The angst of a generation

Rajat Kanti Bhattacharya

This has reference to the letters published in your paper recently, in respect of CAA, and NRC. Our family lived in Shillong for three generations (1930s – 2008). My grandfather worked in govt. treasury during British rule, my father retired as Registrar of DPI Office under Assam government, all our brothers and sisters are born and educated in Shillong.  Meghalaya is a beautiful tourist destination boasting of the highest rainfall in the world and the cleanest village in Asia, waterfalls and caves, not to speak of its scenic beauty and peace loving people. I visited Switzerland (in 2015), which is full of mountains (Alps) and big lakes (50 – 70 KM  long), similar to the  Umiam Lake and to Shillong – the Scotland of east. But now, I can, probably, go to my beautiful Shillong only as an ‘outsider’.

Now, about NRC – my brother, born in Shillong and now settled in Guwahati, has been branded a foreigner in Supreme Court supervised Assam NRC, in spite of submitting all necessary documents, whereas names of his wife,  daughter and son are included in NRC. He has never been to Bangladesh. Fighting Foreigners’ Tribunal is an uphill task. Many affected people had to sell their properties to fight cases in these tribunals and the court, and gone penniless. Detention jails, according to Amnesty International are horrible death traps. I shudder to think of my brother’s fate now, and I am spending anxious days. That is why people all over India are scared about NRC. 

But CAA is different, because it is for giving citizenship and not for taking it away. It maybe vote bank politics, but there is no harm intended towards any Indian due to this. Moreover, the original citizenship act (CA 1955), is still in force; it allows citizenship to all if they stay in India for eleven years. These refugees had to face the brunt of partition on behalf of all Indians, and many of them are living in India for decades. Some are even income-tax payers. Many partisan intellectuals and celebrities are today reluctant to grant citizenship to these unfortunate people and opposing CAA citing various reasons, only to support the agenda of political parties. Of course, the ruling party leaders and their supporters of our country are equally responsible for creating a negative atmosphere with their ‘Hindutva’ propaganda.

Why, after 72 years of independence, are crores of people from North Eastern States apprehensive of losing their identity, language and culture, if citizenship is given to a few lakh refugees, who have mostly assimilated themselves with local language and culture ?   Now the  economic condition of Bangladesh is much better, as according to IMF estimates (Times of India 31.01.20) it’s GDP growth rate is 8.1% against India’s 4.8% in the current year. Of late there is practically no infiltration from that country. Now many people from this side have gone back to rejoin the flourishing garment manufacturing industry there.

During my student days in Shillong there was news that lakhs of people from East Pakistan have entered Assam and settled there. Also, lakhs of them have entered from Sylhet district to settle in Barak valley. These hard-working people have made Assam self-sufficient in agricultural products, in course of time, by transforming even the barren and marshy lands and by cultivating  on the river soil (chars), between floods. But, this has increased the number of Bengali-speaking population in Assam. Now, we have some census data in support of this historical aspect. As per population statistics, (letter in Anandabazar Patrika, dated Jan-17, 2020), during 1951 – 1971, population of Assam has increased by 82.15% (80,29,100 to 1,46,25,157), whereas that of India by 51.80% (36,10,88,400 to 54,81,60,050). However, from 1971, till 2011 census, Assam’s  population has increased by 113.12% (to 3,11,69,272) and that of India by 120.77% (to 121,01,93,422). Hence the rate of increase in Assam is less (by 6.65%) than that of India, as a whole.

Most of the Bengalis in Assam can speak and write the local language and there are marital relationships too. This is because of close affinity between language and culture of Assam with that of East Bengal/East Pakistan/Bangladesh, particularly those of Sylhet. Mr. Chandrasekhar Ghosh, founder of Bandhan Bank has adopted Bhupen Hazarika’s song “Manuh he manuhor babe” as the theme song for his bank.

The votes of the largest religious minority group have become deciding factors in many elections, and all the political parties have tried to appease this group some way or other for their votes, even today. This may be the reason for the rise of fundamentalism in our country.

As in other hill states of North-East India, restrictions have been imposed on non-tribals from   buying and selling landed properties, and there are no job opportunities for them. The number of non-tribal population is decreasing every year, Even the number of the largest religious minority group in Meghalaya is least (<1%), among all Indian states.  Non-tribals living in Shillong for generations during British rule and refugees from East Pakistan, settled in erstwhile Assam, are shifting out of the state at the earliest opportunity. Age old business is going on with Sylhet, through Bholaganj and Shella. Since the British rule this is the way border people earn their living, not to speak of millions of rupees worth of cattle smuggling along all Bangladesh borders with India. Betel nut ‘Gua’ became ‘kua-i’ and horse ‘Gura’ became ‘kula-i’ in Khasi.   There are few lakh Garos living within Bangladesh border and also they have representation in the Parliament of that country. There are some Khasi and Garo villages within the Assam border.

English-speaking youths of Meghalaya get employment in private hospitals and call-centres all over India. In West Bengal political parties are on the road almost every day, for fear of losing minority and Dalit vote banks due to CAA. Almost all political parties in the state are after wooing the solid vote bank, on which they depend for their survival. According to political analysts, votes from the largest religious minority group are the deciding factor in 125 assembly seats (out of 294) in WB.  In the light of the above it is important for the people of the North East to give up their fear and hatred of fellow citizens with whom they have co-existed for decades.

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