MHA-appointed panel's recommendation of 1951 as cut-off date to define Assam 'indigenous' meets resistance from minority groups

  • A high-level committee formed by Ministry of Home Affairs is set to recommend that the government use 1951 as a cut-off year to determine indigenous people of Assam, as per various news reports

  • The Sharma Committee, which has members of the All Assam Students Union (AASU), one of the signatory bodies of the Assam Accord, is headed by Justice (retired) Biplab Kumar Sharma

  • Strong opposition to setting 1951 as the cut-off date comes from Muslim groups who have claimed that such a move would encourage illegal immigration and defeat the purpose of the NRC and NPR

Amid the raging protests over the contentious citizenship Act and the proposed National Population Register (NPR) across India, a high-level committee formed by Ministry of Home Affairs is set to recommend that the government use 1951 as a cut-off year to determine indigenous people of Assam, as per various news reports.

 MHA-appointed panels recommendation of 1951 as cut-off date to define Assam indigenous meets resistance from minority groups

Representational image. PTI

The Sharma Committee, which has members of the All Assam Students Union (AASU), one of the signatory bodies of the Assam Accord, and is headed by Justice (retired) Biplab Kumar Sharma, will submit its recommendations on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord on Tuesday as the debate over who is 'Assamese' continues. The reports of 1951 being selected as a cut-off year have left minority groups worried.

Strong opposition to setting 1951 as the cut-off date comes from groups who have claimed that such a move would encourage illegal immigration and defeat the purpose of the NRC and NPR. Hafizul Ahmed, president of the Goria Moria Desi Jatiya Parishad, told Firstpost the Assam Accord provides for constitutional safeguards only for Assam natives and not immigrants.

But if 1951 is accepted as the cut-off year then it would wrongly include a chunk of the populace whose forebears migrated from various parts of India and then East Pakistan, Ahmed added.

“Large-scale migration to Assam began after British annexed Brahmaputra Valley in 1826. If 1951 is accepted as the cut-off year, then a large chunk of immigrant population would be eligible for reservations meant for the indigenous,” Ahmed said. “That would render such provisions meaningless.”

As per a study conducted by Madhumita Sarma, a research scholar in University of Adelaide, Australia, in 1951, Assam had an immigrant population of approximately three million. “If millions are added to the list of indigenous, then how is the government going to protect the rights of the indigenous ethnic groups?” Sharma asked.

There are 1.30 crore Muslims in Assam, less than a third of whom are indigenous to Assam. Mrinal Hazarika, a pro-talks ULFA chief, and also a leader in a civil society organisation advocating for the rights of the indigenous, told Firstpost setting 1951 as the cut-off year would be unacceptable and warned of protests.

All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) also opposed accepting 1951 as the cut-off date. “How is the government going to determine this? Certainly, the NRC prepared in 1951 would be accepted as legacy data. But then the 1951 NRC is itself not complete. Data related to 35 percent of the state’s area is not available in the 1951 NRC. So how would the government include the people belonging to the data in blank areas? Certainly these people would get wrongfully excluded from the list of indigenous citizens,” said Azizur Rahman, a leader of the AAMSU.

A recent article citing a report tabled in the Assam Assembly argued, “The truth is that 35 percent of Assam’s population is not covered by the existing 1951 list. In simple terms, 35 percent population of Assam or around one crore people cannot find their names in the existing 1951 NRC list so the definition of indigenous or foreigners cannot be applied to them,” the article said.

Rahman also said many remote areas were not covered in the 1951 NRC because they were inaccessible. Many indigenous fear the inclusion of immigrants may encourage further immigration from Bangladesh. “Many immigrant families have relatives in Bangladesh. Many such families in India and Bangladesh also have common ancestors who were based in Assam. If they can prove the existence of their common ancestors in Assam prior to 1951, then a Bangladeshi can claim indigenous status,” said Ahmed.

A final list of Assam’s NRC was published last year, with 1.9 million people being left out.

What is clause 6 of the Assam Accord

The Assam Accord, which laid foundation for NRC, also provides for special constitutional protective measures for the Assamese people by way of reservations in jobs and constituencies, protective measures for preservation of Assamese language and heritage. Clause 6 of the Assam Accord suggests such protective measures for the Assamese people.

Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma recently announced that the committee would submit its recommendations on 25 February to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

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Updated Date: Feb 24, 2020 19:51:22 IST