DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
Three decades should have been enough for the government and the civil society in Assam to evolve an acceptable definition as to who is an ‘Assamese.’ It is official yet again that a definition of an ‘Assamese’ has not yet been found because the Assam Accord Implementation minister Bhumidhar Barman has said so in the State Assembly this week. The minister has implied that in the absence of an acceptable definition of an ‘Assamese’, the government has not been able to move forward in providing constitutiol, legislative and administrative safeguards to the ‘Assamese people’ as provided for in Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord.
The minister sought to blame the Asom Sahitya Sabha, the state’s apex socio-literary body, for having failed to come up with a definition. But, the veteran minister has not taken into account either the iugural address of the new Sabha president Dr Dhrubajyoti Bora in the first week of February or the resolution of a crucial Sabha meeting on 14-15 February held in Guwahati and attended by all the newly elected central members and president of its district units. In fact, Dr Bora’s maiden address as the new Sabha president and the subsequent Guwahati meeting has more or less tried to break the impasse over the definition of an ‘Assamese.’
The Sabha’s Guwahati meeting on 14-15 February resolved that irrespective of caste, creed, religion or ethnicity, anyone who has been using Assamese as the first, second or third language would be regarded as an ‘Assamese’ and be considered a part and parcel of the Assamese society. The resolution said this would be the guiding principle for the Sabha in all future discourse on the subject. Now, since the Sabha has pretty much given its seal of approval on the definition as to who is an ‘Assamese’, this should be accepted by all concerned and anyone opposing this view must call for a debate or express their opinion in public. The state government, too, needs to take note of this.
In fact, Dr Bora has sought to solve the puzzle by making a forceful argument on the day of his installation as the new Sabha president that the Assamese identity or tiolity would be determined by those who speak or use the Assamese language, irrespective of whether it is their mother tongue or not. He said in the coming days language would be the foundation of the Assamese tiolity, and all those who have been speaking or using Assamese as the first, second or third language will together ‘define the composite Assamese identity.’
In an earlier column, I had said Dr Bora’s view is a rather bold statement in view of Assam’s socio-political faultlines where migrants from erstwhile East Bengal, who have been liberally using the Assamese language, are still sought to be bracketed as ‘Bangladeshis’ with many not ready to go by the definition or the cut-off date provided for in the Assam Accord. Dr Bora has been quoted as saying thus: “Branding these people as Bangladeshis will only hamper the growth of Assamese language and literature. It will also affect others who have embraced the Assamese language as their own.”
Assamese tiol organizations like the Sahitya Sabha have been losing its earlier influence or credibility for not taking clear stands or positions on key issues confronting the State and its people. That precisely is the reason why we have not been able to work out an acceptable definition of an ‘Assamese’ all these years and have received help from Government agencies or officials, although without unimity or success. Clarity is the need of the hour and the Sabha seems to have now realized this, but while approaching or dwelling on the subject of migrants, we must bear in mind that there are illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam as well who have entered illegally after the Assam Accord cut-off date of March 25, 1971. It is the Government’s responsibility to detect and expel this category of people. But branding every migrant settler as ‘Bangladeshi’ is not an answer to the problem of illegal migration in the State because we all know that there had been interl migration to Assam and elsewhere in the region from erstwhile East Bengal before partition.
Now that the Sabha has almost come up with a clear definition as to who is an ‘Assamese’, it is up to the state government to fine-tune things after due deliberations with all major socio-literary organizations and individuals and clinch the issue once and for all. Then, the next things that would be expected from the Assam government would be to come up with specific provisions that fall under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. But, considering the lethargy that is a distinguishing feature of the Assam government, one is not expecting things to move speedily.