Sentiments involving immigrants from Bengal into Assam have ebbed and flowed as time has gone by.
Bishu Dutta Choudhury is a journalist based out of Silchar.
In Assam, the rivalry between the Assamese and the Bengali communities is not a new one. It has been in progress since the pre-independence period. But after the partition of our Motherland, the Bengali community has been on the back foot. The then leadership of our nation was not friendly with Bengal and the partition caused great hardship for Bengali Hindus. There is little doubt in the contribution of the Bengali Hindus in the freedom struggle as names of the prisoners from the Cellular jail can easily show. The immigrants were once welcomed in Assam but the situation changed with time. Despite this rivalry, the bond between the two communities in Assam has been praiseworthy. No one can deny this fact. But a section of the elite people did occasionally create trouble in the name of sub-nationalism for their vested interests. In this article, the mindset of the two communities has been examined. In the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, Bengali Hindus are still been persecuted for their Dharma. Here in Assam in the name of language, they have continued to suffer.
How was the province of Assam formed? Assam was constituted by the British in 1874, amalgamating four zones, namely (i) the hill region which they got from the King of Burma in 1826 as per the Treaty Yandabu; (ii) the Brahmaputra Valley which they conquered later from the Ahome; (iii) the Surma Valley (Bengali speaking Sylhet and Cachar districts) which was taken mainly from the Dacca division and (iv) the Goalpara district which was taken from the Coach Bihar Commissariat. (source: Infiltration Issue In Assam: A Demographic Study by Susanta Krishna Das)
If the then leadership of our nation was serious in keeping Sylhet in India, then the said problem would not have become so grave today. Rammanohar Lohia had narrated the attitude of Jawaharlal Nehru towards East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in his book ‘Guilty Men of India's Partition ‘. Lohia wrote,
'I may be permitted to refer to a private conversation with Mr. Nehru in Noakhali around the end of 1946, to which I had more or less been forced by Mahatma Gandhi. Mr. Nehru spoke of the water, slime, bush and tree that he found everywhere in East Bengal. He said that was not the India he or I knew, and wanted with some vehemence to cut East Bengal away from the mainland of India. That was an extraordinary observation. The man was obviously speaking under an emotional strain. He had set his heart on something. He was trying to discover enduring reasons of geography in order to still some small voice of conscience that he may still have been hearing. The reasons of geography might under other circumstances prove how necessary it is for the Ganga and Jamuna plains to stay joined with their luxuriant terminus. But once the idea of partition came to be accepted as a condition precedent to India's freedom, no matter that the acceptance was still very private and not even communicated to Mahatma Gandhi, the geography of East Bengal could well become abominable. For myself, I have found the gay laughter of East Bengal women unparalleled in all the world.
These men were old and tired. They were near their deaths, or so at least they must have thought. It is also true that they could not have lived much without the restorative of office. They had begun looking back on their life of struggle with a sense of hopeless despair. Their leader was not allowing them to temporise over much. What fancies had started assailing them can only be a matter of speculation and will differ according to each case. Some may have been hungering for office and the power and comfort and pelf that goes with it. Some may have been wanting to change their country and leave their mark on history and mistakenly believing that they could do neither unless they ran the government at least for some years before their death. Yet others may have been frightened at the prospect of being regarded as the mere failures of history, as persons of no importance. It is possible that these various fancies, so different as they look from each other on the surface, are all aspects of a single desire. The enjoyment of power, the improvement of the country through government and the fear of being considered a failure, are different aspects of the single wish to do good to the country with one's own hands with the help of the administration. '( page 30-31)
Moushumi Dutta Pathak wrote in her book ‘ You Do Not Belong Here: Partition Diaspora in the Brahmaputra Valley ‘
…..to look to the immediate impact of Partition in the post-colonial state of undivided Assam, we can put it in the words of B.G.Verghese that the Partition of 1947 caused the extreme isolation of the northeast. He described the region as South Asia's third landlocked state along with Bhutan and Nepal, except for the 22 km. long chicken-neck corridor at Siliguri. The Census of 1951 observed that though Assam’s loss in area as a result of this Partition is negligible (it has lost only one - eighth of its existing area), it had lost nearly one - third of its population and along with it the vast paddy lands and the tea, lime and cement industries of Sylhet -- the far-reaching effects of this loss will continue to be felt by Assam as well as India for many years to come.
At that time the Congress leadership, barring the Hindu Bengali, was eager to handover Sylhet to Pakistan. The reason behind it was to establish the dominancy of the Assamese community. It is evident from the manifesto of the then Congress. The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee in 1945, in its election manifesto, stated:
‘Unless the province of Assam is organised on the basis of Assamese language and Assamese culture, the survival of the Assamese nationality and culture will become impossible. The inclusion of Bengali speaking Sylhet and Cachar and immigration or importation of lacs of Bengali settlers on wastelands has been threatening to destroy the distinctiveness of Assam and has, in practice, caused many disorders in its administration.’
The observation of Sir Edward Gait is still relevant today in the context of the situation in Assam. The gist of his observation is ;
Assam is one State through which successive hordes of immigrants from the great hive of Mongolian races in Western China have come just as there were successive invasions through the North-West.
Mahitosh Purkayastha, Ex Congress leader narrated the mindset of the then Assamese leadership in his book,‘ The Anatomy Of North East’ (page 39)
The fear of caste Hindu elite of the Brahmaputra Valley that the emergence of Muslims in the political scene of the state would undermine their domination is far from truth and reality. And this should not prompt them to bring at this stage the issue of ' foreigners' to stir-up the sentiments of the ignorant millions and the silent majority. The dominance of Muslim leadership in the N-E region would have continued, had Mr Subhas Ch Bose not formed the first Congress Coalition Ministry in 1938 headed by Mr G N Bordoloi.
It may be mentioned that the shallow leadership of the Brahmaputra Valley dominated by the Hindus of Kamrup soon revived the old rivalry against the leadership of Surma Valley dominated by the Bengalees. They branded the Sylhet district covering about 10 pc of the total area of then Assam as a deficit district which had about 80 tea gardens and considerable minerals deposits useful for the manufacture of cement. It is not known how the districts of Kamrup, Nowgong, Goalpara, Lakhimpur and some parts of Darrang having no such potential, were surplus districts. However, they hatched a secret plan and took full advantage of the partition of India to manage a farcical referendum in Sylhet. Except for Karimganj sub-division, the entire district was handed over to East Pakistan as the destiny was decided earlier.
'They sacrificed the 12 thanas of Sylhet which the Radcliffe award might be interpreted to have given to India and were very much against accepting even four thanas clearly made over to India by the award. The Assam Provincial Congress Committee took the Chief Minister G N Bordoloi, severely to task for not protesting against the inclusion these four thanas in Assam i.e. in the territory of the Indian Dominion. They were in such a hurry to get rid of the district that they forget to claim Rs 17 Lakhs which would be India's share in the value of certain buildings in Sylhet' ( Shri Bishnuram Medhi, Chief Minister of Assam in answer to Q No 215 (e) in the Assam Assembly 1st April 1954 had to admit this fact at long last---Purbachal Reconsidered P 14 )
This bogy was not raised even after the liberation of Bangladesh. There would not have been any fragmentation of the state, had the Muslim leadership remained in power. (P 39)
Purkayastha narrated further in such way ( page 82-85)
'Mr Bhupal Chandra Ghose, a Senior Advocate of Jorhat, Assam moved New Delhi and UN ( in 1972) to stop periodical atrocities on the Brahmaputra valley Bengalees who have a record of a long stay in the valley. He exposed the hostile attitude of the vicious circle towards the Bengalees particularly the displaced persons who were systematically being declared as ' foreigners' and deported from Assam although they have settled permanently in the state. His mission to New Delhi (in Nov 1979) was to have due settlement of the question of Indian citizenship for the East Pakistan refugees vis-a-vis West Pakistan refugees who being on the same footing, are enjoying the citizenship law of the country. He wants the settlement of this issue irrespective of the place of their stay. (Note: At the book firstly the year 1972 was mentioned and later it was 1979. Simultaneously there was a reference of the UN but no data-fact was cited in his book.)
The Supreme Court Bar Association in a general body meeting on 18th December, 1979 discussed the issue of discriminatory treatment to displaced Indians from East Pakistan in the matter of citizenship and adopted a resolution urging the President of India to consider the question of citizenship for refugees from East Pakistan in the state of Assam and further requested the President of India to order an enquiry to look into the matter.
'The meeting 'the resolution added ' deplores the attack on the citizens of India who are settled in the state of Assam and requests the President of India to ensure their security.'
Explaining his mission to New Delhi which was a purely humanitarian cause and not directed against any caste, community or groups of people, in a memorandum (vide No NDS---14---79dt. New Delhi 16 - 12 - 1979 ) addressed to the Jorhat Bar Association which adopted resolution during his absence condemning his 'anti-state ' activities, Mr Ghose referred to some specific cases of atrocious treatment unlashed on the ( innocent and unarmed ) Bengalee Hindus in Dibrugarh and Sibsagar districts for their verification.
The memorandum pointed out the activities of the 'Frankensteinised youth' having the backing of elite circles. These youths have successfully debarred Bengalee students from prosecuting studies and youths from seeking jobs.
He mentioned in the memorandum how one Shri Soumitra Das got plucked in the P U Science examination of Dibrugarh University in 1977 although he secured 1st position in order of merit, but failed to get bare pass marks in practical examination conducted in his college. Withholding entire results the University enquired of the matter which was not replied even. The boy who lost his balance of mind, however, secured a position in the next year from a different centre ( Tinsukia ).
He focused their attention on the harassment meted out to the family of an idol-maker. His big family consisting of 10-12 members, including 3-4 grown-up marriageable girls, were brought after dusk for deportation to the SP's office at Jorhat from Moranhat, despite repeated requests of the 70-year-old Gaon Bura (village headmen) who asserted that he knew the idol-maker of their Nam-Ghar (temple) from his childhood.
His long account unfurling harrowing tales of the suffering helpless thousands have no parallel in the history of modern civilisation.
Mr. Ghose, a 60-year-old citizen of Jorhat, could not withstand the persecution and intimidation committed on a linguistic group by the protagonists of 'Asom Liberation Front ' and left Jorhat being mentally prepared for not keeping himself alive any more on the 'food and water' of India if the Bengalee Hindu refugees are not admitted as Indian citizens in the same way as has been done for the refugees from West Pakistan. His agony for the suffering millions persuaded him to leave his 80-year-old ailing mother and other members of his family who were being harassed by the militants. The water connection to his house has been cut off. Supporting the deportation of foreigners he recalled his association with one of the respected persons of Jorhat in 1948-49, along with many others in the vigorous activities for the ouster of foreigners. ''Two persons from village Upartemra-gaon, Rangamati Mouza, Sibsagar district filed applications for registration of their citizenship in the first week of February 1978 with necessary documents but nothing had been done in the matter in spite of their repeated approach. In the month of May 1979 last, both families were forcibly picked up together with one ailing grown-up girl of one family and they were thrown at a place off Karimganj, half a mile away from Bangladesh border. The girl expired there and they had to come back, leaving the dead body on the road, undisposed.' (Organiser, March 16, 1980)
Do the Bengalees in the North-East have the status analogous to that of the Jews during Nazism and are meant for indiscriminate beating and torture? Government-backed militancy will be stopped in no time, but the signal of the union directly or indirectly is necessary. The posterity of 'Masterda' will not lag to see that their posterity survives like human beings. No family can prosper where the guardian is either the child or the servant. How can a state which is being dictated by the Government servants and the students, prosper?
The Prime Minister should demarcate land for the Bengalees and others who can live safely and that totally depends on the sincerity of purpose of the Government.
The Union should also allay all apprehensions from the minds of the Assamese elite who want to live along NE Region having an area of 2.55 lakh sq km has enough surface to accommodate 50 million people. Some land can be carved out for the 'undesirable' non-Assamese also. If necessary, the state of Assam may be covered under the sixth Schedule to avert any fear of loss of identity. This is the only viable solution in the larger interest of the integrated country.
The BLITZ's forewarning in its issue Dec 1, 1979, that 'Centre must show guts to avoid holocaust in Assam' has not been listened to by the Centre. But its observation that ‘the country may soon be facing the biggest refugees problem even since the partition. Riots in Assam could result in the mass exodus of lakhs of Bengalees settled in the state and other regions of the North-East' may not be true although the 'black hole tragedy' as apprehended by the reporter has already taken place in many interior villages. Because the Bengalees will not move out in large numbers leaving their home and hearth to fulfil the wishes of the indolent culprits who want to enjoy all leaves and fishes of the state easily without possessing requisite qualification or fitness. Knaves will have to be dealt with as knaves.
Ex Congress Minister Mahitosh cited a letter, published in a newspaper in his book.
"The hasty move of mass disenfranchisement did not spare the ' Assamese people' including the Ex-Governor of the Punjab because of his having a surname common with that of Bengalees."
It will be interesting to reproduce below a letter published in the Assam Tribune dated 14-12-1979 under the caption ---'Amusing' by one Shri K Baruah, Birubari, Gauhati.
'I want to draw the attention of the readers as well as the authority concerned to amusing notices I and my neighbour Shri Sukdev Nath received from the Election Office, Binodan Centre, Ambari, Gauhati on December 5 that we should be present at Binodan Centre to give evidence before the Election Officer on November 26 at 11 am in connection with the complaints against foreign citizens. But the date was already over by the time we received the notices in registered post covers. According to the notices, I had complained against the citizenship of my neighbour Shri Sukdev Nath, former Vice-Principal of Cotton Collegiate Higher Secondary School, Gauhati and Headmaster of Gopal Boro Government High School, Gauhati. I know very well that he is a bonafide Assamese and it is known to a large number of people not only of Gauhati but also of Assam. I never complained against the citizenship of Shri Nath and the members of his family and know nothing about it. Probably some wicked persons did it to serve their evil purposes.' (page 23)
Extract from Appendix I of PURBACHAL RECONSIDERED (1948-54) by J K Choudhury. Purkayastha cited this in his book.
As soon as the district of Sylhet has been transferred to Pakistan as a result of the referendum in July 1947, the ASSAM TRIBUNE, the only English daily newspaper in Assam and the mouth-piece of the Ahom Jatiya Mahasabha and also of the governing classes of Assam, receiving subsidy and industrial loans from the Government remarked:
'The Assamese public seem to feel relieved of a burden'.
When the Radcliffe Boundary Commission had given their decision awarding four thanas of Sylhet to Assam (August' 47), a letter was published in the Shillong Times signed by four Jatiya Mahasabha leaders. It said among other things: With Sylhet joining Pakistan, Assam has grown smaller in area, but attained greater homogeneity which has prompted Assam to be Free and Sovereign. From the days of antiquity, Assam was not only free but also indomitable in power. She can surely develop herself into a happy and prosperous land to the envy of many. When the Congress and public agitated against the grouping of Assam with Bengal, it was Mahatma Gandhi himself who said that Assam should resist this against the whole world. But now she is grouped with rest of India, a mightier force than the other.
Assam's sovereignty was true ages ago and it should be of the future. There are many sovereign states in the world with lesser areas, population and potential resources. Assam is the home of brave martial races and tribes, whom the world has not seen in their full strength. In these days of national inter-dependence, no state or country however small or big can have any reason for fear of her defense and Assam can perhaps be one of the strongest little state in the whole East.
On the 4th January 1948, the Assam Tribune reported:
A meeting of the Ahom Jatiya Mahasabha, Kamrup branch, was held on 1st January in the Church Field to discuss the development in the country in all aspects. The President expressed the view that Assam should come out of the Indian Union and become an independent country like Burma or any other country.
For this purpose, the Jatiya Mahasabha tried to enlist the support of the Nagas to use them as tools in creating disruption. It is well known that the Nagas refused to come within the fold of the Indian Dominion and wanted to become independent. The Mahasabha at once came out with a message of sympathy for this 'common' cause. The Assam Tribune reported on 3rd January, 1948 :
Srijut Ambica Giri Roy Choudhury, General Secretary, Ahom Jatiya Mahasabha, has this morning sent a telegram from Jorhat to Mr Aliba Imti, President, Naga National Council, Kohima. Srijut Roy Choudhury in the wire informed the National Council President that the Ahom Jatiya Mahasabha workers assembled at Jorhat have expressed their fullest sympathy with their Naga brothers' stand for self-determination.
In furtherance of the above cause, the Assam Tribune wrote in its editorial of the 19th April, 1948 'Assam does not desire unity. 'The paper abused West Bengal for advocating a strong centre and for talking about Indian Nationalism. Then it abused the Calcutta Press for advocating the cause of the refugees whom it called ' floaters'.
On the 1st April, 1948, the same paper in its editorial said,
Pandit Nehru has denounced what he calls provincialism. Many do not hesitate to denounce provincialism, and in the same breath argue to make their own language lingua franca or the state language of India.
To what length of narrow parochialism the vocal section of the Assamese had gone will be evident from the following quotations. They show that the leaders of that section would not hesitate to drive out more Indian territories to Pakistan---though non-Moslem majority areas-- so that the Assamese might be more homogeneous and the exclusive owners of this part of India and carve out an Assamese Pakistan for themselves.
Srijut Ambica Giri Roy Choudhury wrote in the Assam Tribune on 22nd July, 1947:
It is our definite opinion that whatever sense there has been in retaining Sylhet as a whole in Assam, there is no justification whatsoever in these Cachar and Sylhet leaders trying to retain a few Hindu majority thanas of the district within Assam. Nor can the Boundary Commission, in our opinion, grant this demand. There is little sense in trying to retain the junior partner of Sylhet ---the Cachar plains; at any rate Hailakandi Sub-division --in Assam.
Next came the remarks of Assam Tribune made on the 23rd July, 1947
There seems to be no justification in retaining a few thanas of Sylhet district and Hailakandi Sub-division of the Cachar district within the province of Assam. Mr A G Roy Choudhury's warning to the Assam Provincial Congress Committee is, therefore, timely and appropriate.
Again, on the 29th July, the same paper said
The case for the Assamese people is clear: they do not want to retain any part of Sylhet district. The proposal to demand a few thanas seems quite uncalled for.
Fortunately, Sir Cyrill Radcliffe allowed a portion of Sylhet and the plains portion of Cachar to remain in India. Any decision to the contrary would have isolated Tripura State which is also a non-Assamese area and would force it to revise its already taken decision in favour of India to one in favour of Pakistan.
The declaration of June 3rd left with the Boundary Commission the duty of ascertaining the Muslim majority areas which were to be transferred to East Bengal. It is regrettable that though the Assam Government withdrew from the entire district of Sylhet before the decision of the Commission was made known they subsequently reoccupied only a portion of the territory allotted to India and failed to take possession of the twelve thanas. And this act of omission gave occasion for the Patharia Hill dispute, an area rich in oil, and caused the loss to India of 115 Tea Gardens, a fine airfield at Shamshernagar, and rich forests and fisheries and rice producing lands.
The Jatiya Mahasabha wanted to separate Assam from India by cutting off the connecting link between the two. They slyly took a move to leave out a portion of the Goalpara district which connects Assam with India. Here is the suggestion published in the Assam Tribune of 17th July, 1947.
The southern part of Dhubri Subdivision might properly be detached and transferred (to East Pakistan) . The area is covered by four thanas of Dhubri Subdivision, viz Dhubri, Bilasipara, South Salmara and Manikerchar. This area has a total population of 3.50 lakhs, almost entirely Bengali speaking.
So Hindu or Moslem all Bengalees must be driven away to Pakistan. Fortunately for the people of this area, the Boundary Commission ruled that the terms of reference did not include Goalpara. Otherwise, Assam would have been cut off from the Indian Union and on that plea, the Assamese would raise a clamour for independence from India.
But the Bengalees were not the only targets. They wanted to keep out of Assam, as far as practicable, every non-Assamese. On the 24th July 1947 Sri A G Roy Choudhury wrote in the Assam Tribune:
The Assam Provincial Congress Committee, it is understood, has been faced with a proposal, sponsored by the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee, of amalgamation of Chittagong Hill Tracts with Assam in the new adjustment of Bengal territories between East and West. The predominantly non-Muslim area ( Muslims being less than 3 per cent) with a population of about 2,40,000 ( all tribal ) can have no place in West Bengal being an isolated place in the East, contiguous to Assam via Lushai Hills. With the greatest sympathy for this area, the Assamese people, I think, do not favour inclusion of unwieldy patches of land within Assam. She does not desire expansion farther east in quest of barren and unwieldy hills. The Assamese people most certainly like to leave out even Lushai Hills for creation of a frontier Autonomous Unit along Tripura and Manipur.
C. THE FOREIGNER
Should anybody think that the quotations above are the outbursts of mere fire-brands here is something from the late Sj Bordoloi, the sober and respected ex-Chief Minister of Assam. To a deputation of Government employees of Sylhet who had been discharged as surplus for having opted to serve in India on the solemn guarantees of the Government to retain them on existing terms, Sri Bordoloi said: the newly accepted policy of his Government was--Assam for the Assamese. (Shillong Times, 29th August, 1947) . Grieved at this and the ruthless policy of exclusiveness followed by the Government of Assam, Mahatma Gandhi felt called upon to remark in one of his post-prayer speeches almost immediately after: 'I have noticed the view expressed that Assam belongs exclusively to the Assamese. In India, if that spirit were to enter in every Province to whom then would India belong? People of all provinces belong to India and India belonged to all.' But nothing daunted. Sri Bordoloi repeated at the Students' Congress held at Golaghat: ' Undoubtedly, Assam is for the Assamese'. (Shillong Times, Oct 19th, 1947)
This atmosphere of separatism did not spare even the then Governor of Assam. In a speech in the Assam Assembly dated 5th November, 1947, Sir Akbar Hydari said, in order to soothe Assamese feelings against Bengalees :
The natives of Assam are now masters of their own house. They have a Government which is both responsible and responsive to them. They can take what steps are necessary for the encouragement and propagation of Assamese language and culture and of the languages and customs of the tribal people who are their fellow citizens and who also must have a share in the formation of such policies. The Bengalee has no longer the power, even if he had the will to impose anything on the people of these Hills and Valleys which constitute Assam. The basis of such feelings against him as exist is fear--but now there is no cause for fear. I would, therefore, appeal to you to exert all the influence you possess to give the stranger in our midst a fair deal, provided of course, he in his turn deals loyally with us.
If anyone has any doubt about who the stranger is in Assam, he can go through the following speech quoted from the Assam Tribune of 20th July, 1947, for enlightenment:
Historically Assam is the homeland of the tribes and races. The other day Dr B K Barua in course of his lecture in the Narayani Handique Historical Institute elaborately dwelt upon the fact that civilisation of Assam is Mongolian. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Culturally, racially and linguistically, every non-Assamese is a foreigner in Assam. In this connection, we must bear in mind that Assam from the very ancient times never formed a part of India. Mythology and legendary allusions apart, viewed in this perspective every foreigner who came to and resided in Assam for trade and other purposes after the occupation of the Province by the British in 1826 AD might be treated as alien, if she wants to save herself from the grip of foreigners. An alien cannot be expected to take a dispassionate view of public affairs of our future free state.
Extract from Memorandum submitted on behalf of the riot-affected people of Gauhati and suburbs on 26th January 1968 before Sen Commission of Enquiry into the disturbances and represented by the Gauhati Upadrawa Pidit Sang, Fancy Bazar, Gauhati. The business community, particularly the Marawaris were the main target of the attack on Republic Day, 1968. Purkayastha reproduced the memorandum in his book.
1. Disturbances in Assam created by a section of the people against non-Assamese speaking population are a periodic feature of the State roughly since 1960 and onwards. The reasons have been explained by various sources in different ways, by political parties in press statements, by important politicians in different meetings, by newspapers in editorials and news columns, by Commission of Enquiries of the State, particularly in the post independence period. The non-Assamese have and had always been the victims.
2. Generally speaking, the reasons for justifying or explaining such disturbances have been attributed to economic causes, growing political consciousness amongst the Assamese people, want of proper employment in Government and private firms, lack of ability to compete in trade and business in spite of equal opportunities available to all citizens, and above all, frustration amongst the student community and the youths. But none of the above reasons, have any basis or can be justified but have been raised from time to time to create a smoke-screen and to justify the said riots.
3. It may not be out of place to mention that the State Government of Assam since after the independence has been continuously inviting people from other States to start industries in Assam. As a matter of fact, the post-independence industrialization of Assam is mainly due to the investment and efforts of the said Government invitees.
The reasons are essentially political. The often repeated slogans are as follows:--
(i). ' Assam for Assamese NOT for Indians'.
(ii). ' Assam was not in India, Assam will not be in India.'
(iii). 'Stop exploitation -----QUIT ASSAM'.
(iv). ' Assam wants freedom----Assam wants its sovereignty.'
(v). 'We shall play holi with Indian Blood'.
4. These slogans mean that whatever is there in Assam, belongs only to the Assamese people and other citizens of India within that State who are described by them as non-Assamese although many of them are living here for generations adopting both the language and the way of life, almost like the Assamese, have no right to stay here or to follow any normal avocation in the spirit of the declaration of rights and liberties called the Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of India.
5. It is necessary to explain here what is meant by the word ' Assamese' to the persons who raise such slogans. To them, the word ' Assamese' signifies the persons born out of the Assamese stock only or in other words, whose parents were of an indigenous origin in the State. It does not even include those people of Assam who speak the Assamese language by their long association in the State and have adopted this State as their home. Such a view is parochial and is in violation of all the principles of the Constitution. People who raised such slogans do not consider themselves to be Indians and want secession from India and the other Indian Citizens of Assam whom they call non-Assamese are desired to be driven away from Assam. They also mean that the so-called non-Assamese traders, businessmen, professional persons, Engineers, Doctors etc should leave Assam. These slogans also mean that some Assamese want an Independent Sovereign State of their own, outside Indian Union.
6. The slogan ' We shall play HOLI with Indian Blood' is a naked threat of physical violence to the people of Assam who are treated as non-Assamese as if they are foreigners in Assam.
7. The slogans unmistakably prove to the conclusion that such movements are politically motivated by well planned and supported or financial or guided by some influential, paid, powerful people. It may also be possible that foreign elements may be behind these riots.
8. A peculiar feature of these riots was that the Muslims, the bulk of whom hail from different districts of East Pakistan have never been affected at all by these riots. It seems that there are deep political reasons behind it and it is submitted that the Commission should thoroughly probe into the matter. (Note: It is far from the truth. Above one thousand instances can be given against this the said fact, cited in the memorandum.)
9. The reports of the Commissions previously appointed by the Assam Government have not been published so far. The said reports if published would have thrown light on the causes and reasons of these riots or disturbances and the steps so far taken by the Government to meet the situation. The Sangha believes that the Government adopted a callous attitude to the said riots and disturbances and to the said reports and did not even give a consideration to the findings and the suggestion made in the said reports. The Government by its said indifferent attitude has helped or allowed the last riot or disturbance to take place at Gauhati. The Sangha submits that the Government may be kindly directed by the Commission to submit the said reports to the Commission and to make the copies available to the parties participating in the Commission so that it may not be necessary to go behind the said reports and also to consider the conduct and the attitude of the Government and its officers. This may also save a lot of public money.
Two newspaper report was cited in ‘The Anatomy Of North East’. The views of the then PM Indira Gandhi on ‘the sons of the soil’ is relevant today also.
'Sons of the soil' theory is pernicious: PM
New Delhi, April 1:- The 'sons of the soil' theory is pernicious, the Prime Minister Srimati Indira Gandhi , said today, reports PTI. She said it was too simplistic to imagine that more jobs would become available for local people if Bengalees went out of Assam, the Assamese from Bengal, the Tamilians from Karnataka, or north and south Indians from Bombay.
Addressing new graduates at the Delhi University Convocation this afternoon, Srimati Gandhi said the 'sons of the soil' doctrine narrowed down the opportunity of elevation to higher posts and deprived the region of greater and more varied talent.
Conceding it should be our earnest endeavour to provide the people jobs near home since not too many people could migrate to other parts of the country for work she cautioned at the same time that any narrow mindedness, especially which leads to agitation has reactions in other places, hits development and does not allow employment to increase.
While some Schemes helped in the short term, the Prime Minister said basically there was only one solution to unemployment: Development of agriculture and Industry in a big way.
That she emphasised 'needs a nationwide effort and nationwide mobility for experts and trained personnel.
One could understand and sympathise with the feelings of insecurity for fear of unemployment, Srimati Gandhi said. It was her major concern too ‘because of the human problem and suffering involved and because our progress depends on making the fullest use of our manpower’. Listing ' danger from outside' as among the pitfalls on the nation's path, the Prime Minister remarked: ' Absence of foreign activity does not make it non-existent.' Srimati Gandhi said the danger from outside lay in some form of neo-colonialism and the increasing effort of other countries to mould our policies to fit in with their global strategies conceived in the light of their national interest.
The methods devised by them might be subtle or overt, sometimes amounting to considerable pressure. Conditions are sought to be created in which our opinions are limited', she said. She warned people against imitating other countries and systems 'We are Indians and we want to make our country a better India'. The Prime Minister dwelt at length on the unity of the country. She did so ' because I see a threat to it'. Telling her youthful audience that there was no dearth in India or the world of a cause to fight for something to rebel against, Srimati Gandhi said, however, that too often and too soon the zeal cooled down or was dissipated in trivialities and irrelevancies. 'This and confrontation for its own sake or narrow ends are self-destructive and even harmful to the nation', she said.
Reminding the youth that the country was at a particularly crucial point in its development, Srimati Gandhi said: ' We can get bogged down or we can pull ourselves out of the morass. It depends on you the younger generation and the intellectuals'. (Assam Tribune April 2, 1980)
PM deplores ' sons of soil' theory (The Hindu, Madras, May 14, 1980)
The Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, on Monday, described the sons of the soil theory as a very pernicious one and listed it among the sad and distressing trends noticed in the country.
Addressing a public meeting on the Marina, she said she agreed---It was also her Government's policy--that the local people should be given the first chance in employment. But, to grow, a country must have mobility and its citizens must be able to travel and do whatever they were most capable of doing and work wherever they were most needed. ' You yourself can imagine the situation if all the people of Tamil Nadu who are working in Delhi and in different parts of the country were forced to return to Tamil Nadu, it would not only mean hardship for them, but it would be a very big loss to the country and its progress, she said.
Mrs Gandhi, who made a reference to the 'sons of the soil' theory while dealing with the situation in the north-eastern region said that in those areas the minorities, who comprised not only the Muslims but even the Hindus who were from Bengal, UP or other States, were extremely frightened. It is our responsibility and our duty to protect them and their interest, she declared. There were also international commitments which could not be given up without consultation and discussion.
The Prime Minister said that the students in the north-east had accused her of distorting the situation and so she wanted to make the record straight. She pointed out that the agitation there began several months before the Lok Sabha elections before her Government came to power. There were a group of people who spread anti-national sentiments and brought out posters against India and its integrity. These posters were displayed in Parliament by different parties, and she had asked the present agitators whether they were willing to condemn these posters as anti-Indian sentiments, but so far they had not done so.
Mrs. Gandhi said that she was giving this as an example to show that because of such sentiments and divisive tendencies, violence had grown in most parts of North India.
Mahitosh Purkayastha observed in his book:
The bogey of disturbing demographic balance in Assam or Meghalaya has been engineered to augment the seriousness of the situation arising of the alleged 'heavy influx of foreigners' discovered during the regime of the short-lived Janata Government in the state of Assam. Various calculations are made to show the ' explosion of influx'. Curiously, the jugglery of figures is all based on the disputed census figures of 1951. The observation of Mr C S Mullan made in the Census Report of 1931 that ' It is sad but by no means improbable that in another thirty years Sibsagar district will be the only part of Assam in which an Assamese will find himself at home.' is often quoted to justify the contention of ' swamping foreigners' in the present context, ignoring the historical fact that 'Asom' was originally confined within the territorial jurisdiction of then Sibsagar district which is known as Upper Assam now. ' But as we know', Mr Mullan said, ' the Bengalee immigrants ( mostly Muslims from the districts of Eastern Bengal and in particular from Mymensing) caused for the first time on the 'char' lands of Goalpara in 1911, were merely the advance guard or rather the scouts of a large army following closely at their heels. By 1921, the first 'army' had passed into Assam and had practically conquered the district of Goalpara.'
The present Upper Assam was depopulated due to large scale killing as a result of Burmese atrocities and partly due to civil war. A large number of people of the present Nowgong district were killed as an epidemic (Kal-a-jar) broke out in 1810-11. The place was deserted and ultimately turned into a jungle.
Similarly, the great earth-quake of 1897 and the black fever which broke out in an epidemic form in 1889 was responsible for reducing the population of Kamrup, Nowgong etc by about 24.8 per cent during 1891-1901. Therefore the Government encouraged immigration of Bengalees from the province of Eastern Bengal and offered facilities for their settlement. These people reclaimed vast fallow lands of the five districts of lower Assam. (The Assam Land Revenue Manual Vol 1)
Continued in Part 2