The author’s research goes back as far as 1967 when the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) was formed as a movement against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
By Bunty Thoidingjam
Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty’s Assam: The Accord, The Discord is an ambitious attempt to decode the genesis of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the northeast state and the intrinsic and extrinsic history of the contentious procedure. The author, who is also a journalist, presents a balanced account of the conflicting schools of thought behind NRC and the opposition to this mammoth task.Though the issue of illegal immigrants is far from being resolved, she throws light on the matter and offers a sense of hope that the responsibility should not rest completely on Assam alone but the nation as a whole. The author says this issue has not been seen as a national problem at all and the proof of it is the absence of liberal intellectual engagement at the national level in terms of finding a solution after the final draft NRC was published.
In December 2017, she interviewed a few people, belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities, who had been in detention centres. They had been released from these centres after winning their cases in the high court. The interview had a detailed report of the ordeal they underwent after receiving a legal notice as a suspected foreigner and the inhuman conditions at the centres. The author said it was vital that all communities of the state also discern the wider implications on the state and the region and stand with the Muslim community at this juncture, a majority of whom only want to reside peacefully in the state. The grave fear from all northeast states is that if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 is passed, it will seek to provide Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities — Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis — from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, provided their stay in the country is for seven years. Currently, 12 years is the norm for the six communities.
The author’s research goes back as far as 1967 when the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) was formed as a movement against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and in 1950, how the Centre brought in a special ordinance, which was promulgated in January and passed in February. In 1951, the ministry of home affairs instructed the government to prepare an exclusive register of citizens for Assam. In the course of time from 1951 till 2019, when the final list of NRC came out, the author tries to unearth the nature of student unions’ activism, socio-economic factors, border infiltration, militant outfits and political adversaries during this time in this northeast state. She also highlights the exploitative nature of national and regional political parties as Assam struggles government after government to resolve this border issue. She writes that over the years, various political forces have been misusing the issue for their benefit; new batches of politicians have catapulted themselves to positions of power through it but the mother issue has remained unresolved and, therefore, it needs wider intellectual participation to hit upon a solution.She makes crucial points in the history of the state in terms of growth of Assamese identity. Speaking on mother tongue, she says: “Finding their language in their homeland suddenly of no practical value must have germinated not just frustration but also rejection towards the migrants, whose language was preferred.”
She highlights that many of the present Assamese caste Hindu families have Bengali Hindu origins and it is known that they came to spread Brahmanical caste and gradually merged into the Assamese culture. She denotes that during the British colonial rule, the Bengali Hindus were using their mother tongue as the official language and dealing with the affairs of the native class by becoming the face of the colonial state. So, what the British colonial rule did was imposition of a foreign language on the people.
The book, for me, is a study on the upheavals in Assam or the forces which cause it, though it might be flagged for the contentious issue of NRC. It will broaden the perspective of readers.