Expanded definition of Assamese people

The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), by making public the report of the High-Level Committee on Clause 6
Expanded definition of Assamese people

The All Assam Students' Union (AASU), by making public the report of the High-Level Committee on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, has pushed a wider definition of the 'Assamese people' in the public domain. The committee recommended that for the purpose of providing constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, the term "Assamese People" shall be construed as any citizen of India belonging to Assamese community, any indigenous tribal community, any other indigenous community and all other citizens of India who have been residing in Assam on or before January 1, 1951 and their descendants. The committee has recommended reservations of seats for 'Assamese people' as defined in the report, in parliament, assembly, and local bodies to the extent of 80 -100 per cent including the existing reservation. Even though the accord clause only mentions 'Assamese people', the committee after deliberations and upon consideration of the various representations from the stakeholders and interactions with various organizations and individuals, has come to the conclusion that the definition of Assamese People for specific purpose of implementation of Clause 6 of Assam Accord should consist of 'Indigenous Tribals' as well as 'other Indigenous Communities of Assam' over and above 'Indigenous Assamese'. Definition of Assamese people with respect to 1951 cut-off year is a wider definition and includes migrant settlers of erstwhile East Bengal origin and different language speakers from other parts of India who came to Assam prior to this cut-off date and their descendants. It will shape a new notion of the 'Assamese people' to be wider and inclusive community that will replace the perceived notion of Assamese people to be group of people born in Assam and speaking only Assamese language. This definition, however, leaves out Indian citizens residing in Assam between January 1, 1951 and March 24, 1971 and their descendants whose names have been included in the final updated National Register of Citizens or are eligible to be included in it. Hundred per cent reservation of seats in the elected bodies will lead to total exclusion and if the reservation is made to the extent of 80 per cent then 20 per cent seats will facilitate representation of the Indian citizens and their descendant residing in the state post 1951 including those who migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan and are treated as Indians under the clause 5 of the Assam Accord. Reservation of majority of seats for 'Assamese people' will remove the apprehension of existential threat to linguistic, ethnic, and cultural identities due to demographic change caused by influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. However, ensuring representation of every section of Indian citizens residing permanently in a state in elected bodies is also critical to strengthening constitutional democracy like India where pluralism has kept it vibrant. Another key recommendation of the committee is amending the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 to bring Assam under its ambit for introducing the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime in the state. Neither the Modi government nor the Sonowal government is comfortable with this recommendation as it would then imply keeping the entire state from the purview of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. As of now only the Sixth Schedule Areas of the state are exempted from the purview of the act. In the face of stiff opposition to CAA, both Delhi and Dispur built the argument that implementation of the clause 6 of the accord would provide constitutional safeguards to the Assamese people and they have nothing to fear from granting of citizenship to post 1971 Hindu and other non-Muslim "illegal Bangladeshi migrants." This recommendation, therefore, explains why the Central and the State governments have been silent on the report of the Committee even though the Centre promised on the floor of the parliament to implement the recommendations in toto as soon as they are submitted. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated his government assurance to implement the Clause 6 without delay while addressing a rally at Kokrajhar on February 7. However, both the governments have not said a single word on the report even though it was submitted on February 25. The AASU has rightly defended its action of making public the report saying that the people of Assam have the right to know about the recommendations. On their part both the Central and the Assam governments by their muted response towards the report submitted by a committee constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs have only weakened their own defense in favour of CAA. Both the Central government and the State government should clarify their positions on the committee's report and the recommendations. Government's silence is not going to make these irrelevant. It will only strengthen the campaign ahead of 2021 Assembly polls that the ruling BJP has gone back on its 2016 poll promise of implementing the Assam Accord in letter and spirit. 

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