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In search of the 'Assamese' identity…

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  7 March 2015 12:00 AM GMT


GUWAHATI, March 6: With the Assam government admitting in the Assembly recently that it has not yet found an acceptable definition of who is an ‘Assamese’, a huge controversy has been triggered off with different political parties, social and indigenous groups staking out their own positions. The question deals with a sensitive and emotive issue with clear political overtones. This is because the definition of ‘Assamese’ is required under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord to provide constitutiol, legislative and administrative safeguards to the ‘Assamese’ people. Though the historic Accord was signed way back in 1985, this identity issue has not been resolved till date, raising doubts about the relevance of the Accord itself.

However, State Assembly Speaker Prab Kumar Gogoi on Thursday told the House that he will take persol initiative by holding discussions with the people and the groups concerned, to get their opinions on the issue. The Sentinel spoke to some leading persons to elicit their views on the definition of ‘Assamese’. The excerpts:

Kamalakanta Mushahary, general secretary, Bodo Sahitya Sabha:

In the me of fixing the definition of ‘Assamese’, the Bodo Sahitya Sabha will never allow the inclusion of illegal tiols who are living in the State. For the illegal tiols who came to Assam after March 25, 1971, the Sabha will not allow the Government giving them constitutiol safeguards by any means.

In October 2005, a meeting was held on this issue at the Secretariat between the State government and different literary bodies. It was chaired by the then State Chief Secretary Prafulla Chandra Sharma. We are still following the points mentioned in the minutes of that meeting.

As far as my opinion is concerned, a person cannot be an Assamese only on the basis that he or she speaks the Assamese language and has embraced Assamese culture.

“Since the ethnic groups like Bodo, Mising, Karbi, Rabha, Tiwa, etc. have their own identities with distinctive language, culture, heritage and historical background, the word ‘Assamese’ used in Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, 1985, is too ambiguous to include the communities in it. Therefore, the term ‘Assamese’ should be replaced by the phrase ‘Indigenous People of Assam’,” he said, quoting one of the resolutions of the October 2005 meeting.

Samujjal Kr Bhattacharjee, advisor, AASU:

The State government is not interested in giving constitutiol rights to the indigenous people of Assam, and that is why it has started a sty politics with the Assamese definition issue. There is a need to define the term ‘Assamese’ so that no illegal Bangladeshi can fight Assembly elections from any constituency in the State. Once the definition is fixed, more and more seats will be reserved for Assamese candidates.

Dr Basanta Kumar Doley, ex-president, Mising Sahitya Sabha:

The people who came to the State after March 25, 1971, cannot be treated as Assamese. I have been talking about the ‘Assamese’ definition issue since 1980, but the State government is yet to fix a proper definition.

Those people who have been living in the State for generations can be considered as Assamese. Generation-wise these people have embraced the Assamese culture and they also speak the Assamese language.

To distinguish Assamese people from non-Assamese, selection of a base year is a must. Those who came to the State before 1975 can be treated as Assamese and they should be given constitutiol safeguards.

Deven Dutta, public activist:

First of all, there is a question I want to ask — Has anyone asked who is a Gujarati? Who is a Punjabi? Who is a Bihari? Then why is such a question being put to the Assamese? Why didn’t the Central government ask this question to the Assam Agitation leaders when the Assam Accord was signed? In any case, according to me, the term ‘Assamese’ should encompass the following people – (i) the indigenous tribals (Tiwas, Rabhas, Misings, Bodos, Karbis, Dimasas, Deuris, Kacharis, Thengal Kacharis, Sonowal Kacharis etc), (ii) the Ahoms, who have acted as catalytic agents, alon with Kalitas, Kayasthas, Brahmins, Koches, Keots, Kaivartas (iii) the tea tribes who came here 200 years back and have accepted the Assamese culture and language (iv) the Gurkhas (not Nepalis) and (v) the indigenous Muslims – descendents of the Turks, Pathans and Mughals – they are an ilieble part of the people of the State. Besides, there are some families from other states of the country like Rajasthan, who have adopted Assamese culture and tradition and are by heart Assamese. Here I must say it is now impossible to deport the migrants from East Bengal. There is no option but to accept them as Indians.

I am not saying that my opinion is fil. There can be some changes to it. But someone has to bell the cat. That is what I have done.

Pranjal Rajkonwar, president, All Tai Ahom Students’ Union:

The people who came to the State after the Yandaboo treaty of 1826 can be considered as Assamese. But those who came to the State recently for their livelihood cannot be treated as Assamese.

Manoj Baruah, president, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chattra Parishad:

We can follow the definition of the term ‘Assamese’ given by anthropologists. Only when it comes to deriving political benefits, does the State government raise such issues. So many years have passed, but many indigenous communities in the State are yet to enjoy the fruits of development.

Nekibur Zaman, senior advocate:

In my opinion, those who came to the State before the Yandaboo treaty and their later generations are the genuine Assamese. Before this treaty, Assam was not a part of India. From 1826 when Yandaboo treaty was signed to 1971, those who embraced Assamese culture should be given constitutiol safeguards. Sons of the soil, the Tai Ahoms, the Morans, the Motoks, the indigenous Muslims and the Koch Rajbongshis are also the Assamese people.

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