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1951 Cutoff, 80-100% reservation, rights in Assam only for Assamese; Experts react on Clause 6 implementation

On Tuesday, All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Advocate General of Arunachal Pradesh, Nilay Dutta, and a few others reportedly called for a press conference. All of them are in the “High-Level Committee” formed by the Government of India in July 2019, for the implementation of Clause 6 – Assam Accord.

“Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people,” is what the Clause 6 envisages.

The 14-member committee headed by retired High Court judge Biplab Kumar Sarma and including members of the legal fraternity, retired civil servants, scholars, journalists and AASU office-bearers, submitted the report to the chief minister of Assam on February 25, 2020.

On Tuesday, Arunachal Pradesh Advocate General Nilay Dutta and three members of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) independently called for a press conference and reportedly made the recommendations public.

Among many revelations, one is the proposed definition of Assamese people. The report made public by the members, states that Citizens of India who are part of Assamese community, residing in the Territory of Assam on or before January 1, 1951,” will be considered as Assamese people. The other provisions as per the recommendation are: any indigenous tribal community of Assam residing in the territory of Assam on or before January 1, 1951, any other indigenous community of Assam residing in the territory of Assam on or before January 1, 1951, all other citizens of India residing in the territory of Assam on or before January 1, 1951, and descendants of the above categories.

The committee, as per the report made public, has recommended many provisions to “safeguard” the indigenous people of Assam. Those include a staggering 80-100 per cent reservation in the Parliamentary, Assembly and local body seats.  80-100 per cent of Group C and D level posts (in Assam) in central government/semi-central government/central PSUs/private sector to remain reserved for the Assamese people. Along with that 80-100 per cent of the jobs under the Government of Assam and state government undertakings and 70-100 per cent of the vacancies arising in private partnerships must also remain reserved.

Then there are recommendations on land-rights, the official language of the State, education. Mandatory provision of an Assamese language paper for recruitment in state government services with alternatives for Barak Valley districts, BTAD and Hills Districts is what the committee has allegedly recommended.

The report has irked many in Barak Valley. Experts across spheres believe this is an assault on Bengalis and all other linguistic minorities living in Assam. Local BJP leaders were unavailable for comment. A senior member of the ruling party questioned the credibility of the report. Opined, “This has no sign, no date, this report made public has no credibility. Elections are going on in several parts of the state and people with vested interest are making all this hullaballoo. According to my opinion, one must not pay much attention to this report made public as the reality could be something completely different. So, it is better to wait and watch till something is announced officially”

However, immediately after the report was made public, the Chief Minister’s Public Relations office issued a press statement. Through that, CM Sarbananda Sonowal promises implementation of Clause 6 to the T. Contrary to the BJP leader in Silchar, the CM never questions the credibility of the report. Instead, says in the media statement, “Holding a press conference and making the report public without any discussion with the government is shocking.”

So, if these recommendations made public are true then what does it mean for the large Bengali community living in Assam? What is the future? We asked these questions to a set of experts and here is what they had to say:

Tapodhir Bhattacharjee, former VC, Assam University Silchar

Tapodhir Bhattacharjee, scholar, former Vice-Chancellor of Assam University, Silchar

Such barbaric recommendations were expected from the committee. The party in power no longer fears dissent, they are not even subtle in their fascism. They are trying to rewrite the history by making 1951 the cutoff. Those who have been living in Assam before 1951 are Assamese and rest are non-indigenous people. Why? Bengalis have been living in this region from time immemorial, why should they be recognised as Assamese now? Bengalis, as well as the other tribes and linguistic minorities in the State are indigenous people of the country. Time has come for all the communities to unite and protest in order to safeguard the heterogeneous essence of the state.

Sushmita Dev, National President – Mahila Congress and former MP

Assam is an amalgamation of many cultures, traditions, languages. That diversity must be respected. The recommendations made public today directs the state to forcefully impose one language over others. To safeguard one language we must not belittle or demean other languages. It suggests making Assamese a compulsion with the exception in Barak Valley and BATD. There are many Bengalis and people from other communities residing in the State but outside Barak Valley, why should not they have the choice to speak, learn, or take tests in their native language? Then it proposes an 80 – 100 per cent reservation in employment. Barak Valley is already deprived and if Clause 6 gets implemented following these recommendations, it will get even worse. Also, what if Maharashtra or Karnataka decide to impose such reservations and layoff employees on the basis of their place of origin? These recommendations are a threat to the linguistic minorities of the state What is also bizarre is that a reservation is being proposed to safeguard the majority while normally it is the other way around.

Joydeep Biswas, economist and Associate Professor, Cachar College

If the Government agrees to implement Clause 6 by following the recommendations made public today, there will be two types of citizens in the state. One, who will enjoy the same benefits as the ordinary citizens of India. They will be able to vote, contest elections, qualify for government jobs, buy land of their choice, etc. Citizens who fall into the second category, whose ancestors came to this state after January 1, 1951, will only have the right to live. Clause 6 will chop off all other rights with a few exceptions. AASU agreed to the Assam Accord signed by the President in 1975. As per their recommendation, the NRC process was started in the state. Now to implement one clause in the Accord should we contradict the Accord itself? Following Assam Accord, March 1971, was considered as the cutoff while preparing the National Registrar of Citizens. The final draft of the NRC was published as recently as last year and now we are again talking about changing the cutoff?

I am hopeful that the central government will reject these recommendations. This proposal is primarily against the Assam Accord, Indian democracy, the Constitution, and even against human rights. Our local people’s representatives are almost completely silent on this which is another matter of concern.

Pradip Dutta Roy, Advocate and founder ACKHSA

The Assam Accord has been enacted by the President of India and is now a law in the country wherever applicable. These recommendations made public today contradict the Accord which is not only unlawful but also unconstitutional. Where is this January 1951 coming from when the Assam Accord determines March 1971 as the deadline. Central Government will reject these recommendations is what I feel. But if they don’t I will contest it in Supreme Court. If these recommendations are true then people of all linguistic communities must rise above differences and launch a strong united protest.

Please note: All the interviews were done in Bengali and the English version has been translated based on our interpretations. 

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