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OPINION | Amid Protests in Assam Over Citizenship Bill, a Farmer's Plea for Land, Rights and Respect

The AASU movement against illegal immigration and identity erosion in Assam had just started. Boycott of classes, long processions, strikes, etc were nuances of our lives in those days.

Puspadhar Das |

Updated:January 11, 2019, 11:57 AM IST
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OPINION | Amid Protests in Assam Over Citizenship Bill, a Farmer's Plea for Land, Rights and Respect
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I grew up in three small towns in Assam. Back then, certain nuances of our society that affect life and liberty now, were not part of everyday expression. I started my schooling in Mukalmua, a place ravaged by flood and infiltration. These early days of my childhood, at the onset of the 1980s, found me Muslim friends.

The AASU movement against illegal immigration and identity erosion in Assam had just started. Boycott of classes, long processions, strikes, etc were nuances of our lives in those days.

My family moved to Musalpur in Baksa district of Bodoland Assam somewhere in the middle of Assam’s emerging political turmoil of late 1980s. Here, I spent the second leg of my childhood. The Bodo movement had not started yet. As a child, it all seemed pretty uneventful. Many years later, I gathered that the Principal of my school in Musalpur was murdered by his own student at the peak of the demand for Bodoland.

The last leg of my schooling was in Sonapur. This little town, closer to Guwahati is a base station to the Indian Air Force. Sonapur is a cosmopolitan town. I grew up in a heterogeneous environment where the Assam student movement was not very visible. We only used to hear stories of how student leaders were tortured, police firing, martyrs, processions, clandestine training, etc. But in 1985, when the Assam Accord was signed, things were different. A new era of Government run by student leaders emerged.

For most of my life, I have never been directly in touch with politics. My maternal grandfather was a long-time member of the state legislative assembly. The respect and awe that he drew from people was inspiring. However, I was drawn to politics. Father always taught us to be independent: to do what our free will says. This shaped my life.

In the early nineties, my sister joined the armed struggle only to vanish for almost 20 years. I too left Assam in 1992 for higher studies. Till 1997, I was out of touch with the happenings of Assam. Although, I occasionally read in the newspaper how things are changing for my family, for the society, the armed struggle, the brutal and fratricidal killings, youths going to the jungle and so on.

I came back to Assam in 1997 with the dream of starting a farm. My father had acquired some land for the same. However, the situation in Assam had gotten so worse that my parents were very worried to let me go ahead with my project. Being the only son in the family, it was very important for me to stay with my parents, even though I was not earning much. I decided to shift to Guwahati where I met many like-minded people. A new phase of my life had started.

By 2010, most of the leaders of the armed struggle were arrested and merciless killings of the youth of Assam had come down considerably. Peace was returning to Assam.

But the politicians remained the same. They changed parties and ideologies, but the basic problem of the state remained. It is appalling how they have created a fertile political ground for themselves at the cost of a divided society. They have used ethnicity, religion, caste, etc. to divide us.

The people of Assam are generally peace-loving and welcoming. I think that is why one sees such a heterogeneous mix of people in Assam. The Assamese identity is our making. The aggression, be it economic or social, has threatened our survival. Migration is universal and we welcome it. But there should be a limit to it.

Once we draw a line, once certain systems and measures are put in place, we should all respect it. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is a violation of this tenet. As a responsible neighbour, our government should certainly take steps to ensure safety of foreign citizens, but this should not mean inviting them for permanent citizenship.

All the movements and struggles that I have been witness to in my lifetime have one common thread running across them. It is the need to define and defend the Assamese identity. In this effort, many fault lines have developed and diversity and differences are only increasing.

I feel enacting the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will only aggravate the problems that loom over Assam. We are overburdened. The local people - being easy going - have been put out of business in many economic activities. Our condition is only deteriorating.

The migrants, though hard-working, are always a threat to the indigenous, leisurely, complacent local population.

We can be ruled by anybody, if elected democratically and constitutionally. If the non-performance or inability of an elected representative is masked behind communal or other colours, we cannot expect any development.

(The writer is a farmer. He has been involved in various activities like software development, printing, editing, consultancy etc. He also works for the development of rural communities, primarily through agricultural activities)

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