of fragmentation or to say policy of divide and rule that the Congress followed throughout their regime had taken its toll on the Assamese ethos. Their government separated the people on the lines of tribes and sub tribes and the biggest damage to the Assamese fabric was done by Rajiv Gandhi, when he in order to outdo the Assamese influence gave indulgence to Bodo militancy which now has proved to be a situation similar to that of a Frankensteinian monster for the present congress government of the state.

Bodos who are said to be the oldest inhabitants of the area called Assam were within the Assamese fold although they had a mother tongue of their own. Till about late sixties the language used by them as medium of education was Assamese. Only the ones that benefit from alieting and dividing can answer the reasons of parting of ways. gas too were the ones to have made Assamese their language and a unique language ‘’gamese’’ had evolved as a result. Here again politics of fragmentation that worked to lead the ga population away.

While comparing the situation similar to other states of the country it is to be borne in mind that here the population of the area dwelt by is people of mixed origin. Besides the earliest settlers and other tribes, the Ahoms that came to the area and ruled for over six hundred years, the tea garden workers and labourers who came during the British era - all these comprise the population of Assam. Looking at the matter simply all these people should be put together into the Assamese fold but it is not to be so for obvious reasons. The obvious reason is that Section 6 of the Assam Act along with other provisions has provisions of certain reservation provisions and the stumbling block lies there.

The issue over definition of the Assamese seems to have surfaced like never before and the debate appears to have been more serious than ever. In a state like Assam where the government has the notoriety of pushing all the priority matters to the back seat and of running the day to day governce with an casual attitude, it will only be a cry in the wilderness to expect it to evolve a consensus in the matter as expected or demanded by Asom Sahitya Sabha and the AASU. There is also an element of great risk in case the matter is decided by the government. In today’s ambience politicians are sure to act politically in all the matters and in manners that suits political interest.

In deciding this sensitive and delicate matter care must be taken not to offend or aliete any section of the population in the state that has contributed to the cause of the Assamese and those at the job must rise above political, racial or chauvinistic considerations. Government dependence will only go to spoil the issue.

Another delicate matter in this regard is the presence of an area as well as an entire valley that is Bengali speaking and it surely will be hard and challenging to resolve or settle the issue by taking these people within the fold. The matter of successful resolve of the issue will mainly depend on fruitful negotiations and interactions among cross sections of people and political and diplomatic dexterity on the part of the chief minister as the ball has been thrown at the politicians’ court by all and sundry. There will definitely be attempts to hijack and mislead the issue by interested groups whose interest lies in seeing the issue unresolved and this is where the goodwill of the politicians will be under test.

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