• Special Report
  • Chhattisgrh
  • Enduring ethnic problem of Assam can have solutions

    Even as Assam and parts of the Northeast remain embroiled in vigorous protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, one hopeful sign is that new ideas to arrive at a balanced solution have been put forward. The fact that there has been no major outbreak of ethnic violence among dominant groups in the region also fosters optimism during an obviously tense confrontation between the Centre and the non–BJP opposition parties.

    Observers point to certain special features in the present situation that differ markedly from the violent 80s and 90s in matters relating to ethnic relations, especially in Assam. People of the three Bengali-speaking districts in the Barak Valley have welcomed the Centre’s decision to allot citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries. Once more, in terms of political choice, cultural preferences and language, the clear break that exists between upper Assam districts and the Barak Valley remains as unbridgeable as ever.

    On the other hand, in Guwahati and some other parts of Assam, where Assamiyas are dominant, groups of Bengalis have joined angry opposition protests against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), apparently sacrificing their own long term political interests. Whether these gestures will successfully convince Assamiya organisations of their good faith and loyalty remains open to question.

    Sections of both Hindu and Muslim Bengalis settled in Assam have been known to declare falsely Assamiya as their mother tongue during census operations. The motive is to ensure that they were not discriminated against or treated as second class citizens in the state. In the process, the natural domination of Assamiyas in their homeland politically and culturally can be sustained.

    Kolkata-based observers feel that in the present situation, an earlier proposal to create a separate state conflating the three Barak Valley districts and adjacent areas could well be revived in the greater interest of preserving peace in the state and the region as a whole. The BJP is not averse by its tradition towards creating small autonomous states, provided certain basic requirements are fulfilled. The fact that some areas within the valley are already contiguous with Bengali-majority Tripura is, if anything, an added bonus.

    However, most Assamiya organisations have refused to support or endorse such proposals in the past for emotional and other reasons. The present area of Assam, according to their spokesmen, is already much reduced for Assamiyas, as Meghalaya became a separate state. Arunachal Pradesh, too, is no longer ruled from Guwahati. In the process, the culture of Assamiyas has lost its earlier pre-1947 domination, its natural hinterland, in the region as a whole.

    Not surprisingly, the idea of a new autonomous state found ready resonance in Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts, where most people accuse Guwahati-based authorities of neglecting their genuine demands and economic interests. The bitter legacy of the Bengali language movement of the early fifties, when 11 people were shot dead, has not been forgotten. Hardcore Assamiya organisations remain unforgiven in the region.

    The other idea doing the rounds has been put forward in a letter jointly signed by 135 academics, activists and professionals from all over India to President R.N.Kovind. The signatories include Harsh Mander, Johanna Lokhande, Jayati Ghosh, Karen Gabriel, Biswaji Bora, Farah Naqvi, Dhananjay Tripathy, Anuradha Chenoy and Ayesha Kidwai, among others.

    They have suggested that the recent upgrading of the citizens’ register in Assam (NRC exercise) has rendered the future of nearly 40 lakh people uncertain for their apparent failure to fulfill the required conditions that ensure Indian citizenship. This, out of a total population of 3.2 crore people. By December 31 2018, the last date for fresh applications for such people, it has been seen that only around 31 lakh people have been able to put up more documents and secure additional evidence of their citizenship.

    However, even if the NRC authorities accept the claims of all these people, this would still leave around 900,000 people stateless. What is to be done with them? Bangladesh clearly cannot be expected to accept as its citizen such a large number of people. On the other hand, the Supreme Court, the apex authority supervising the upgrading exercise, insists that illegal Bangladeshis found in Assam should be deported to their land of origin.

    Should they be kept in specially administered camps under armed guards in the interim prior to their eventual pushback following Indo-Bangla negotiations — an extremely unlikely possibility, Supreme Court or not! — as a tribe of unwanted people their fate not unlike that of the hapless Rohingyas of the Rakhine province of Myanmar? It could lead to an imbroglio similar to that involving Myanmar, Bangladesh and the international community, drawing India into the vortex of a massive regional ethnic crisis that would be largely of its own creation. Where would so many men, women and children be accommodated in India, who will pay for their upkeep and maintenance, the letter asks.

    Unless these questions were actively considered and some concrete plans worked out to the last detail, it would be foolhardy for Indian authorities to proceed with what seems to be an obviously impractical, if not harebrained, scheme involving the fate of lakhs of people. Security and stability in a highly sensitive region would be once more jeopardised with unforeseen long term consequences.

    The academics, whose letter has been published in full by a Guwahati-based website, suggest as a way out that everyone enlisted in the NRC exercise be accepted as Indians. That is the best and only way to maintain status quo without unnecessarily rocking the boat and engendering fresh ethnic tensions, distrust and mass hatred in a region where the writ of the Centre runs thin on the ground.

    The signatories feel that this would be a simple yet permanent solution to what has come to be called ‘the enduring ethnic problem of Assam ‘over the years. If accepted, their proposal can bring about a decisive conclusion to what continues to be called ‘the unfinished business of an Assam settlement,’ once and for all. Political parties and common people can go about their business in peace thereafter.

    Ashis Biswas is a freelance journalist.  Views are personal. FPJ


  • Debt bondage has been described by the United Nations as a form of modern day slavery

    Kolhapur, Maharastra ( Kishor Abitkar). Debt bondage has been described by the United Nations as a form of "modern day slavery" and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery seeks to abolish the practice.

    The practice is still prevalent primarily in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, although most countries in these regions are parties to the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery. 

    It is predicted that 84 to 88% of the bonded labourers in the world are in South Asia. Lack of prosecution or insufficient punishment of this crime are the leading causes of the practice as it exists at this scale today.

    In Kolhapur district well known for progressive thoughts is not aware how Shankaracharya Math of Karveer is still practicing it.

    For 3 generations farmers in Darvad a village near Gargoti have to serve like sheduled cast people in Kolhapur Math. When they refused Shankaracharya leaved on each family fine of Rs.30000.

    This is reality of a village which is adopted by Revinue minister of Maharashtra. So no collector or S.P. dares to take any action. Even a tahsil P.I. refuses to register a complain.This was told to press by a social activist Dr. Subhash Desai from Gargoti here today.

    Sharad Kalaskar’s statement is part of the 9,235-page additional charge-sheet filed by the SIT in November before a special court in Bengaluru. It details how he and Vaibhav Raut, a key accused in Nallasopara arms haul case met Punalekar at his office in Fort, Mumbai, in June-July 2018.

    Kalaskar has told SIT that Rishikesh Deodikar alias Murali, another key member of the outfit and who is still at large, had instructed them to do so after Amol Kale’s arrest in May 2018 (Kale was the commander of the group that was targeting ‘evildoers’. Police say his arrest sparked panic a month the remaining members.)


  • British PM Theresa May wins confidence vote, calls on MPs to work together to deliver Brexit

    London: British Prime Minister Theresa May has called on MPs to “put self-interest aside” and “work constructively together” towards Brexit after surviving a no confidence vote and averting a general election.

    The prime minister won by 325 votes to 306 – a majority of 19- on Wednesday, a day after her government suffered a historic parliamentary defeat over her Brexit divorce deal with the European Union. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after the voting, May said the government has won the confidence of Parliament. This now gives “us all the opportunity to focus on finding a way forward on Brexit”, she said. “Overwhelmingly, the British people want us to get on with delivering Brexit, and also address the other important issues they care about,” the Conservative leader said.

    This is now the time to put “self-interest aside”, May said, “Now MPs have made clear what they don’t want, we must all work constructively together to set out what parliament does want.” “That’s why I am inviting MPs from all parties to come together to find a way forward. One that both delivers on the referendum and can command the support of Parliament. This is now the time to put self-interest aside,” she said. The prime minister said she believes it was her duty to deliver on the British people’s instruction to leave the European Union. “And I intend to do so,” May said in the televised interview after the winning the vote of no confidence.

    British PM Theresa May suffers crushing defeat over Brexit deal
    Earlier, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that May’s “zombie” administration had lost the right to govern during a six hour debate on his motion. His party has not ruled out tabling further no-confidence motions.  After her victory, May told MPs that she would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”. She invited leaders of all parties to have individual meetings with her on the way ahead for Brexit, starting tonight, but called on them to approach them with a “constructive spirit”.

    “We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House,” she added. During her address form 10 Downing, the prime minister said she has held “constructive” meetings and will be meeting MPs along with senior government officials in the coming days. May also reiterated a promise to return to the Commons on Monday to give MPs another vote on her plans. “The House has put its confidence in this government,” she said in the House of Commons.

    “I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver Brexit and ensure that this House retains the confidence of the British people.” The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, also voted to keep her administration in power despite their strong opposition to the Brexit deal. May’s divorce deal to leave the EU was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs on Tuesday, triggering a no-confidence motion against her government and leaving the country with no plans for Brexit on March 29.

    The PM’s bid to get the Withdrawal Agreement, struck between London and Brussels, was rejected by 432 votes to 202 – a majority of 230, the biggest defeat ever suffered by a British premier in modern history. Within minutes after the defeat, the biggest for a sitting British government in history, opposition leader Corbyn’s Labour party moved a motion of no-confidence against the May government to be held on Wednesday.

    Britain is set to exit the 28-member European Union, which it joined in 1973, on March 29. With just over two months to go until the scheduled departure, Britain is still undecide on what to do. May, 62, has spent two years negotiating the divorce plan aimed at bringing about an orderly Brexit and setting up a 21- month transition period to negotiate a free-trade deal with Brussels. Her deal included both the withdrawal agreement on the terms on which the UK leaves the EU and a political declaration for the future relationship. May had survived a no-confidence vote by her own Conservative Party in December.