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WHO IS ASSAMESE?

Focus: GS-II Governance

Introduction

  • The Assam Accord was signed at the end of a six-year agitation (1979-85) against illegal migration from Bangladesh.
  • In the context of the Accord, the question of who is Assamese stems from the language of Clause 6: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”

Those who Speak Assamese = Assamese?

  • The definition of “Assamese” cannot be so narrow as to mean only those who speak Assamese as their first language, as Assam has many indigenous tribal and ethnic communities with their own ancestral languages.
  • Thus, it was necessary to expand the definition of “Assamese” beyond the Assamese-speaking population.
  • Those not eligible for the safeguards under Clause 6 would clearly be from among the migrant populations

In this context who is a migrant?

  • In popular conversation, the idea of “indigenous” is taken to mean communities who trace their histories in Assam before 1826, the year when the erstwhile kingdom of Assam was annexed to British India.
  • Large-scale migration from East Bengal took place during British rule, followed by further waves after Independence.
  • The 1979-85 Assam Movement was triggered by fears that these Bengali Muslim and Bengali Hindu migrants would one day overrun the indigenous population, and dominate the resources and politics of the state.
  • During the agitation, the demand was for the detection and deportation of those who had migrated after 1951.
  • The Assam Accord was settled at a cut-off of March 24, 1971; anyone who arrived in Assam before that cut-off would be considered a citizen of India.
  • Because the Accord legalised additional migrants (1951-71) against the original demand of 1951, Clause 6 was incorporated as a safeguard for the indigenous people.

How has Clause 6 been taken up since?

The matter got urgency last year amid protests by the Assamese against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (now an Act) which makes it easier for certain categories of migrants to get Indian citizenship — the key here being Hindus from Bangladesh.

Committee recommendations

  • For the purpose of implementation of Clause 6, the proposed definition includes indigenous tribals, other indigenous communities, all other citizens of India residing in Assam on or before January 1, 1951 and indigenous Assamese — and their descendants.
  • In short, it covers anyone who can prove their presence (or that of their ancestors) in Assam before 1951.
  • As for safeguards, the committee has recommended reservations in legislature and jobs for “Assamese people”, and that “land rights be confined” to them.

Issues raised

  • Since the 1951 NRC is not available in several parts of the state, concerns regarding “How to prove that a person has been in Assam prior to 1951?” are raised.
  • Concerns are also raised regarding how pre-1971 migrants will be accommodated.

-Source: Indian Express

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September 2022
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