Underlining the need for “popular political consensus” as the only guarantee for peace and normalcy in Assam, former Gauhati University professor Hiren Gohain called for “patience, goodwill among communities and a resolve to understand one another” as a way out of the tense environment in the state.
“Throughout the late 90s, the demand for NRC gained momentum. There was an influential civil society movement for return of this rule of law…The Muslim clerics (like Maulan Abdul Haq) for the first time conceded the anxiety of the Assamese for national existence within the Indian Union and hesitatingly then supported the Assam Accord with 1971 as the cut-off year for citizenship,” Gohain said while delivering a lecture on Immigration to Assam and the Colonial Legacy today at Jamia Millia Islamia.
“The demand for NRC rose soon after the Assam movement. It gained traction and became popular, consensus as a definitive solution for the problem of identifying true citizens. That its implementation has unearthed new and knotty problems is after all to be expected since these could hardly be seen at the time when it was only a programme on paper,” he said.
“Granted that certain political forces are trying to communalise it through undue interference from outside but to scuttle it will be to leave the question unresolved and leave room for pushing Assam back into a period of interminable blood-soaked humanitarian disaster. Patience, goodwill among communities, resolve to understand one another can see out of the woods. The alternative will be to give a walkover for national and international forces fermenting trouble,” Gohain said.
As he traced the origins of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Gohain referred to the term ‘migrant’, opining that “migrant is a bland word, something almost like a beggar”. “The term migrant absolves the West of its crimes. Likewise, in the present instance, there are resounding throwing about terms like Hindus and Muslims, migrants and foreigners – in total disregard or deliberate misreading of their socio-economic context. Hindus and Muslims were categories used by colonial rulers and scholars first to categorise a same country-wise communities cutting across regions and cultures,” he said.
Referring to the violent upheavals witnessed in Assam from the 20th century till the present date, the noted intellectual spoke about the context in which NRC emerged. “The sole idea behind it was to resolve the long-standing dispute about large-scale immigration threatening the very existence of the various ethnic indigents. The dispute has entangled the state of Assam in periodic confusion, uproar and bloodshed. NRC was supposed to provide a definitive lasting solution to it in the 90s. Supposing the project is abandoned, who or what will preserve the fragile social peace and normalcy in Assam. The state? Can we really trust any ruling party in power at any time to guarantee it? Could the Army or the CRPF alone have a complete touch – We would not have the example of Kashmir with the staggering human costs. A popular political consensus is the only guarantee,” he said.
Responding to questions on the consequences of the NRC in terms of justice and rehabilitation, Gohain said, “I don’t share the idea of deporting people. But as for identifying, this is the essence of NRC and as you know, the NRC process involves a very complex method of identification including what is called legacy data… On the basis of all those and names of those people who are descendants, it is proposed to establish the antecedents of the descendants through a scientific method but the problem is the bureaucratic implementation will be crash. It is forgotten that our common people has a very little idea of documents, they avoid government offices and (see them as) a source of trouble. If some person lacks documents, it should not automatically be taken for granted that he is not a resident. This happens to many tribal people for example. So, a more compassionate attitude should be in place. But because of the agitation and vicious propaganda, it is not possible, it is very difficult but I think that is the only way out in the present, the kind of horrifying situation we were in the 90s.”