By Anirban Choudhury
Both the Centre and Assam government seem to be buckling up for the situation post publication of draft tiol Register of Citizens (NRC). And not without reason. The 100 Foreigners’ Tribuls (FTs) is expected to face a surge in the number of cases referred to them. For, as a tural corollary to NRC update, individuals whose mes won’t find mention following the update will be referred to the FTs. And for this, New Delhi has asked Dispur to prepare a standard norm to ensure smooth functioning of the tribuls (The Sentinel, 10th October 2017). Further, the possibility of a socio-political tumult gripping the State post publication of draft NRC is also keeping both New Delhi and Dispur on tenterhooks.
Nonetheless, as the D-day (31st December 2017) for publishing the draft NRC approaches, there is an all-round air of optimism vis-à-vis the vexed issue of illegal foreigners. While many are hoping that the Bangladeshi issue will be filly resolved once and for all, there’s also an air of uncertainty as to what happens next – will those whose mes don’t feature in the updated NRC be thrown out of the State or disenfranchised? No one knows for sure.
And, if reports are any indication, mes of about 30 lakh people are unlikely to feature in the updated NRC. For, State Coorditor of NRC Prateek Hajela had submitted a report in the Supreme Court, under whose monitoring the entire exercise is being carried out, on 12th October that 17.4 lakh out of the 47.09 lakh people who had submitted panchayat certificates as proof of citizenship to enrol their mes in the updated NRC are origil inhabitants of Assam. So, what fate awaits the other group? And their expulsion or disenfranchisement too seems highly unlikely given the socio-political implications. So, what next?
If anything, the citizenship status of these 30 lakh individuals is only likely to snowball into a major controversy, if not lead to another politico-social conflagration. For, organisations will take up cudgels on their behalf and unlikely to give up without a fight. In fact, the All Assam Minority Students’ Union and Assam State Unit of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind have already questioned the NRC authority about the criterion adopted to segregate a group as “origil inhabitants” and pleaded before the apex court to make it public. All India United Democratic Front chief Badruddin Ajmal too has thrown his weight behind them. The court, of course, ruled that their fate will depend upon parameters fixed by it subsequently.
Also, as the NRC has not been updated in other States, what is the guarantee that many “illegal immigrants” (ready Bangladeshis) already settled in other parts of the country will not enter Assam as bofide Indians tomorrow? Will this then not nullify the “gains” of an updated NRC?
Under the circumstances, is it wrong to keep fingers crossed? Is the all-round optimism justified? Rather, an updated NRC will still not be a pacea to the core issue – illegal Bangladeshi migrants. If anything, it will only add to the rich repertoire of documents that the North-easterners already posses as proof of their residency – ration cards, EPICs, passports, NRC and Aadhar cards, besides the likes of land documents, electricity bills and PAN cards. So, was all the effort – energy, time and money – really worth?
The ghost of Bangladeshi migrants will continue to haunt the people of Assam for some more time to come (if not for eternity), NRC or otherwise. And the need of the hour is not to take a more hardened stand driven primarily by emotion that seeks to further perpetuate a skewed popular rrative vis-à-vis the history of Assam and immigration, but adopt a more dispassiote, if not more pragmatic, approach that dispels a false sense of history.
While none advocates immigration to the Northeast (not just in Assam or only from Bangladesh), it’s also a fact that human migration is virtually impossible to stall and has been on since time immemorial. Even an advanced country like the US is failing to secure its southern boundary with Mexico, leading to large-scale influx from the neighbouring country into the world’s most powerful tion.
And in Assam, the situation has been further compounded as its political boundaries have been drawn and redrawn several times, while at the same time making them difficult to secure given their difficult terrain. Also, the borderlines with East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) have been drawn in such a manner that guarding them is a tall order.
Further, certain parts of Assam were historically part of Bengal. The three Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj were once part of Sylhet district, which, though historically part of undivided Bengal, was tagged with Assam by the British, before being again tagged with East Pakistan in 1947. While the Sylhet district was given to East Pakistan, the three Barak Valley districts remained with Assam. Similarly, Goalpara was once part of Bengal, before being tagged with Assam. (Dhubri was once part of Goalpara). And as there was a close cultural affinity and historical connection between people on both sides of the new political divide, cross-border migration continued. Actually, immigration from former East Bengal (then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh) to the Northeast is not a post 1971 phenomenon, but a historical legacy.
And add to this the general abhorrence towards hard labour among a large section of the society on this side of the border even today that incentivises such influx. So, it’s high time that things are taken into perspective to help one understand the complexity of the issues involved and work towards finding a meaningful solution. Political rhetoric won’t lead us anywhere.