A controversy has broken out following well-known Assamese intellectual Hiren Gohain, in an open letter to Indian, seeking to explain the rationale behind the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Another senior scholar Nilanjan Dutta has sharply contested Gohain’s view. Published in “Sabrang India”, we reproduce both Gohain’s open letter and the reply by Dutta.
Hiren Gohain’s letter:
Does anybody care that people here who are indigenes also have a serious problem with the Indian ruling classes and the so-called national media? Since the late seventies they have been protesting against being marginalized and turning into a powerless lot in their own homes.
True the Saffronista infiltrated the Assam Movement and introduced a toxic communal element into it. But that does not negate the fact that the skewed relations between Centre and state had increasingly robbed indigenes of their power to decide how many guests they could welcome in their homes.
While natural resources from the State were getting furiously exploited and sometimes wasted for decades (Natural Gas e.g), a huge backlog of development built up in this mockery of federal state.
There is now rampant unemployment and landlessness. Natives are ill-equipped to deal with challenges of the so-called modern economy, having been in the backwoods too long. On top of it they have to compete with people more adept in meeting such challenges but whose right to be here itself is under a cloud.
Agreed that not everyone among them is an alien, and the aggressive approach of the State and some fringe elements must be condemned. But such distortions of a legitimate Constitutional exercise monitored by Supreme Court cannot be dismissed as rank atrocities. It should be obvious that the governments at the Center and the State these days have a lot to do with the distortions. But can anyone in his senses aver there has been no infiltration at all? There have to be proper but fair enquiries.
Some people are pontificating that all Assamese officials employed in checking proof of Citizenship are biased and blind and so people from Haryana or Tamil Nadu had better be employed. What nonsense! They will be quite at sea in conditions here and will be unable to judge in matters of utmost importance. Rather like Lord Radcliffe deciding boundaries between East Pakistan and India by drawing a rough line on the map to the grief and harm of millions. Not neutrality but blindness.
As for call for human rights it is an Ideal goal, not a reality during a period of transition to that. One cannot abolish national rights and entitlements at one stroke and replace them with human rights. A friend has pointed out that usually what happens is, first human rights lobbies kick up a row about abuse of human rights and paves the way for international gendarmes intervening and reducing countries to a heap of ruins. Lack of democracy and human rights was the excuse for Iraq War and it reduced Iraquies to desperate beggars squatting on foreign soil. So a bit of caution is needed on this issue.
The indisputable fact is that the democratic space for the rights of Muslims has been shrinking in India ever since independence. Today they may be murdered in broad daylight with impunity. This seems to have affected some Muslims during the preparation of the NRC.But that does not ipso facto prove the whole exercise bogus and mala fide. Millions of Muslims HAVE found their names in it. Besides, people in Assam are still not hooked to the kind of venomous hatred of Muslims that seems to be thriving in North India. They should be helped to maintain this attitude and not pushed to the atrocious Hindu-Muslim hostility by misguided concern.
The real history of the NRC is that it is not actually a diabolical plot by AASU, though they probably mooted it first. Lack of a consensus in society on the implications of Assam Accord had actually thrown Assam into one of the darkest periods of her history.
Assamese and a variety of armed militancies and the blind and brutal repression by the Army played havoc with normal life in Assam for three decades, what with murders, abductions, deadly physical assaults and scores of massacres. Let it not be forgotten that Muslims bore the full brunt of it. In nineties it was common for armed militants raiding even camps of hapless refugees from terror and gun down up to 100 people or more.
The government could provide no security at all. It was at that time that Muslim clerical leaders, saner political elements and civil society groups came together to reach an understanding. It was then that the Muslims in Assam firmly committed themselves to 1971 as cut-off year and NRC to seal claims to Citizenship and end unending strife.
The demand for an NRC gained traction only since then. It will be dangerous precedent to renege on it and slowly push Assam back into bloody anarchy. Only the Saffronista will gain from it and all others suffer and rue. By the way the so-called national media reported selectively events then and blacked out such historic developments. That history needs to be recalled.
Click HERE for Nilanjan Dutta’s reply