Need to see the reality in Assam unrest
Assam native in Mumbai advises about not getting swept up in political hysteria over National Register of Citizens
For us Assamese based in Mumbai, the first reports about the release of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam meant we rushed to check if our names were on it. They were. Never mind all the political drama that has ensued since then, the publication of the second final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is a sincere attempt by the Indian government to implement the Assam Accord of 1985.
A little history
The problem was recognised in Assam when the then Lok Sabha MP from Mangaldoi constituency, Hiralal Patowari, died in 1979 necessitating a by-election. During the preparation of the electoral rolls, there was a massive electorate increase noticed. After the Election Commission's assessment, it came to light that 45,000 illegal 'foreigners' had been listed. According to government estimates, the population of Assam rose from 14.6 million in 1971 to 19.9 million in 1981, a rise of 36.3 per cent. The massive rise is attributed to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which was observed even by India's Chief Election Officer S L Shakdher in 1978.
I witnessed the Assam agitation (1979-85), a movement led by the All Assam Students Union and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad. These mainly peaceful protests were mainly aimed to identify and expel illegal immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh. The movement culminated in August 1985, following the Assam Accord. At least 855 people died in the protests.
Standing guard at the NRC Seva Kendra at Goroimari after the release of the NRC in Assam. Pic/PTI
The implementation of the Assam Accord got delayed due to the Illegal Migration Determination by Tribunal Act (IMDT) introduced in 1983 by Indira Gandhi. Under this act, determination of foreign nationals is to be done through a tribunal in Assam, whereas in other states, it is done under the Foreigners Act, 1946. This act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2005. Despite all parties making it part of their election campaign narrative, no actual work is being done.
The NRC now remains the only hope of the people of the state to fulfil the main objective of the Assam Agitation. The draft NRC incorporates 2.89 crore people against 3.29 crore applicants. Of the remaining 40.7 lakh people, there is every possibility that most are illegal migrants, barring some anomalies committed in the exhaustive NRC process, which the Union Home Minister agreed to rectify. There may be many lakhs of illegal migrants who opted not to apply for NRC fearing detection as foreigners.
I urge the people of India to rise above vote bank politics. The reality is that lakhs of Bangladeshis are engaged in construction, infrastructure development, and agriculture and even in household work in India. Do we need a foreign workforce at a time when India is facing a huge unemployment crisis?
The NRC is a logical process, and it must address the problem of foreign nationals in Assam. No political party (here I must point to Mamta Banerjee who has never spoken for the local Assamese), religion or language should come in the way of its implementation. Those who have never lived in Assam, or seen its reality, should know this is a legitimate demand of the Assamese for peace.
The writer is president of the non-profit, The Assam Association in Mumbai.
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