NIKHIL WAGLE | 4 AUGUST, 2018
Are We Heading Towards Concentration Camps?
Suicides in Assam
In last six months Assam has witnessed a spate of suicides.
Balijan Bibi of Oudubi village ended her life because name of her husband was not in the National Register of Citizens. A 40-year old worker in Kashipur, Hanif Khan killed himself. According to his wife, he had been under tremendous pressure of not making it to the National Register of Citizens. Avala Rai, daily wage labourer from Dubri was so frustrated by tedious NRC process that he preferred to cut short his life.
Several poor workers, farmers, middle class families are enduring this stress. The number of people suffering from depression would be in lakhs.
When the final NRC list was published on July 31, it wrecked havoc. 4 million citizens of Assam had failed to prove their citizenship, including a former military man who had served the army for 30 years and the family of former president Fakruddin Ali Ahmad. “This is what I get after serving the country for 30 years,” exclaimed the army officer.
Along with the deep sense of disappointment, there was insecurity and fear among the people of Assam. Finally, the Chief Minister had to assure them that they will be given one more opportunity to prove their citizenship.
There is no doubt that Assam has a serious problem of infiltrations and migrations. But it dates back to partition in 1947, which is why the first NCR was initiated in 1951. Yet, the migration from East Pakistan continued. Most of those came in to make their ends meet. East Pakistan, or today’s Bangladesh, shares a porous border of 4000 km with India.
The first group of refugees came into India through the same border after the 1971 war. It included more Hindus than the Bengali Muslims. Indira Gandhi government deported over 10 lakh of them, but several continued to stay here illegally. The Congress has since been accused of shielding them to consolidate their vote bank.
The first organisation to voice their angst against the infiltrators in an organised manner was All Assam Student’s Union (AASU), which had a gripe against all kinds of infiltration. But it didn’t take time for the narrative to shift and focus only on Muslim infiltrators. Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) was born during the same time that asserted the rights of locals as a reaction to Congress’ “appeasement politics”. The same struggle triggered the Nellie massacre in 1982, and communal riots in some pockets. AGP had spread its wings in the state by then, and they proved it by winning the next assembly elections. Today, this is the same agenda BJP is milking and ruling the state.
To find a solution to this problem,in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi struck a deal with AGP leaders and signed Assam accord. Both parties agreed to the cut-off date of 24th March 1974. But it did not materialise, until a social activist Abhijit Sharma filed a petition in courts in 2009. The PIL claimed to have 6 million illegal migrants in Assam. The current NRC proceedings are happening as per the directives of the Supreme Court in the said case. The court even ordered the officials to be fair, but the officials seem to have forgotten that they were not the Gestapo.
The politics being spun around the exercise is extremely dangerous. Amit Shah proclaimed to deport the infiltrators, Paresh Rawal tweeted out saying the opposition is trailing by 4 million votes, forgetting that it includes a former army man and two BJP lawmakers. There is no doubt these statements were made by keeping an eye on 2019 elections. Responding to it, even Mamata Banerjee threatened of a civil war.
The BJP wants to make it a Hindu- Muslim issue and polarise the atmosphere, which is why the focus is on deporting the Muslim infiltrators, which was not AASU’s original demand. The current Assam Chief Minister Sarvanand Sonowal is a former AASU member, who seems to be suffering from selective amnesia.
To look after the non-Muslim displaced, BJP changed the citizenship criteria in 2015, according to which the country can accommodate the infiltrators, as long as they are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists,basically non-Muslims. Six years on, they would also be eligible for citizenship. The reasons behind excluding Muslims need not be explained. They are as clear as daylight. It is just another step towards the Sangh parivar’s dream of Hindu rashtra, which is why BJP’s West Bengal and Mumbai leaders have started demanding similar exercise in the respective places as well. Communal polarisation is a simple math behind it to garb the non-performance of four years.
But the challenge lies ahead. If the final list excludes 40 lakh people, what does the state do with them? Bangladesh has refused to accept them, just like we refused to accept the ones deemed illegal by England.After completing the entire legal formalities, Assam government can strip them of their voting rights and keep them in detention camps. But the government would have to ensure the camps live up to the global human right protocols. It would be even more important in the context of Rohingya Muslims and the displacement across the world. These detention camp should not be converted into Hitler’s Concentration Camps.
But BJP seems to have different plans. A local BJP leader warned, these infiltrators should be shot dead along with Rohingya Muslims, which, in a way, is an invitation to an uncontrollable inflammatory situation. Such prodigies of Hitler need to be reined by Narendra Modi, unless he wants Assam to burn again.