Voices from Assam
An insider’s take on the situation: what is real vs the rumours that have been spreading
Before I start this article, let me tell you a little but about my homeland, Assam — a north-eastern province of the largest democracy in the world, India. From 1979–1985 the Assam Agitation took place. This was a largely non-violent protest by the natives of Assam against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. During these troubled times, colleges and offices were shut down for more than one year and nearly 860+ people sacrificed their lives in the hope of an Infiltration-free Assam.
The movement came to an end when the Government agreed to some of the demands and signed the Assam Accord in August 1985. According to this,
Foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971, shall continue to be detected, deleted and practical steps shall be taken to expel such foreigners.
Basically any person who came to Assam after March 25, 1971, shouldn’t be considered as a citizen and they shouldn’t be granted voting rights etc. In addition, they also should be identified and expelled.
On 11th December, 2019, the Indian government passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, according to which-
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (the CAB, in short) seeks to give Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
As a consequence, several districts in Assam have been protesting earnestly against the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 for the past 3 days. The protests have been peaceful and lakhs of citizens have taken up hunger strikes to protest against the recent Citizenship Amendment Bill. In spite of that, the government has taken HARSH measures to curb the dissent. Here is what the people of Assam have been facing-
- Internet services have been cut-off in the region
- Trains and flights have been cancelled
- An indefinite curfew has been imposed in all parts of the state.
If you’re still thinking people are protesting because CAB is “anti-secular” here is the ACTUAL reason why protests have been flaring up all over the region:
A minority in your own home?
There are already crores of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants settled all over Assam. If you’re looking for official statistics, here’s what I found: in 2009, there were 15 million Bangladeshis living in Assam. The situation is worse now. To scale that within a few years, the natives of Assam are scared that they will become the minority in their own state. (Keep in mind that these statistics are 10 years old. You can extrapolate the data to get an idea of the current scenario.)
These Bangladeshi immigrants live in congested slums with houses made of discarded plastic and have settled in river banks and in forests after cutting down several ancient forests of the region. The Citizenship Amendment Bill that promises citizenship to Bangladeshi immigrants (not just Hindu, but belonging to 5 other religions) is set to open up an influx of several more crores of Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants into the country, specifically the state of Assam.
Where will these people live?
Nation-wide vs region-specific:
The government hasn’t laid any rules as to where it will settle the Bangladeshi immigrants. In absence of such official guidelines, the people of Assam are scared they will end up settling here. If we look at statistics, Assam occupies less than 2.38% of India’s total land area.
How can such a small state bear the brunt of so many newcomers?
A land rich in diversity threatened with identity-loss:
Assam isn’t populated only by the Assamese. There are 272 tribes in Assam who speak 60+ diff languages. Some tribes have been marginalized such, that barely 1000 people remain. In such a fragile situation, how can the natives of Assam not fear that this sudden influx of Bangladeshi immigrants will completely overwhelm the local population and suppress their voices, culture, and opinions?
Why seclude the region from the nation?
When the ENTIRE state is protesting, why have the internet services been cut off in the region? How will the rest of the nation hear the voice of the people of Assam if we are made to live under a rock?
The people of Assam understood the implications of a large-scale immigration almost 40 years ago, which lead to one of the biggest movements in the history of democratic India. Now, in a single day, CAB seeks to undo all they had fought for. The sacrifices of those 860+ lives have been rendered meaningless. That is why the Assamese brothers and sisters are on the streets fighting for what is rightfully theirs.
Yes, we the Assamese understand the humanitarian aspect of the refugee situation. We know the immigrants have come to India because living at home is no longer an option for them. But then again, before caring for immigrants, shouldn’t the government of India care for its citizens first?
Before passing such a drastic bill, why didn’t the government of India take into consideration the opinion of the people CAB will affect the MOST — i.e. the people of Assam?