In December 2019, when the entire nation was still in a state of ignorance regarding the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which has been deemed by many as unconstitutional and discriminatory, there echoed strong voices of dissent in Assam. Voices that articulated from every corner, crosscutting religious, linguistic, class and caste-based distinctions.
While mainland India was taking its normal course, in the so-called hinterland, people took their right to dissent and displayed it, enormously, in the streets. People from different age groups, which included college students and senior citizens, raised their voices to protect their identity which is dear to any individual. Even after continuous state-interventions (curfew, internet suspension, etc.), the people of Assam continued their ‘satyagraha’ against the evil of CAA, which threatens their very identity.
While Assam was protesting, the mainland population continued to remain ignorant about the whole issue which has concerned Assam for decades; the issue of ‘illegal’ immigrants from erstwhile East Pakistan challenging the demography, resources, culture, and identity of the people of the state.
Factually, the population speaks volumes about the culture and ethnicity of a region. The distinctive cultural diversity of Assam is known to be vibrant and is adored by its people, but it lacks mainland appreciation. The population is also necessary for the sustainable socio-economic development of a region.
One of the determinants of population growth in any region is migration, and with the influx of immigrants since Independence, the state has seen high population growth as compared to other Indian states. According to the 2011 Census report, the decadal population growth of Assam was 16.9 % which is comparatively higher than states like West Bengal (13.9%), Odisha (14%), Punjab (13.7%), Karnataka (15.7%), Maharashtra (16%), etc.
Assam, being at the center of economic underdevelopment, is also dependent on central aid. The prolonged discomforts of inflation and unemployment have also been hampering the socioeconomic stability of the region. With the onset of climate change and its subsidiaries like deforestation, it has become an alarming issue, as this region and its people face the threat of flooding every year leading to loss of life and property. Thus, addressing the issue of ‘illegal’ immigrants and its effects on the demography, socio-economic and environmental sustainability is the need of the hour.
The CAA came as a shock to the rest of the country only after the students of Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) were recently brutally attacked by the police forces for protesting. Even now, when the whole country is protesting against CAA, the issue of Assam and its people are not talked about.
The pan-Indian protests focusing on the discrimination based on religion with respect to the Act fails to address the issue of every Assamese. For Assam, it was never about religion. It was, and is, a generational struggle for their identity. As an Indian from the hinterland, there is a legit concern regarding marginalising the issue of Assam, even if we are fighting a common enemy.
The promises of the Assam Accord, 1985, are yet to be fully implemented, regarding the provision for constitutional, legislative, administrative, economic, and political safeguards for the people of Assam. This memorandum of settlement, which brought an end to the Assam Agitation, where a thousand lives were lost, is still an alien concept for many in the mainland.
Since the Accord, various governments were formed and various were rejected, but still, the proper solution hasn’t arisen. The essence of betrayal is still relevant in Assam with the recent promulgation and formation of CAA. Every political party since Assam Accord of 1985 came in power with the promise of solving the ‘foreigner’s issue’ but only tokenistic measures were taken with respect to the clauses of the Assam Accord.
The solutions ranging from economic development to inclusive growth are still far-fetched from being applied practically. The failure of the National Register of Citizen, 2019, adds to the poor implementation of the government mechanisms.
The question here is why the mainland population continues to be unaware and ignorant about the whole issue concerning Assam. India is known for its diversity, but many Indians remain unaware of it.