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'Spread goodwill, not ill-will in Assam'

September 09, 2012 19:25 IST

A group of prominent policy makers, scholars, activists and intellectuals have called to 'Reduce rhetoric, spread goodwill, not ill-will' in Assam in the wake of the violence that rocked Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District Council and adjoining areas in later part of July that drove lakhs out of their homes and left about 98 persons dead from Bodo and Muslim communities.

Participating in a discussion on the current traumatic situation in Assam at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi under the aegis of the Centre for NE Studies at JMI the leading citizens observed that the situation in the BTC remained tense while lakhs were rendered homeless and fearful of returning with trauma writ large on their faces.

"In addition, hate speech and abuse of new media has created a situation where tens of thousands fled their places of work and residence, in places like Bangalore and Pune, and returned to the NE Region," they said adding governments need to firmly handle acts of hatred and racial discrimination instead of merely curbing hate speech.

"As has been seen, the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh remains an explosive and unresolved issue 27 years after the signing of the Assam Accord. This surely represents as much a failure of all sides in this process as of the Centre and State governments. It is our view that the Centre and state governments must assert in no uncertain terms that those migrants who have illegally slipped across the Indo-Bangladesh border to any part of the country since March 25, 1971 -- the agreed cut off date -- will be tackled under due process or even through a system of Special Courts to speed up the process. Thisis a problem facing all of India," the group said.

"This (illegal migration) primarily represents a labour flow from Bangladesh, and needs also to be raised with Dhaka. Tragically, however, passions are whipped up by the use of unverified figures on either side, leading to greater anger, suspicions and fear," they observed.

Welcoming the Assam government's decision to update the 1952 National Register of Citizens, the group expressed concern over reports, which say that in all least 10 districts the records are incomplete or unavailable and suggested that that needed be sorted out by looking at the available data in the Registrar-General's Office in New Delhi.

The discussion recommends:

People in relief camps must be assisted to return home, in conditions of dignity and safety.

• Border patrolling needs to be more robust especially in the riverine areas.

• Tackle the sense of Impunity and Immunity that armed groups have enjoyed

• A deadline must be set for the handing in of illegal weapons and these must be registered and decommissioned (i.e. destroyed)

• Economic cooperation on joint projects on the Bangladesh side of the border could help reduce the flow and make remaining at home more attractive.

• Work Permits, as have been discussed extensively, could be issued to people to come and work in India for short periods but only after the NRC process is completed and ID cards issued to all Indian citizens of the North-east

• All sides must abide by the Constitution and the law.

• The word 'Bangladeshi' must be used to define only those who came post-1971 (the creation of Bangladesh) and should not be used casually to refer to people who are Bengali-speaking or of Bengali origin, whatever their religious persuasion, who have settled in Assam before 1971

• Intimidation and hate speech must be shunned and any group or groups involved in hate acts and incitement to violence must bear the full force of the law.

• State governments need to appoint Task Forces manned by respected scholars and researchers as well as senior officials to review and verify land records and the ownership of land so that the rights of all who are protected by law remain inalienable. 

The group members included Najeeb Jung, IAS, vice chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, Sanjoy Hazarika, director, Centre for North East Studies, JMI, prof Binod Khadria, Dr Abdul Malik, Prof Udayon Misra; Prof Anil Boro, Dr Monisha Behal , Dr Bulbul Dhar, Dr. Monica Banerjee, Kishalay Bhattacharjee, Roshmi Goswami, Suhas Chakma, Jamal Kidwai, Harsh Mander, Dr Rajesh Dev, Dr Mujibur Rehman, Dr KR Narayanan, Helal Choudhury, Mirza Rahman, Mehfuz Islam Bora, Kaisii Kokho, Kaustabh Deka.

K Anurag in Guwahati