Indigenous Tribes and the Question of NRC Updates in Assam

By MONJIB MOCHAHARI|THE PASSWORD| Friday, 3 July, 2015 |09:14 AM []

Publication of National Register of Citizens (NRC) upgradation forms in constitutionally recognised Bodo language is confirmed after a struggle. It’s a big victory for Northeast’s largest Bodo community, but the bigger battle yet to be fought still remains. Perhaps, not yet thought of by tribal intelligentsia. Except the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) and Bodo Sahitya Sabha (BSS), no other tribal organisation is serious about this process of linguistic alienation by the system which otherwise should have uphold the linguistic diversity of Assam.

It may not be wrong to percieve that the Register General and Election Commissioner of India and Office of the Assam State Coordinator of National Registration made a big blunder by distributing the NRC forms printed in Assamese langague in Bodoland. Although Bodo language is recognised in the Eight Schedule of Indian Constitution, and also as an Associate Official Language in Assam, forms printed only in Assamese were distributed in Bodoland. And, thus depriving mass use of beautiful Bodo language. One may take this as an ultimate disrespect shown to over 1.5 million Bodo people living in Assam.

As the per the notification issued by the Register General of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, the NRC forms will be printed in Bodo language and distributed only in four BTC districts - Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. This is a pure form of discrimination shown to Bodo community.
As the per the notification issued by the Register General of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, the NRC forms will be printed in Bodo language and distributed only in four BTC districts – Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. If Assamese, Bengali and English forms can be distributed across the state, then what is the problem with Bodo language, people questioned.

People feel this is a renewed attempt of a section of Assamese linguistic chauvinists to impose Assamese language on the tribal communities, a language which is hardly spoken by them. Utter disrespect shown to Bodo language can’t be tolerated, they argue. Can such discrimination be permitted in a nation governned by the principles of democracy and cultural diversities? The obvious answer, of course, is to challenge the authority itself if it systematically functions in an exclusive manner favouring a particular linguistic group or community. In this case, mostly the Assamese Brahmin ruling elites which constitutes less than five percent of Assam over three crore populations.

Promod Boro president of All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) leading a 26-hour hunger strike at Kokrajhar on demand for publication and distribution of NRC forms in Bodo languages in all districts of Assam,
Promod Boro president of All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) leading a 36-hour hunger strike at Kokrajhar on demand for publication and distribution of NRC forms in Bodo language in all districts of Assam.

National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation basically means the process of enlisting the names of all citizens residing in Assam at the time of NRC updation by ascertaining on the NRC, 1951, Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 and in their absence, other admissible documents of pre-1971 period. After conducting the Census of 1951, the NRC was prepared by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during the 1951 Census.

What is Next?

To my perception the next gigantic battle, both ABSU and other tribal communities should fight is to ensure that all the indigenous people of Assam must be registered in the NRC even if they don’t possess the legacy data or valid documents required for the registration. It’s serious battle that must be won at any cost for the larger political interest of the tribal communities who continue to be confronted by large scale agggression of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into their lands and aggressive Assamese chauvanism, a systematic process of the ruling elites to convert all tribal groups into artificially constructed “Assamese community”. Collectively, all stakeholders of tribal societies need to participate in it. Unprivileged tribal groups shouldn’t be compelled to produce irrelevant legacy data which are erroneously recorded in the past, while this should be made mandatory for non tribal groups or suspected nationalities. Of course there is no doubt why it shouldn’t be?

Moreover, the relevance and significance of NRC upgradation for indigenous and tribal communities is doubtful. What benefits does it bring apart from questioning their very existence and nationalitu? Can we we expect that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, who are occupying ttribal lands inch by inch will be deported after the process is over? Will the backward tribal communities be liberated from the onslaughted of illegal immigrants and non-tribal who have settled in legally recongised tribal belt and block areas across the state?

Will illegal Bengali Muslim immigrants find their names in the upgraded National Register of Citzens, which is currently undergoing Assam?
Will illegal Bengali Muslim immigrants find their names in the updated National Register of Citzens, which is currently undergoing in Assam?

A week back I checked the legacy data of over hundred families in Udalguri district. To my utter surprise, most of the documents/electoral rolls I checked are full of mistakes and mostly written wrongly in Assamese language or Aryanised names. Names of their grandparents, villages, or for that matter say, genealogical records, are quite different from what they usually call or have written in their certificates/records in recent times. They are baffled with their genealogical records as they embedded with gross mistakes. The legacy records and the demands of the NRC process do not match in most cases. Moreover, there are large numbers of tribal people who do not have a single official record of their great grandparents. Resulting form a process of continued internal migration within the state, high illiteracy rate and silent aryanisation of names, have made them bonafide citizens with no documents. Partly they have become strangers to their own family history. Sadly, the system which is implementing the entire NRC updates is truning cruel to people who couldn’t furnish any conclusive documents to ascertain their citizenship or territorial belonging in postcolonial times. A recent case of suicide at Cachar, in Barak Valley of Assam on 2 July 2015, is a pointer to this dangerous fact.

Bodo, India's eight largest tribe
Bodo, India’s eight largest tribe

There are twenty two major and small tribal communities in Assam. Bodo tribe is the single largest tribal group in Northeast. In fact, Bodo community is the eight largest tribe groups in India. It is indeed becoming burdensome to these groups, who are mostly illiterate, currently facing difficulty to prove that they are indeed the genuine descendants of their great grandfathers as most temporaily set up NRC Centres are rejecting these valid, but erroneous documents.

In present format, the entire process itself will deprive thousands of tribal communities from enrolling their names in the NRC upgradation. We are Indigenous people. We lived here for generations. This is an unquestionable historical legacy. Seriously, the Register General of India, must take note of these affirmations made by non other than the tribal people. People are frightened and confused now. Rumours mills are equally taking advantage of the situation spreading more disinformation to rob in money on the pretext of procuring authentic documents. Consequently they have been forced to make court affidavits by paying hefty sum of money to unscrupulous lawyers. Tribal activists must take a serious note of this challenge confronting their own communities. Interestingly, there are professional people who charge around Rs. 50 to 100 for filling up the forms per form.

A 36-hour hunger strike by ABSU on demand for publication of NRC forms in Bodo language. At Kokrajhar, Bodoland, 3-4 July 2015
A 36-hour hunger strike by ABSU on demand for publication of NRC forms in Bodo language. At Kokrajhar, Bodoland, 3-4 July 2015

Factually, indigenous people require no government certification to prove their political belonging. So, no political practice such as NRC updates question their nationality and territorial existence. Our identity is our authentic proof. Although it was initially intended to check the number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants living in Assam, however the entire process will deliver less positive results as regard to deportation of foreigners who enjoy safe political patronage. Obviously, the system has no clear explanation what would be its likely outcome of this chaotic registration of citizens currently undergoing in Assam.

What appears as of now, this is a futile exercise resulting from certain political pressure in various quarters. Ironically, efforts to deport millions of illegal immigrants living in Assam are never on sight. However, the chance of backward tribal communities being remaining outside the NRC registration is very high. It is scary. Let us not allow this unjustified process to convert Assam into a Nothun Relief Camps (NRC) for the indigenous and tribal communities.


One thought on “Indigenous Tribes and the Question of NRC Updates in Assam

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  1. Well said bro…I completely with your views…and join your sentiments…in fact I’ve tried to raise the same points in front of many of my friends, coleagues, aquintances and in platforms where I’ve had oportunities…and to sum it up all we should stand guard against all such possible malicoius designs of the few unscrupulous persons of evil intentions….

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