The complex relationship between how immigrants were once welcomed to the current state of resentment needs to be sorted for Assam's future.
Bishu Dutta Choudhury is a journalist based out of Silchar.
Continued from Part 2
The Indian Statutory Commission in its report admitted that of all the Governor's province "Assam is the least developed." Moreover, Sir Otto Niemeyer in his financial report stated that Assam had been "universally recognized as deficit province and must undoubtedly receive assistance." The survival of a political system, after all, depends upon the strength of the socio-economic nexus that grow in its parts. The economy of Assam had firmly been integrated with the overall economy of the country. She had to depend heavily on the financial subventions of the Centre. The Assamese elite were not happy with the existing financial adjustment between the Centre and Assam. They even characterised this adjustment as "unscientific and iniquitous" and alleged that it constituted a "grave injustice done to Assam."
Thus, a section of the Assamese elite used to blame the Centre for the backwardness of Assam. As a cause of backwardness, they thought that the Centre was taking too much revenue away from Assam; while the Government of Assam, on the other hand, did not get what they thought was, its legitimate share of the duties on tea, oil, jute, etc. Even after independence, The Assam Tribune, in one of its editorials under the heading "Centre's Injustice to Assam' criticised the financial policy of the Central Government towards Assam and maintained that:
"Despite her vast potential resources, Assam is today as underdeveloped as she was during the British rule. Indeed, Assam's financial stringency has been responsible for holding up all her progress. The Centre is deriving benefit to the tune of 655 crores of rupees out of the excise and export duties on Assam's products like tea, petroleum, kerosene and Jute. As against this, Assam's revenue as revealed by the budget figures comes up to only about rupees 5 crores and 30 lakhs. It is, therefore, plain that the Centre gets more from Assam than Assam can manage to get from herself."
By and large, there was a widespread feeling among a section of the Assamese elite that they were being deprived by the Central Government of their 'legitimate share' as they thought that the Government of Assam had failed to improve the economic condition of the people.
Susanta Krishna Das wrote in his book ‘Infiltration Issue In Assam: A Demographic Study’ ( page 21)
'A widely held current apprehension which appears to have created concern at certain level all-through the country is the potential ‘Muslim Infiltration’.
It is presumed that such Muslim ‘infiltrators’ into Assam got assimilated with the Assamese speaking population following the same old practice that their predecessors had followed earlier. As pure presumption, this seems quite plausible.
If the presumption is correct to the huge cognizable number as apprehended and as such likely to threaten the territorial integrity of the nation in general and the identity of the original Assamese people in particular, two things must follow. First, being extra-territorial addition to the bonafide Muslim nationals living in Assam, given them their natural rate of increase which is generally higher for the Muslims than the Hindus, taking the socio-religious flexibility of them for granted, it must have caused a steep rise in the Muslim population of Assam, at least at a rate steeper than that of the Muslim population of the country. Secondly, adopted to the Assamese, it must have granted an equally steep hike in the Assamese speaking population. It has been found in the preceding section that between 1951-1971, there was no hike in the Assamese speaking population and the rate of increase is quite normal in the decade 1961-1971. This part of the presumption is thus not tenable.
Sujit Choudhury wrote in his article ‘A god-sent Opportunity?’
Initially, this migration was hailed as a positive phenomenon by the Assamese gentry. In 1885-86, the writer Gunabhiram wrote a series of articles highlighting the desirability of such immigration. Even as late as 1929, Jagannath Bujar-Barua, well-known intellectual, told the Assam Banking Enquiry Committee that ‘immigration has brought prosperity to Barpeta area.’ However, post-1920 the Assamese public opinion was apprehensive that unchecked immigration might change the demographic composition of the province, reducing the ethnic Assamese to a minority in their homeland. This apprehension reached its apogee when C.S. Mullan, the Census Superintendent of Assam, in his Census Report, 1931, made an ill-conceived observation that:
‘The immigrant... has almost completed the conquest of Nowgong. The Barpeta subdivision of Kamrupa has also fallen to their attack and Darrang is being invaded. Sibsagar has so far escaped completely, but the few thousand Mymansinghias (immigrants from Mymensingh district of East Bengal) in North Lakhimpur are an outpost which may, during the next decade, prove to be a valuable basis of major operations.’
Since then the primary concern of the Assamese leadership centred around two objectives: (i) save Assam from the constant flow of Muslim immigration, and (ii) separate Bengali speaking districts of Sylhet and Cachar from the administrative unit of Assam in order to free government offices from the clutches of the Bengali Hindu employees. When Jawaharlal Nehru came to Assam in November 1937 for an election campaign, two memoranda were submitted to him, one by Asamiya Sanrakshini Sabha, another by Asamiya Deka Dal. The first memorandum emphasised:
‘...as a means of saving the Assamese race from extinction, a considerable section of the Assamese intelligentsia has even expressed their minds in favour of the secession of Assam from India.’
In the second memorandum, a detailed programme was chalked out to save the Assamese race and among other measures, it suggested: (i) transfer of Sylhet to Bengal, (ii) total ban of Bengali immigration to the Brahmaputra valley for a period of twenty years, and (iii) strict naturalisation laws for resident Bengali immigrants.
To drive out the illegal citizens, massive revision of electoral voter list was taken place in 1977-79 in Assam. Why was it necessary? To understand the said subject properly, we have to rely on the data-fact of the Election Commission of India (ECI). I quote here the report on the general election to the Legislative Assembly of Assam, 1983 published by ECI.
The chapter 5 under the title ‘Development After Last General Election of 1978’
The last general election to the Legislative Assembly of Assam was held in February, 1978 with the date of Poll as the 25th February, 1978. After the completion of the election, the Election Commission issued the notification constituting the new Legislative Assembly. The first meeting of the Legislative Assembly was fixed for 21st March, 1978. The five-year term of the Assembly commencing from this date would normally have come to an end on the 21st March, 1983 as contemplated in Article 172 of the Constitution.
Before this election, an intensive revision of electoral rolls in all 126 constituencies with 1st January, 1977 as the qualifying date was undertaken. The programme for this revision commenced on the 15th May, 1977 and ended on 14th November, 1977 with final publication. It will, therefore, be noticed that an intensive revision, in normal conditions, takes about 6 months. The total electorate as per the revised electoral roll was 7,974,476 as against 7,225,616 at the time of the general election to Lok Sabha held in 1977 held on the basis of the electoral rolls revised in 1975. The increase worked out to about 7.5 lakhs. The percentage of increase of about 10 per cent is obviously abnormal for the two year period. It might be due to the influx of population from across the border.
It is significant to note that during and after the intensive revision of electoral rolls in 1977, there was no reaction, adverse or otherwise in the State regarding the problem of foreign nationals.
At the general election to the Legislative Assembly held in 1978, the Janata Party emerged as the largest single group. The party-wise break up of seats secured at that general election was as follows:
(1) Janata Party 53 (2) Indian National Congress i.e INC (S) 26 (3) INC (I) 8 (4) CPI 5 (5) CPM 11 (6) Plains Tribals Council of Assam 4 (7) Registered Parties 4 (8) Independents 15; Total 126
The Janata Party formed the Ministry headed by Shri Golap Borbora.
In 1978, the Election Commission examined the various factors that led to the abnormal increase of the electorate in Assam and other States as per 1977 electoral rolls. In his inaugural address at the conference of the Chief Electoral Officers held in October, 1978, the Chief Election Commissioner referred to the problem of foreign nationals vis-à-vis their inclusion in the electoral rolls in the north-eastern States. Immediately thereafter, a letter was written to the then Prime Minister emphasizing the urgency for corrective measures. As a measure of safeguard, the Commission recommended the maintenance of some sort of a national register or house register in these areas so that it would facilitate the task of identifying of foreigners (the areas prone to an influx of foreigners), helping the proper detection of foreigners and the maintenance of electoral rolls. Coupled with this suggestion was the recommendation of the Commission to implement the issue of photo-identity cards to each elector in north-eastern States. While the scheme for photo-identity cards was accepted in principle in 1980 and was introduced in Nagaland and Meghalaya, Assam has not so far been covered. No action has been taken on the other suggestion since 1978.
The episode of revision of electoral roll in Mangaldoi Parliamentary Constituency in 1978.
While there was no positive response to Commission’s suggestion, a vacancy arose in the Parliamentary Constituency of Mangaldoi in the State on account of the death of Shri Hiralal Patwari of Janata Party on the 28th March, 1979. The Commission ordered a summary revision of electoral rolls in April, 1979 with 1st Jan, 1979 as the qualifying date and the programme commenced from 20th April, 1978 which was fixed for draft publication. One month period was given for filing claims and objections i.e up to 21st May, 1979. This period was further extended up to 4th June ,1979. The process of revision could not be gone through to its logical conclusion for two reasons. Firstly, there was strong and widespread protests and representations made to the Commission regarding alleged wholesale deletions and arbitrary and illegal procedure followed by the Electoral Registration Officer and the officers employed under him for revision. Secondly, the dissolution of Lok Sabha suddenly took place on the 22nd August, 1979.
It is useful to recapitulate the events and developments connected with the summary revision of the electoral rolls in Mangaldoi parliamentary constituency which was the starting point of the trouble and upheaval connected with the 'foreign nationals issue'. There were numerous objections and representations made by important leaders of both National and State political parties about the procedure adopted for dealing with the filing of objections and disposal of those objections.
There were more than 40,000 objections, unusually large number, filed during the period fixed for filing claims and objections. Most of them were on the ground that the electors in the electoral rolls, then in force, were foreign nationals. The main allegations were that the then Chief Minister had asked the students to assist the electoral authorities in deleting the names of foreigners from the electoral rolls of the constituency. No supporting documentary evidence was attached to the objection forms, though the onus was on the elector filing the objection. About 45,000 forms were printed and blank forms were distributed through the agency of police, village headmen and secretaries of village defense parties and it was alleged by some parties that by means of threat, force or fraud, signatures were obtained on those blank forms. The Electoral Registration Officer of the constituency gave notices to affected electors, not individually as envisaged under the election law, but to groups of affected electors in one common notice. Many of the affected electors had thus no knowledge of what was being done behind their back affecting their valuable rights of franchise. The registration officer disposed of the objections accepting them even without the presence of the objectors and generally, without the production of any supporting document for the objection.
A large number of these representations were signed by important leaders amongst others, like Shri Y B Chavan, then Dy Prime Minister of India, C Subramaniam, then Union Minister, C M Stephen, MP, D K Barua, MP, and Ex-Congress President, Sarat Chandra Sinha, Ex-Chief Minister of Assam etc. Many of the local leaders repeatedly called on the Chief Election Commissioner and bitterly complained about the arbitrary manner in which the whole process of revision was being conducted. Names of permanent residents for many years and persons belonging to a minority community and Bengalis about whose citizenship, there could be no doubt, were also alleged to have been deleted from the electoral rolls of Mangaldoi parliamentary constituency. Some of the notices issued to a group of electors were also produced before the Chief Election Commissioner. When, on the instructions of the Commission, the Chief Electoral Officer, Assam made a visit to the constituency, he was presented a petition by the so-called elector–objectors claiming that they signed the objection forms by coercion and without knowledge. The Commission directed that the Electoral Registration Officer should keep in abeyance the cases of objections so far not disposed of and the appeals of those, whose names had been ordered to be deleted on defective forms, should be heard and the appellate authority should go strictly by law.
After this episode, the Commission naturally became in its various directions issued to the State of Assam as it was convinced of the truth in some of the allegations. The anxiety of the Commission naturally was that the process of revision should not be grossly abused and result in the miscarriage of justice to a large number of electors, who, on being found qualified for inclusion as electors, were continuing as such in successive electoral rolls.
Chapter 6 under the title of ‘Revision Of Rolls In 1979, Holding Of General Election To Lok Sabha And Developments Thereafter’
With the dissolution of the Lok Sabha on the 22nd August, 1979, the Commission immediately took steps for the countrywide intensive revision of the electoral rolls and fixed a common crash programme for revision commencing from 1st September, 1979 with the qualifying date as 1-1-1979.
The programme was as follows:
1. House to house enumeration of electors = 1.9.79 to 20.9.79
2. Printing of consolidated supplements of additions, deletions and corrections to existing rolls = 21.9.1979 to 4.10.79
3. Draft publication = 5.10.79
4. Last date for filing claims and objections = 20.10.79
5. Disposal of claims and objections, preparation of supplements of additions, deletions and corrections and final publication of rolls = 31.10.79
As in rest of India, except in some constituencies in the country including 114-Jonai (ST) assembly constituency where only summary revision could be undertaken on account of heavy floods, the above programme for intensive revision of rolls was followed in the remaining 125 assembly constituencies of Assam also.
During the process of this intensive revision of rolls, there was yet another spate of serious complaints made by several prominent leaders of various political parties alleging that the Home Guards who were being appointed as enumerators were taking orders from the police for enumeration work and deleting the names of a large number of genuine voters. Once already bitten by the unhappy experience of Mangaldoi, the Commission issued detailed instructions to the Chief Electoral Officer, Assam, that the Home Guards should be immediately withdrawn; the names in the existing rolls should not be omitted by the enumerator on the basis of non-production of citizenship certificate of any person and the question of citizenship should not be mixed up with the then-current enumeration. It was also made clear that the question of citizenship could not be decided for the purpose of the current intensive revision by the Electoral Registration Officer or Assistant Electoral Registration Officers with regard to the names already included in the existing rolls and that question should be taken up only after the general election in a proper and systematic manner in the light of the instructions issued by the Commission and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
At the request of political parties, the period for house to house enumeration was extended by one week i.e. up to 27.9.79 and the subsequent stages were correspondingly adjusted fixing 14th November, 1979 for final publication of rolls. Again after meeting with the Chief Electoral Officers, the period for filing claims and objections was also extended from 15 days to 22 days and the date for final publication was then fixed for 26th November, 1979 and further extended up to 30th November, 1979. In the difficult situation of Assam, the time was allowed till 2nd December, 1979 for final publication of rolls.
The constitutional necessity of holding Lok Sabha election within a specified time
The Commission had to work subject to constitutional constraints in regard to the completion of the revision of electoral rolls and holding the election. There was the constitutional requirement of not only constituting a new House of the People but calling the House to meet before 22nd February, 1980, (the last meeting was on 22nd August, 1979), as in terms of Article 85(1) of the Constitution, more than six months cannot intervene between the last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session. There was, therefore the constitutional urgency of holding the general election sufficiently before 22nd February, 1980. When a countrywide general election to Lok Sabha was being held, all the States and Union Territories will have to follow a common programme of election to obviate constitutional difficulties and for this purpose, the Commission had already decided on and made known, the election programme starting from 3rd December, 1979 with the dates of poll as 3rd and 6th January, 1980. This explains the reason why no further extension of time could be given for the final publication of electoral rolls beyond 2nd December, 1979 even though in Assam, where out of a very large number of claims and objections filed during revision, a few thousands could not be disposed of before the target of 2nd December, 1979, after following the procedure laid down in the election law. The Commission faced with the constitutional priority of holding the general election according to the schedule had to order that these claims and objections should be kept over. The number of claims and objections which could not be disposed of were as follows:
- Number of claims for inclusion filed - 4,415
- Number of objections for deletion filed - 84,970
These claims and objections related to only 15 assembly constituencies out of 126 and the revision of rolls was complete in all respects in 110 assembly constituencies excluding Jonai assembly constituency where intensive revision could not be taken up as stated above.
The number of claims and objections filed, accepted and rejected during the revision of rolls undertaken in 1979 were as follows:
(1) Number of claims for inclusion file - 2,62,838
Accepted - 1,07,140
(2) Number of objections filed - 3,23,821
Accepted - 98,153
About 6 lakh cases of claims and objections were disposed of.
As a safeguard against the arbitrary disposal of claims and objections, as was done in Mangaldoi parliamentary constituency, the Commission issued specific directions as seen above that objections based on the question of want of citizenship should not be decided by enumerators, Assistant Electoral Officers and the question should be taken up after the general election in a proper and systematic manner and under the instruction of the Commission and the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs to be issued after the elections.
Article 324 of the Constitution generally and section 22 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 specifically, give authority to the Election Commission to directions issue in the matter of relating to the revision of electoral rolls especially with the reference to the matter of disposal of objections seeking deletion of names from the electoral rolls.
In this context, it may be pointed out that similar directions were issued in 1981-82when a large no of objections raising the citizenship question were filed in the State of West Bengal at the time of revision of rolls before the general election to the Legislative Assembly of that State.
Developments at the time of Lok Sabha election in early 1980 and thereafter
The situation in the State of Assam was most disturbing and efforts were made by agitators, mainly All Assam Students Union (AASU) and Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AGSP), to prevent the general election to the Lok Sabha from being held in Assam. In fact, these two groups , especially AASU , whose leaders were drawn from the student community, first started their agitation in June, 1979 and it gathered momentum on the eve of the election held in December,1979---January,1980. The candidates were prevented by gheraos from filing nominations and officers picketed. Ultimately, no nominations could be filed, or nominations filed were rejected, or candidatures withdrew, in eleven parliamentary constituencies. In one constituency, i.e. Autonomous District parliamentary constituency, the election could not be held on account of threatened non-cooperation of polling personnel; later on, on account of the death of a contesting candidate, the poll in this constituency was countermanded. In two parliamentary seats in Cachar district, namely Karimganj (SC) and Silchar, the poll was held as scheduled.
The consequences of such unprecedented agitations were the involvement of the student community in a field concerning the political parties and the State Government servants in political matters. Indiscipline among the latter followed as a consequence. These and other developments including involvement of other sections of the society, permeated the entire period from 1980 to 1983, when the various rounds of negotiations at different levels were held without any fruitful result.
At the page no 33 of the said report, we have found the lines as below:
The 1961-1971 entrant cases had been estimated at around 9 lakhs by the agitators and around 3 lakhs by the Governments.
It was fairly certain that out of this number, only about 27,000 are Muslims, 8,000 Buddhist, Christian and followers of tribal faiths. The vast majority were Hindus. Therefore, the notion that there has been a huge influx of illicit Muslim immigrants cannot stand the test of scrutiny.
In any event, there was confusion regarding the citizenship rights of these immigrants which cannot be resolved without settlement. Even then modalities had to be worked out, tribunals appointed under proper legal provisions and cases decided. It passes one’s comprehension as to how the electoral machinery could deal with these cases in the absence of lists prepared on the basis of legal proceedings under specific law to be enacted.
Orint Shani in her book ‘How India Became Democratic’ narrated the plight of refugees i.e. partition victims in the matter of inclusion of names in 1st voter list in Assam. She wrote that the question of registering the refugees was particularly acute in the partitioned areas, namely, West Bengal, East Punjab, and Assam.
Soon after the detailed instructions for the preparation of the rolls were disseminated, in mid-March 1948, and provincial governments began issuing their instructions to local administrators, letters began arriving at the CAS (Constituent Assembly Secretariat), asking whether and how refugees should been rolled. Indeed, refugees’ citizenship and residential status—two key qualifying criteria for registration as voters—were unclear and soon became a contested matter. According to the prescribed residency qualification, a voter had to reside in the place where he would register from 30 September 1947 at the latest. But a large number of the refugees migrated after 30 September1947. Moreover, waves of returnees from Pakistan who left during the violence in late 1947 were now coming back to India.
The CAS acknowledged that ‘the residential qualification of 180 days up to 31 March 1948, will cause hardship to refugees….for reason beyond their control….Some concession will have to be made for the refugees otherwise a large number of persons will be left out.’
Shani further pointed out as below
The President of the East Bengal Minority Welfare Central Committee, Calcutta, wrote that ‘certain points mentioned in the Press reports regarding residence qualification and a few provisions in the Draft Constitution regarding citizenship, voting rights, etc. have created considerable apprehension among a large section of the people living in West Bengal and Assam but originally hailing from territories now in Pakistan’. The Committee pointed out that because no arrangements were made as yet by the Government of India or by any provincial government for receiving declarations for citizenship as set in article 5(b) of the draft constitution, ‘any preparation of electoral rolls may be seriously prejudicial to the interests of the Immigrants’. The Committee suggested that interim instructions for receiving declarations of domicile as envisaged in article 5(b) of the draft constitution should be issued immediately. Additionally, they cautioned that unless new ‘definite’ directions were given with respect to the residential qualification of 180 days ‘the immigrants from Pakistan are likely to be omitted from the Draft Electoral Rolls now to be prepared’. The Committee suggested in this regard that the question of residence ‘should be very leniently applied at least in the preparation of the first electoral rolls. Mere declaration as to the intention of residence should be accepted as residential qualification’. The Committee also reported that in some parts of Assam attempts were being made to leave out the immigrants from the electoral rolls.
Indeed, several letters referred to a circular that the Reforms Commissioner of Assam issued on 28 May 1948 to all district officers, containing detailed instructions for them and their staff regarding the preparation of the electoral roll.
The said letter from the Reforms Commissioner of Assam is at below
"The Government desires to draw your personal attention with regard to the floating and ‘non-resident’ population of the District. These people are not qualified to be registered as voters. They may be staying with friends, relatives or as refugees or labourers. Great caution will be necessary on the part of your staff to see that not a single individual of this class manages to creep into the electoral roll by any chance."
On his final note, the Reforms Commissioner asked that ‘officers of all grades who may be entrusted with this work of national importance will devote their whole attention and care in the performance of their duties in this affair with patriotic zeal. In his following circular the Reforms Commissioner emphasized that the reference to ‘residence’ in the instructions for the preparation of the roll’ means residence of a citizen. Citizenship comes first and residence next…Citizenship will have to be first established before one can acquire franchise.’
‘You will find’, stated another letter, ‘that attempts are being made to exclude all persons who were not born in Assam as constituted now. (Letter from the Secretary of the Surma Sammilani, Assam to CAS, 14 July 1948. The Premier of West Bengal wrote personally in the matter of the instructions issued in Assam to the Constitutional Adviser and asked for clear instructions in the matter of refugees’ registration.)
Author Shani further pointed out as below:
In some cases, local authorities raised difficulties and refused to register refugees by devising ad hoc, sometimes capricious, procedures and definitions of a ‘refugee’. Thus, for example, according to a complaint of the Assam Citizen Association Nowgong, in both Hojai and Dabeka, Assam, the sub-Deputy Collector refused to receive the declaration forms from refugees because in his view, ‘those who live under a shed cannot be called refugees, and that refugees were only those who had to live under the trees or on the road…or in the station platforms’. (Letter of the Assam Citizens Association, Nowgong to the District Magistrate Nowgong Assam, 30 September 1948) The Sub-Deputy Collector’s other contentions were that the ‘ Government is not a charitable institution that it should maintain people from Eastern Pakistan’ and ‘that the Hindus from Eastern Pakistan have come here to convert Assam into a ‘BANGAKISTAN’. The Assam Citizen’s Association Mangaldoi, as another example, reported that the Sub-Deputy Collector ‘refused to accept declaration of a female refugee…aged 22 years (mother of 3 children), presented by her husband on 5.10.48, on the ground of non-production of horoscope in support of her age’. (Letter from the Assam Citizen’s Association Mangaldoi to CAS, 25 October 1948). They also reported that the Sub-Deputy Collector of Kalaigaon Circle ‘rejected wholesale declarations of female refugees…unless the females themselves appeared before him for his satisfaction as to the age of the declarants’.
In the contestations over the refugees’ place on the electoral roll, rivalling conception of membership in the nation surfaced. In Assam, for example, ethno-nationalist attitudes manifested particularly towards the non-Assamese ‘floating population’, many of whom were Bengali speaking Hindus from East Pakistan. Local authorities expressed a view of membership in the state that was defined by a descent group and delimited to the ‘children of the soil’, who were eligible to have full rights. Thus, ethno-nationalist conceptions were not necessarily on the basis of religion. By contrast, in West Bengal, as far as the preparation of the preliminary roll was concerned, ‘any person who would state that he a has domicile in the Indian Union was to be straightway included in the roll.
Shani mentioned at page 68 in her book as below
The Government of Assam, for example, set a court –fee stamp of the value of eight annas to be affixed on the declarations to be filled by refugees for inclusion in the preliminary electoral rolls, even though no fee was stipulated to the order to relax refugees’ registration on the roll. It also set that such declarations should be made in writing before the Circle Sub-Deputy Collector before 30 September 1948. In his confidential instructions on the enrolment of the refugees, the Reforms Commissioner of Assam directed officers to ‘verify that the declarant is actually a refugee’. Thus, on the refugee declaration form that he devised, the declarant was required to provide information about the province, district and thana from where he arrived, and the month of arrival, in order to ascertain ‘as far as possible the actual happening of the disturbing event or events as the cause or probable cause of migration.’
At page 76, Shani, senior lecturer, University of Haifa said:
For example, at a meeting with the Reforms Commissioner of Assam, who was summoned following several complaints from citizens’ organizations in Assam, he was asked to withdraw the court-fee charge he imposed on refugee declarations. He agreed to extend the deadline for the declarations of refugees to 31 October 1948 and to give due publicity to this extension. He also agreed that ‘in the case of women it would be enough if their husbands or parents sign the declarations on their behalf,’ as suggested by the CAS and as was requested by numerous citizens’ organizations on behalf of the women.
A few facts on immigration issue are found in ‘Political History of Assam, Volume 3 (page 265)’
The Assam Samrakhsini Sabha strongly opposed the settlement of immigrants in Assam and viewed it as a menace to Assamese race and culture. The president of the Sabha, Ambikagiri RoyChoudhury, submitted a memorandum to Nehru when the latter came to Assam in 1937. The memorandum stated:
The Bengalee Hindu and Muslim who run at one another’s throat in their province, are all in one in Assam in this respect, not with a view to fighting for the cause of national freedom, but for establishing their Bengalee kingdom in close cooperation with the British Government. There has been a serious setback to the process of assimilation with the Assamese. The Mymensinghi immigrants who had voluntarily come forward to identify their interests with those of the Assamese are now persuaded to give that up and are being forced to read Bengali.
At present, the controversy on the definition of indigenous’ has erupted in Assam. We get the definition of this controversial word in the book ‘The Refugees and their identity crisis: A history of Cachar (1950-1954)’ by Debashish Roy (Page 28-29)
An ‘indigenous’ person was defined in the Assam Gazette dated the 6th September,1950 as follows:
Indigenous persons of Assam means persons belonging to the state of Assam and speaking Assamese language or any tribal dialect of Assam or in the case of Cachar, the language of the region.
It is significant that it was not mentioned that Bengali was the language of the district of Cachar. The above definition was formulated in connection with Assam census in 1951 when the Assam Government decided to enumerate the size of land-holding of indigenous persons.
He further mentioned the provisions relating to qualification for obtaining domicile certificate in Assam as disclosed by the Chief Minister of Assam on the floor of the Assembly on 20th March,1948.
A non-Assamese must have the following qualifications in order to acquire the domicile:
1. Homestead in the district when he should live continuously at least for 10 years.
2. Desire to live till his death.
3. Non-possession of any landed property in his native district.
4. Absence of frequent visits to his native place or district.
5. Absence of interest or connection whatsoever with the native people.
In this connection, it is pertinent to quote a portion of the weighty observation of the States Re-organisation Commission.
The desire of the local people for the state services being manned mainly by ‘the sons of the soil’ is understandable but only up to a point. When such devices as domicile rules operate to make the public services as exclusive preserve of the majority linguistic group of the state , this is bound to cause discontent among the other groups, apart from impending the free flow of talent and imparting administrative efficiency. (para 849 of SRC Report)
In August 1960 Parliamentary Delegation toured Assam and produced a report and I quote the relevant portion of the Report from the ‘Report of Non-Official Enquiry Commission on Cachar’ (page8)
The Bengali-speaking people question the accuracy of the 1951 census figures in so far as they relate to the Assamese-speaking population numbered only 19.8 lakh which during the 20 years from 1931 to 1951 jumped to over 49 lakh or by 150 per cent against an increase of about 4 lakh during the preceding 50 years beginning from 1881. The Bengalis had questioned these figures before the State Re- organisation Commission. Their contention is that these figures were inflated to provide justification for the introduction of the Assamese as the state language. We have tried to seek an explanation for this extra –ordinary increase, which is not warranted by trends of patulous growth of population from the Assam Government. We were told that all the Muslim Bengalis of the Brahmaputra Valley, who had formerly registered themselves as Bengali-speaking held in 1951 voluntarily declared themselves as Assamese speaking. We are not altogether satisfied with this explanation.
Here, a confidential-circular dated 30th July, 1953, issued by Appointment Department and Appointment Branch, Assam Government, is placed in toto to understand the emerged situation after partition. From this, we can gauge the attitude of the then Assam Government. (source: Autonomy Movements in Assam by P S Dutta, page 388-391)
Office Memorandum (No AAM 10/53/137) (From the Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam, Shillong)
'With a view to remove any misunderstanding that might have arisen after the commencement of the Constitution in regard to the question of domicile and allied matters, the undersigned is directed to clarify the whole position as below for guidance of all concerned.'
1. Employment under the State Government: Until the requirement as to residence within the State in regard to employment or appointment under the State Government is laid down by the Union Parliament under 16(3) of the Constitution, a person belonging to any of the following categories shall have to obtain a certificate to the effect that he is a native of or domiciled in, or displaced person migrated to Assam, as the case may be, for the purpose of employment under the State Government.
(a) Persons who are not Natives of Assam: The general rule of domicile is contained in Para 307(2) of the Assam Executive Manual. A person who is not a native of Assam shall be deemed to be domiciled in it, only when he has become the owner of a homestead (house and land) in the State, has already lived in that homestead for 10 years, and intends to live in that homestead until he dies.
(b) Persons who were Natives of, or domiciled in the District of Sylhet in Undivided Assam: To meet the changed circumstances caused by the Partition, the following categories of Indian citizens who were natives of, or domiciled in the undivided State of Assam shall be deemed to be natives of, or domiciled in reconstituted Assam.
(i) A person who was a native of, or domiciled in the district of Sylhet and was thereby deemed to be a native of, or domiciled in Assam shall also be deemed to be a native of or domiciled in reconstituted Assam only if has settled in any part of reconstituted Assam before partition i.e. before 15th August, 1947, by being owner of a homestead ( house and land) and continues reside there.
(ii) A person whose father was recruited as a native of, or domiciled in the district of Sylhet before partition, and opted for service in reconstituted Assam and is either serving or has retired or died after partition, shall also be deemed to be a native of, or domiciled in reconstituted Assam only if father has settled permanently with members of his family in any part of reconstituted Assam by acquiring a homestead (house and land) or land and in case the aforesaid person’s father is dead, he and rest of his family have resided in any part of reconstituted Assam for 10 continuous years, immediately preceding the date of application for appointment and intend residing permanently in Assam.
Provided that in individual cases of hardship or when Government are satisfied with the intention of the applicant or his family to settle permanently in Assam, Government may relax any of the above conditions.
(c) Displaced Persons: The Government’s policy in the matter of appointment of displaced persons is that the cases of displaced persons shall be considered only if suitable local candidates (i.e. the candidates who are natives of, or domiciled in Assam) are not available.
The definition of ‘displaced persons’ is as follows:-
(i) A ‘displaced person’ means any person who, having left or being compelled to leave his home in Eastern Pakistan on or after 15th October, 1946 (or his home in Western Pakistan on, or after 1st March, 1947) on account of civil disturbances or for fear of such disturbances or on account of the setting up of the Dominions of India and Pakistan, entered Assam to reside permanently in this State. There is no difference between the terms of ‘refugee’ and ‘Displaced person’. In official correspondence, the latter has supplanted the former term.
(ii) Displaced Persons are not ipso facto citizens of India. Displaced persons are citizens of India only under certain circumstances enunciated in Article 6 of the Constitution of India.
(iii) For the purpose of employment, a displaced person should obtain a certificate of eligibility from the State Government.
2. Procedure for obtaining certificates: The persons under categories (a),(b) or (c) or para I above should submit their applications with relevant documents to the appropriate Deputy Commissioner (through the Sub Divisional Officer of the Sub division in which the applicants have settled where there is an SDO). The applications should be properly stamped.
(i) When a District Officer is satisfied, after a thorough enquiry in accordance with the instructions contained in letter No. AAM.14/48/233, dated the 21st October, 1948, that a particular individual belongs to one of the aforesaid categories, the applicants should invariably be forwarded to Government with full report on every point for orders. The doubtful cases should also be forwarded to Government for decision and only those applications which do not fulfil the conditions laid down in para 2 above may be rejected by District Officers themselves.
(ii) As soon as a case is approved by the Government, the Deputy Commissioner will issue a certificate in the form as shown in Appendix ‘A’ in case of an applicant belonging to category 1(a), in Appendix ‘B’ in case of an applicant belonging to category 1(b), and in Appendix ‘C’ in case of an applicant belonging to category 1(C) mentioned above.
3. Contracts, settlement of fisheries, ferries, toll bridges, forests and excise shops etc: For the purpose of contracts, settlement of fisheries, ferries, toll bridges, forests, excise shops etc, a person shall be deemed to have acquired a domicile in Assam if he has been in residence in the State for at least 10 years along with his family and can also speak Assamese or one of the Tribal languages, if residents in districts other than in Cachar, or can speak Bengali or Assamese or one of the Tribal languages of Cachar, if residents in the Cachar district. If the authority granting contracts, etc, is in doubt or requires a certificate from a person to this effect, Deputy Commissioners and Sub Divisional Officers after being satisfied may issue a certificate to the effect that the person concerned fulfils the above conditions.
4. Admission to Educational Institutions: Discrimination on grounds of residence is not within the inhibition of the Provisions of Clause (1) of the Article 15 and Clause (2) of Article 29 of the Constitution and as such reservation of seats in educational institutions on a State-wise or territory-wise basis is permissible. So, for the purpose of admission to State-managed or State-aided educational institutions, a candidate who is not a native of or domiciled in Assam shall be deemed to have acquired a domicile in Assam if he/she or his/her parents fulfil all the requirements as stated in para 3 above. If needed by any educational institution or in case of doubt, a certificate to this effect may be issued by the Deputy Commissioner or Sub Divisional Officer, in the manner indicated in para 3 above.
5. As the delay in disposal of cases is likely to cause considerable hardship, all applications for domicile certificate, eligibility certificates etc should be promptly enquired into and forwarded by District Officers concerned to Government in the Appointment Department for orders. In case of all certificates contemplated in paras 3 and 4 above the Deputy Commissioners and Sub Divisional Officers would dispose them off as expeditiously as possible.
N. B:- A person having built a homestead on land taken on long lease (for not less than 12 years) from any intermediary, should also be recognized as ‘owner of a homestead’, provided that there are no other circumstances to doubt the intention of the applicant to live in Assam until he dies.
This modifies previous orders on the subject.
At page 393 Dutta mentioned in the same book as below:
…why should rules on domicile and other citizenship rights be treated as ‘Confidential’ or ‘Secret’? Does not that point to a guilty conscience? The reason for this secrecy is obvious. These circulars are manifestly unconstitutional, illegal, immoral and subversive of Indian unity. Firstly, they divide the Indians in Assam into three categories: (1) Indigenous or native (2) Domiciled; (3) Displaced;-- with varying rights for each, denying the equality of opportunity to all. Secondly, they put a premium on property, discriminating between the rich and the poor, by insisting on the possession of land and house, in addition to residence for ten years, and in certain cases, knowledge of the Assamese language as a condition-precedent to the right of ‘domicile’; Thirdly, in order to shut out from their rights and dues a large section of Assam citizens and public servants whose home district (once a part of Assam) had been sent out to Pakistan for no fault of theirs, an absurd condition has been laid down that they can be accepted as domiciled if only they or their fathers had a house with land in ‘re-constituted’ Assam from before the Partition! As if they or their fathers were astrologers with fore-knowledge that someday their home-land would become a foreign territory, and they must from beforehand build houses somewhere within the rest of Assam to ensure their and their children’s citizenship rights in the future. And if the father happens to be dead, then the unfortunate children must put in a second spell of residence for ten years, before being taken as ‘domiciled’. Fourthly, the question of future ‘intention’, ‘interest’ and any ‘connection whatsoever’ with one’s former home district, if any, is so elastic and gives such a handle to the deciding authority as to take away by the left hand what has been apparently given by the right. Fifthly, the displaced persons’ whom the present Chief Minister of Assam once called ‘undesirables’ and then (in June 1954 at Silchar) just spared calling ‘vagabonds’ by the use of a euphemism---‘landless, homeless and unemployed people’—these displaced persons have been relegated to the background as third-class citizens to be satisfied with crumbs from the tables of the native and the domiciled. Lastly, the hint is clear to the District authorities that they are to reject outright whenever possible and, where impossible, send the petitions for domicile with as many hurdles as can be created, to the Government for final disposal. The right of granting domicile certificates has been withdrawn from the District authorities and that of refugee certificates from Employment Exchange Officers, for obvious reasons, as some of them may happen to be non-Assamese! And who knows a camel or two may not pass through the needle’s eye occasionally?
Sanjib Barua wrote in his book ‘India Against Itself: Assam And Politics Of Nationality’ as below:-
Bengali intellectuals and organizations in Cachar typically speak not for Cachar alone but for Bengalis in the Brahmaputra Valley as well. A document submitted as a memorandum to the States Re-organisation Commission from a Bengali organization of Cachar challenges the notion that Assam should necessarily have an Assamese public identity.
While by ‘Assamese’ the educated class of the people of that name meant only those and none but those who inhabited the five districts of the Assam Valley and not exceeding three millions in all, formed just a third of the total population, by the word ‘Assam’ they understood the entire geographical area called by that name on the map and five times as large as Assam proper. And they wanted to rule over the whole, impose their language and culture upon the whole, and draw the substance out of the whole only for their own prosperity….No Indian worth salt had fought a life and death battle against British Colonialism for half a century in order to account in the native grab from his countrymen.
Hemchandra Barua pointed out the issue in his article ‘The Population Problem Of Assam’ as below (I quote this from the book ‘Bharat Bhumi’ by Bijoychandra Bhagavati)
No reliable estimate of the total population of the province prior to 1872, the first year of regular census, is available. In 1835, the population of the entire Assam Valley was estimated to be 7,99,519. Sir Edward Gait who quotes this information says that it would not be safe to place much reliance on this estimate. It is, however, on record that the Burmese invasion and the internal quarrel which took place before 1826 account between them for a loss of more than half the population of this province (Anandaram Dhekial Phukan quoted by Gait at page 289 in his history of Assam).
The British who came to restore political order in the province brought with them forces which in a short time changed its Economic structure also. Tea culture was started as early as 1837. By 1852, the industry passed its experimental state and entered upon a vigorous and prosperous career. Coal and oil were discovered in the easternmost district of the province. A part of foreign capital was attracted to these industries.
The capitalistic industries so started with foreign capital and enterprises soon created a demand for an increasing number of labourers. At the same time the British Government was perfecting its bureaucratic structure of administration for which an army of English knowing employees were necessary. As the major part of the province vigorous and able population was destroyed by the calamities prior to 1826, the scarcity in the labour market could not be removed without a supply from other parts of India
Its (indigenous population) growth was further checked by the natural calamities which visited the people during the years following ‘Kalazar’ alone is reported to have taken a toll of 1,60,908 persons between 1882 and 1892. To supply the shortage created by these recurring calamities labourer had to be imported outside.
But it was not so much a case of labour flowing to the population in response to the higher wage rates prevailing there as of ignorant workers being attracted here by the deceptive promise of recruiting agents. When these immigrants were disillusioned as to their prospects and status in the plantation where they were treated as virtual serfs, they took the earliest opportunity to come out of the gardens and settle as ordinary agriculturist on wasteland that was still abundant. The plantation whose profits depended on an abundant supply of cheap labour had, therefore, to renew their efforts to import labourers also every year that passed. As a result of this process of unceasing import of immigrants partly to supply the vacancies, created by the exodus of old workers and partly to meet the demand of the expanding industry, the total population of the province began to increase by leaps and bounds. In 1931, Mr Mullan in a note appended to his report on the census of Assam estimated the total of all tea garden labourers at 14,00,000, of these 10.5 lakhs were in Assam Valley and the rest in the Surma Valley. Out of these 10.5 lakhs, 4.5 lakhs were ex-tea garden labourers residing as permanent cultivators.
This is not the whole of the story of immigration into the province. A capitalistic industry like tea, usually brings in its train a host of professions and industries subsidiary to it. The appearance of such industries and professions in Assam made a further demand for labour, this time for skilled type labour.
As a result, a new stream of immigration of skilled and educated men from outside entered the land and created further complexities in the problem of population.
There is a large Nepali population depending on grazing and cultivation in the province. In 1931, 88,306 immigrants from Nepal were censused in the province.
The tea industry has contributed to a greater degree than any other single factor to the increasing variety of the population. Before these streams of immigrants to the plantation and urban areas of the province could dry up, a new stream made its appearance on the scene. The first news of its approach was reported in the census report of 1911.
In a quarter of a century the current speed into the remotest part of the Assam Valley from Goalpara to Lakshimpur. These are the Muslim colonists from eastern Bengal. They are all agriculturists and have greedily taken up all waste land they have found on their way. Where there is wasteland thither flocked the Mymensinghis. In fact, the way in which they have seized upon the vacant areas in the Assam Valley seems almost uncanny. Without tumult, without fuss, without undue trouble to the district revenue staff, a population which must account to over half a million has transplanted itself from Bengal to the Assam Valley during the last twenty-five years (Vide Census of India, Vol III, Part I).
The way in which the immigration of non-provincial has affected the character and volume of the provincial population is extraordinary. As noted above, the immigrants were first attracted by the scarcity of labour of all kinds which made itself felt soon after the taking over of administration by the British. It was, therefore, purely on the economic phenomenon and should have been handled as such from the start. But the attitude of laissez-faire which characteristic the policy of our rulers in these days stood on the way of such treatment. The result was that the population of the province went on growing both naturally and through immigration, while the standard of life fell, but strangely enough, without stopping or even weakening the current of immigration.
The committee which enquired in the Assam labour conditions in 1922 found that on some gardens the wage had been unchanged for almost a quarter of a century. The following statistics, compiled from the census report will show that the stream of immigration was increasing at an almost steady rate during the last 60 years.
Gain by Immigration
• In 1872 - 40,0000
• In 1880-81 - 2,00,000
• In 1901-1911 - 77,799
• In 1911-1921 - 4,11,941
• In 1921-1931 - 1,21,648
Gain by Natural Increase
• In 1880-81 - 5,30,000
• In 1901-1911 - 8,55,777
• In 1911-1921 - 5,17,784
• In 1921-1931 - 11,35,963
In consequence of the growth indicated above the total population of the province rose from 40 lakhs to 92 lakhs between 1872 and 1931---23.5 per cent of this total was of all India extraction.
Assam is a multilingual state. There is little doubt in this. But a section of people is reluctant to accept this fact. The first Chief Minister of Assam after independence Gopinath Bardoloi has boldly stated that there was hardly any majority community in the state of Assam. Mrinal Miri wrote in his book ‘Linguistic situation in North East India’:
After Partition; ‘One of the reasons why the Assamese supported the separation of Sylhet was that they would be able to establish the predominance of their language. Immediately after partition Assamese leaders became more vocal about the position of their language and culture and demanded the introduction of Assamese in the province as a whole and its adoption as the state language.
On 26 September, 1947, the Bardoloi Government directed that ‘… Assamese is accepted as a compulsory second language in all schools where it cannot be Assamese completely.’ To the Bengalee’s complaint of Government’s partiality in the matter and imposition of Assamese on them, Gopinath Bardoloi, the Chief Minister replied on 23 March, 1948 in the Assembly: If you must analyse the population of Assam, you will find there is hardly any community in Assam which may be called the majority community. I do not know whether this fact is known…In Assam, there is no community which may be called a majority community in which the population of one community is predominantly more than the population of another community…’ Again…’ As I said, there are hardly any minorities in the province and that is, I suppose, to the best interest of the Province. Nobody can rule over anybody on account of the number of any community and that has probably been one of the reasons why we have lived in such peace and unity.
But participating in the debate on a cut motion to raise a discussion on the question of alleged imposition of Assamese and protection of Bengali language in Goalpara, Shri Nilmoni Phukan made a categorical assertion on 29 March, 1948 on the basis of the Premier’s statement that Assam would not be a bilingual state. He said, ’This question of protecting the Bengali speaking minority of Goalpara district cannot arise.’ Again he emphasised that it was clear from one end of the country to the other that ‘…geographical territory of Assam can no longer be disturbed on any other ground of linguistic basis of any minority community. Regarding our language, Assamese must be the state language of the Province (hear, hear)…There can be no gainsaying on it even if the Government stand or fall on it (hear, hear). So the question of language is solved once for all. The question of language for the minority communities in Assam is also solved….At least Assamese people as a whole will not and cannot tolerate any other language or culture imposed on theirs. All the languages of different communities and their culture will be absorbed in Assamese culture… We, the Assamese people will resist to a man and will never allow any other language to establish permanently as the state language in Assam’. Claiming to speak with authority in the matter regarding the mind of the people, he asserted, ‘…we will have Assamese alone as our state language and the state cannot nourish any other language in this province.’
The said dominant attitude and behaviour is the main cause of problem in Assam. Who knows, how long will Assam have to suffer ?