Defining who is ‘Assamese’: Attempts, Challenges:
Last week, the Assam government informed the Assembly that nearly 1.44 lakh illegal foreigners had been identified in the state this year based on the 1985 Assam Accord.
Who is a foreigner under the Assam Accord?
- The Assam Accord was signed in 1985 by the Centre and the Assam government with the All Assam Student Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad.
- The Accord set March 24, 1971 as a cut-off. Anyone who had come to Assam before midnight on that date would be an Indian citizen, while those who had come after would be dealt with as foreigners.
What are the expressions for which the definitions have not been determined? Why are they important?
- The definitions of phrases mentioned in the Accord such as ‘Axomiya janagan’ (Assamese people), ‘khilonjia’ (indigenous) and ‘adi basinda’ (original inhabitants) were yet to be determined.
- However, it doesn’t provide clear cut definitions to identify who would be the “Assamese people”.
Issues with the cut-off date
- The cut-off for the rest of India is 1948, many noted that the Assam Accord would grant citizenship to a section of migrants who would be counted as foreigners elsewhere in the country.
- Clause 6 was, therefore, seen as a protective provision which would guarantee certain benefits to the Assamese people, while excluding some sections among those granted citizenship on the basis of the 1971 cut-off.
Why is the ‘Assamese’ definition difficult?
- Because Assam’s demography has been shaped by decades of migration.
- Many of the migrants had settled here during the colonial era.
- While they might not be native speakers of an indigenous language, such as Assamese or Bodo or Karbi, the question was whether the definition of “Assamese” could exclude someone, for example, whose family might have lived in Assam for 100 years.
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