My first personal introduction to the flurry of activities that would be associated with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was in June 2015. My partner and I were in Australia for a conference, when my father left several text messages for us to call him. He wanted the exact spelling of my deceased father-in-law’s name, as well as the name of his village in Nagaland. “Where have you both kept your school and college certificates?” he asked when I called. Thus it began, a scramble for documents that would prove that I was indeed a citizen of India, who was from Assam and had a formidable array of evidence as proof. My father explained that my partner’s details would be sent to Nagaland and once the administration there verified the details sent to them, she too would be included in the NRC.”
Over the last few days, I’ve found myself repeatedly on the defensive—from accusations flying around about the xenophobic Northeast, that people there “just want to kick everybody out”.
Other “mainlanders” confess they are torn, wanting to understand and extend support but struggling to because they can’t align the protest there with their fight against anti-secularism.
For those of you who may still be confused, yes “mainland” India and Assam are protesting the CAA but not for the same reasons. The former are rightfully enraged over its dire implications for the Muslim community. The Assamese (not a monolithic ethnic block btw but an intricate, precarious web of over 200 tribes) are angered over how they feel it threatens their indigenous existences.
We must respond to the provocation of the fascists with sober strategic resistance, and build solidarity across different regions and communities. There is no reason to believe that the interests of the different vulnerable communities – be it small nationalities, religious minorities, tribals, dalits, refugees and migrants – cannot be addressed together. It is not necessary that they will have to be posited against each other. Through wider dialogue and conversations, such questions can be addressed adequately, as per the best democratic traditions of our country. Instead, what is being done by the RSS/BJP today is to play a cynical game of pitting one community against another, instrumentalising the grievances of one community to trample upon the rights of another, and naked State repression to control. Together, we will not let this game continue. What they fear most is the coming together of the oppressed and the subjugated. With empathy and solidarity with each other, we will defeat the evil designs of the Hindutva forces.
By relegating the cries of the North-East region to fringes, a strong and powerful ‘liberal’ discourse on ‘secularism’ has emerged in India’s ‘heartland’. One can clearly observe the immorality of this discourse; news reports, opinion pieces announce the new Citizen Act as “islamophobic” and “anti-secular” while using images from the protesting ‘North-East’. One will also find news reports where images are used from the current Assam protest and the news item never mentions the protest in Assam and its reason but talks of passing an “Anti Secular Bill”. Deaths of protesters in Assam is cited in making their ‘liberal’ ‘secularist’ arguments in news rooms and opinion pieces.
The tenor of the anti-CAB mobilization in Assam has been somewhat different from elsewhere in the country—here, the CAB debate is inseparable from the debate on the National Register of Citizens (NRC). With an eye on how the terrain of the CAB-NRC debate has shifted in the last few months, it would be the right time to turn our attention to the second half of this notorious CAB-NRC combine. In fact, the way in which CAB has been pushed through reveals much about how the NRC process may be expected to play out, and how Hindutva fascism actually intends to deal with the demands and aspirations of the many nationalities that fall within the borders of its imagined Hindu empire.
There were many in Assam who were cautiously optimistic about the NRC process—they had hoped this would end, once and for all, the discrimination against Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims as Bangladeshis. But not anymore.
At this juncture, it is important to recollect that India is a union of states with varying legal histories. Article 370, which enshrines the specificities to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is a recognition of this political diversity. Goa, like Kashmir, has a unique legal history. Unlike Kashmir, however, Goan specificities did not merit any constitutional recognition. Subsequent to the annexation of the territory, Goans were not asked, via a plebiscite, what they wished their political status to be, nor was a Constituent Assembly set up, as was the case in Kashmir and some of the other princely states in the process of accession to India. India simply asserted its power and extended its Constitution to Goa, and erased pre-existing citizenship.
Civil Society of #Assam writes to the Chief Justice of India on the humanitarian crisis unleashed by Suspicious and Mischievous Re-Verification Notices by #NRC Authority of Assam
The contested citizenship question in Assam has real human costs. This is a list of NRC/D-Voter suicides based mostly on the deaths that got publicly reported.
The Axom Nagarik Samaj’s (Citizen Community of Assam) recent pamphlet, “NRC and Why is it Important?,” seems to have gone with the tried and tested narrative template of Assamese nationalist discourse. A forum of prominent intellectuals including writer and former police officer Harekrishna Deka, journalists Ajit Bhuyan and Prasanta Rajguru, and academic Dr. Akhil Ranjan Dutta among others, Axom Nagarik Samaj claims to represent the legitimate demands of the “indigenous communities” of Assam for protection against the “heavy influx” of illegal migrants from Bangladesh that “threatens their political, economic and social space.” The document hardly stands out for its literary ingenuity, even less so for its political vision. They present a narrative that has been the staple of Assamese nationalist discourse, available for consumption at least since the late-1970s and extremely popular during the Assam Movement. Unfortunately, for the authors, they are not living in 1982. In reproducing this discourse today, they also reinforce the blind-spots that have afflicted this fantasy of a harmonious, multi-ethnic pastoral Assam, rudely intruded upon by colonialism and outsiders.
Some Q & A on NRC. Might sound repetitive and self evident . But people need to be told, because some know too little, some know it all wrong and some are deliberately being informed all wrong…
Bottom line is that there are complexities in this country that cannot be fit into ideological straightjacket or ready to serve linear narratives. Should the empathy for the stateless (although let us remember 40 lakh is a ‘draft figure’, yet to be finalised and there is no ‘official’ position on the ‘punitive measures’ to be taken) not essentially co-exist with empathy and concern for those coerced into sharing resources and habitats to waves and waves of immigrants? Or perhaps feeling for both( the one’s seeking a home and the one’s loosing their homes and fields) compromises one’s ‘politics’?
On the night of 31st December, 2017 the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was released in Assam. This has set off a mini-storm in the political scene of Assam, Bangladesh and West Bengal. What is the NRC, why is it being updated and what politics is being played behind the curtain?
Assam has had a long and bloody history of ethnic violence arising from extremely complex reasons. Ethnic violence in Assam implicates cultural, political and economic aspects of relations between communities in ways that cannot be captured in a simple majority-minority, or a khilonjia-foreigner dynamic. Here, virtually every community has at one time or another been the victim as well as perpetrator of ethnic violence. And in the shadow of a militarized state, political antagonisms among various communities have often been shaped by the force of arms.
Garga Chatterjee looks at what is wrong with the proposed amendments to the Citizenship Bill. BJP’s proposals are communally discriminatory and the issue of illegal migrants fleeing neighbouring nations due to human rights violations can be addressed by religion-blind, case-specific human rights abuse clauses. Anxieties around demographic changes and economic pressures are real and how this is not simply due to migrations across international borders but also migration across state borders. Expanding state government control of residency rights, property ownership, entry and settling rules is the need of the hour.