Post-NRC, Parties Still Fight on Who Is and Isn’t Indigenous to Assam APW recommends a wide-sweep definition while ITSSA recommends distinction between Assam’s indigenous and tribal peoples

31, Oct 2019 | Gayatri Korgaonkar

On October 29, Assam Public Works (APW) submitted a list of 48 communities to the high-powered committee established to enact Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. It stated that members of these communities are “indigenous Assamese” and, therefore, are eligible for constitutional safeguards under the clause. The Assam Public Works is the original petitioner that moved the Supreme Court, in 2009, on implementation of the NRC.

Now that the final NRC has been published, and 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the final list, CJP’s campaign has become even more focused. Our objective now, is to help these excluded people defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals. For this we have already started conducting a series of workshops to train paralegals to assist people at FTs. We will also be publishing a multi-media training manual containing simplified aspects of legal procedure, evidentiary rules, and judicial precedents that will ensure the appeals filed against the NRC exclusions in the FTs are comprehensive and sound, both in fact and in law. This will assist our paralegals, lawyers and the wider community in Assam to negotiate this tortuous process. For this we need your continued support. Please donate now to help us help Assam.

The Telegraph reported that the APW and seven other organisations that met the committee at Administrative Staff College. Among the communities that they recommended to be considered as “Assamese”, there are the people who migrated to Assam from Bangladesh and Nepal in between January 26, 1950 to March 25, 1971. They also said that those who entered the state illegally from Bangladesh and Nepal after March 25, 1971 cannot be termed Assamese.

The Committee

In January 2019, the NDA II government notified a high-level committee for the implementation of Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord. This clause requires the government to provide constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people. It is pertinent to note here that the Accord does not define who it considers to be “Assamese”.

The nine-member panel was to submit its report within six months, and be headed by retired IAS officer MP Bezbaruah. However, Bezbaruah and four other appointees refused to be part of the committee to protest the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the Northeast. Due to this, in July 2019, the panel was reconstituted with retired Justice Biplab Kumar Sarma at its helm.

The Present Conflict

In September 2019, as opposed to APW’s recommendations, a conglomerate of eight indigenous literary organizations called the Indigenous Tribal Sahitya Sabha, Assam (ITSSA) demanded modification of the term ‘Assamese people’ in Clause 6 of the Accord by the terms ‘Indigenous Tribal People of Assam’ and ‘Indigenous Assamese People of Assam’.  They demanded that persons who acquired their Indian citizenship between 1951 and March 25, 1971 should not be provided with the constitutional safeguards guaranteed under the clause.

Additionally, the All Assam Minorities Students’ Union (AAMSU) also alleged that the high-powered committee is trying to divide Assamese people into three groups—indigenous, indigenous Assamese and other indigenous people.

A week ago, the State Cabinet of Assam gave its nod to the Assam Land Policy – 2019 on Monday. The policy has promised to give three bighas (43,200 sqft) of agricultural land to landless ‘indigenous’ people apart from half a bigha for constructing a house. Once the policy is notified, it will replace the ‘Assam Land Policy – 1989’.
However, even now the policy has failed to define the core term ‘indigenous’.

The draft of the ‘Land Policy 2019’, it is stated, was prepared by officials of the Revenue and Disaster Management department in consultation with the senior officials of the CM’s office. The draft report is based on the recommendations of the ‘Committee for Protection of Land Rights of the Indigenous People of Assam’ headed by former Chief Election Commissioner Hari Shankar Brahma, the ‘Land Policy of 1989’ and the draft ‘Land Policy of 2016’.

So, who really is an indigenous person?

In 2017, a seven-member committee, headed by former Chief Election Commissioner Harishankar Brahma, was appointed by the Assam government for “ensuring the protection of land rights of indigenous people.” With a view to settle who is an indigenous person with reference to Assam, the committee expounded a list of elements that can be considered to make a person indigenous:

The list comprised the following requisites:

  • That he should be an aboriginal/ancient person living in the State of Assam for several generations.
  • That he belongs to an ancient tribe/ ethnic clan living in Assam from generation after generations engaged in sustaining the linguistic, cultural and social tradition and vale of the pre-colonial/ pre-invasion era.
  • That the social, cultural and traditional value of his ethnic clan is pristine to and has originated in Assam and further, that he believes his culture, tradition and language to be different from others inhabiting his land due to their exodus.
  • That he believes that the ancient people of his clan have become or are poised to become minority in his own land due to migration of invasion by outsiders/ foreigners.
  • That the ancient/ indigenous or native people are determined to preserve their pristine ethnic, linguistic and cultural identity; and that.
  • That they are committed and determined to continue to live in their ancestral land preserving for the future generations their ancestral heritage, culture, language and literature intact.
  • That he or she is not an indigenous person of any other Sate of India or that he or she does not speak the language of his State of origin in the family and also that he or she is not wedded to his or her original culture. In other words, a person who is an indigenous person of any other State of India, speaks language of the State of his origin in the family and has also retained his original culture cannot be called an indigenous person of Assam because a person cannot be an indigenous person of two States with two mother tongues and affinity to two cultures.

In its report, the committee noted that the native Assamese people or “sons of the soil” should have the first claim over the land of Assam just as other non-indigenous Indian citizens or the foreigners, as the case may be, are presumed to have in their own land.

The high-powered committee is set to meet Asam Sahitya Sabha and student organisations of various indigenous communities on October 30 and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti on November, and political parties on November 2. Other organisations that have met the Committee include Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) and Sankaradeva Sangha.

*Feature image credit: Northeast Now

Related:

Brahma committee redefines basic elements of ‘Indigenous’ individual to Assam

Without defining who the ‘indigenous’ are, Assam Cabinet passes Land Policy for indigenous people

Prateek Hajela shunted out of Assam, what happens next on the NRC front?

 

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