The Clause 6 pursuit of redefining identity

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The report of the high level committee constituted in July 2019 by the Ministry of Home Affairs for proper implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord has a range of legal, administrative as well as ethical repercussions that need to be critically examined.

The report was released into the public domain by the All Assam’s Students Union. “It has been more than five months since we submitted the report but there is simply no action from the government. People are asking us daily what has happened to it. We have finally decided to release it as the people have the right to know,” said AASU chief advisor Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya.

The recommendations have drawn the attention of entities all along the political spectrum. While some consider it to be a purely political gimmick, others consider it as the first concrete step to implement the objectives of the Assam Accord and give justification to its legislative intent.

Why is Clause 6 noteworthy, especially in the context of the NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016?

The Assam NRC exercise, which was finalised in 2019 in the midst of much anticipated outcry, had set 24th March 1971 as the cut-off for defining who was or wasn’t “Assamese”. The final list had left out more than 19 lakh people.

What is Clause 6 of the Assam Accord

The bare text of clause 6 goes as follows:

6. Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.

Under the ambit of this clause several actions have been taken including ensuring reservations for Assamese people in jobs, state legislative assembly and other local bodies, along with granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six communities of the state. Some prominent examples include

  • Setting up educational institutions for the development of indigenous tribal languages including, Bodo, Mishing, Koch-Rajbongshi, Rabha, Deuri, Tiwa, Tai etc
  • Land ownership rights, Restrictions are imposed on  transferring land by any means to persons other than “Assamese” people.

What has the central panel recommended?

The 14-member central panel which was being led by retired Gauhati High Court judge Biplab Kumar Sarma and had members from legal fraternity, scholars, journalists, retired civil servants and All Assam Student’s Union office-bearers recommended that  the definition of ‘Assamese People’ should include indigenous tribes, other indigenous communities of Assam, all other citizens of India residing in the territory of Assam, and indigenous Assamese and their descendants on or before January 1, 1951. 

It is opined by several experts that these recommendation seek to draw precedents from the existing rules present in other North Eastern States like Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh which set the cut off date for provisions like “rights over natural resources” to 1952, as well

However this is an erroneous equivalence. The trajectory of Assamese politics in India’s post independence period has been unique and cannot be equated to the regulations prevalent in other north eastern states

At first glance there seems no contradiction in this recommendation. However when we closely examine the cut off date it is set on 1st January 1951. So logically, the first question that arises is what happens to a person who migrated between 1st January 1951 and 24th March 1971?

The report stated that this category of individuals shall deemed to be “Indian citizens” but not “Assamese” and shall not enjoy the privileges granted to them under the Assam accord. This gives rise to an ethical dilemma: Can a person’s identity, beliefs, heritage be defined in accordance with arbitrary constraints set by the government?

The committee’s other key recommendations include reservation of 80 to 100 per cent of Assam’s seats in Parliament for the “Assamese People”.

It also recommended 80 to 100 per cent of Group C and D-level posts in the state in government jobs. Assamese language would continue to be the official language of the state with appropriate steps taken for the promotion and propagation for use of local languages in Barak Valley, Bodoland Territorial Area Districts,etc.

There shall also be a compulsory Assamese language paper for recruitment in state government services for Barak Valley districts, the BTAD and Hills Districts.

This committee and its recommendations are considered to be a subsidiary action taken by the government to strengthen the regime that shall be established in a post- CAA NRC era. However, it is necessary to take into account several aspects like the relations of the GoI with several tribes/ communities in the region and the psychological impact that such activities have on the local populace. Only time can tell how these recommendations will pan out. Opinions from vital stakeholders is also essential to ensure that this policy of restructuring identity not only looks goods on paper but is backed by an effective implementation mechanism that culminates into tangible change at the grassroot level.

Arushi Prasad – Writer Bharat Bhagya Vidhata

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