‘Assam No Dumping Ground for Illegal Bangladeshis’: AASU Chief Adviser on Why NRC Must Detect, Delete & Deport
Thirty-four years after the Assam Movement, and ahead of the publication of the final NRC on August 31, News18 spoke to AASU’s chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya to trace the struggles of a state marked by repeated interventions in citizenship.
Members of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) taking out a procession in Guwahati against the Central government's move to grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants.
Guwahati: The All Assam Students Union (AASU) has been at the forefront for the demand of an illegal immigrant free Assam. It spearheaded the Assam Movement between 1979-1985 which culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord – a tripartite agreement between AASU, the Centre and the government of Assam for the protection of Assamese language, culture and identity.
Thirty-four years after the Movement, and ahead of the publication of the final NRC on August 31, News18 spoke to AASU’s chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya to trace the struggles of a state marked by repeated interventions in citizenship.
The AASU was integral to the long-drawn demand for updating the National Register of Citizens. Has the common man really understood the idea of citizenship and stateless?
The indigenous people of Assam understand the idea of citizenship and stateless because we have faced this problem for a long time now. We are becoming a minority in our own land. We cannot stay like a second-class citizen and Assam is not a dumping ground for illegal Bangladeshis. It is a question of our own survival. So the NRC is a must.
Around 3.29 crore people applied for the NRC, 6.6 crore documents were submitted. Do you think people are not realising the situation that Assam has been under for a long time?
The Supreme Court of India has officially noted: ‘Due to large scale influx of illegal foreigners from Bangladesh, there is external aggression and internal disturbance in the state of Assam’. Even the Guwahati High Court said that here ‘the illegal Bangladeshi can enroll their name in the electoral roll and if this continues, then the indigenous people will become a minority in their own land and the foreigner will intrude upon the corridor of power’.
The Courts recognised this problem long back because the whole demographic pattern of Assam was changed due to this.
Assam shares only a 268 km border with Bangladesh that continues to remain porous. It is a crime on the part of Delhi and Dispur for not sealing this border.
Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal with AASU Chief Advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya and President and General Secretary of AASU inspecting Indo-Bangla border area at South Salmara in Mankachar (PTI)
Have the locals been burned by the legal process that the NRC is?
No. People are accepting the whole process. Crores of people applied themselves for an exercise that verifies their citizenship. They submitted so many documents as proof. The NRC is a step forward to solve foreigners' problem in Assam and people understand the sacrifices involved. People stood in queue to submit their application and documents. And the sacrifice wasn’t asked just once. The population queued to furnish Family Tree and Legacy Data from government offices too.
Assam has accepted the problem and appreciated the NRC. Everyone cooperated with the system because it’s the question of our own identity. This exercise is an opportunity because it is being fully monitored by the Supreme Court. We have full faith in it.
But, there are multiple cases of suicides and other irregularities reported because of the NRC. Some reports come from people who participated in the Assam Movement. These incidents do not paint a very comfortable picture.
The narrative has been engineered to change Assam. The indigenous people want an illegal Bangladeshi-free NRC. It is the illegal Bangladeshis who are unhappy with the exercise. These illegal occupants of Assam are trying to include themselves in the NRC by providing false documents. There is a racket in the state to prepare bogus documents.
The State Coordinator of the NRC, Prateek Hajela, had even submitted a report to the apex court. He had explained how illegal Bangladeshis manufacture documents in the state. One person had submitted the NRC application for his family using documents of his ancestors. During verification it was found that his entire family is in Bangladesh and only the applicant is in Assam. There is a design on the part of the illegal Bangladeshis to be part of Assam.
Has the NRC then come at the cost of Assam?
This narrative is all propaganda. There are many allegations, but all without concrete proof. The government has adopted all means of inquiry into the irregularities of the NRC process. It is not right to say that suicides took place because of the NRC.
Rather, the indigenous people of Assam are under tremendous anxiety and mental pressure because of the influx of illegal Bangladeshis. We have been under this mental pressure since the Assam Movement – for the last 40 years. There is a threat to our language, culture, land and identity. The human rights of the indigenous people have been violated by the foreigners and yet, there are allegations that the minorities face human rights violations. That is a wrongly constructed narrative.
We have witnessed the fate of Tripura. Out of the 40 lakh population in the state, only 12 lakh are indigenous Tripuris. It is the same in Jammu and Kashmir. We do not want Assam to become Tripura or Kashmir.
All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) chief adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya addresses a mass agitation programme against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, in Guwahati (PTI)
Citizenship anxiety is not something our law understands yet. The government has not investigated any visible forms of such anxiety. Do you think probing the anxiety experienced by applicants could have helped bridge the gap?
India is for Indians, Assam and North East is a part of India. Irrespective of the community they belong to, those who have documents will have their names in the NRC. But those who entered Assam after 1971 will have to go regardless of the anxiety they face. There is no doubt about it.
Did you envision the NRC unfold the way it has today? What were your motivations for the exercise?
There is no motivation to see the NRC unfold apart from how it was agreed upon by the then Rajiv Gandhi government in the Assam Accord. We demanded the Accord for our own good.
In other parts of the country, the date of detection of illegal foreigners is 1948, but here it is 1971. Our state accepted the load of illegal Muslims from 1948 to 1971. Assam is a small state and we can no longer take the load.
Political parties have their own motivations for the NRC. They are looking out for their vote banks and are a part of the nexus that is trying to malign the whole process. They have spread misinformation. The NRC is not against Hindus, Muslims or any language but only against illegal Bangladeshis residing here.
Is illegal immigration in Assam a border problem or a population problem?
It’s a national problem. Since the Assam Movement we have been saying: ‘Save Assam Today to Save India Tomorrow’. The government of Assam and the Centre have time and again agreed that there is a porous India-Bangladesh border.
Along with illegal Bangladeshis, extremist and fundamentalist groups today are entering India through Assam. This area is a transit route for them. Some groups have published and posted photos of their groups in local newspapers. This is a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the country. But the government is not taking any action. They are compromising with India.
For the government, there is nothing beyond Kolkata. They have adopted all effective means to seal borders in the Western parts of India. What are they doing here? It has been 34 years and they could not seal the border.
The Centre recently formed a committee to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord that provides constitutional safeguards for the Assamese people. But, what will happen to those excluded from the NRC?
The AASU via the Assam Accord demanded for the constitutional safeguarding of the Assamese people for the sufferings between 1948 and 1971. The NRC is an instrument for our protection post 1971.
Those excluded must be deported. There are three D’s in Assam: detect, delete, deport. There is no question for work permits for them.
But, the government of India is not acting effectively on this. Our government does not have a bilateral treaty with Bangladesh yet. The Central government claims that there is a friendly government in Bangladesh. The Supreme Court had directed the government to have a dialogue in order to streamline the deportation process. Those in power must complete their dialogue at the earliest. Time is running out.
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