What to Do With the Four Million Stateless in Assam?

Santosh Rana

The Mughal army under Man Singh occupied Assam in the sixteenth century but they considered it a “non-revenue” area. The cost of maintaining cantonments was more than the earnings in land revenue. This was so because the vast “Char areas” of the great river Brahmaputra were flooded for four-five months in a year and the flood water was several feet deep. The Assamese peasants did not know the technology of cultivation in “inundated Char” areas.

In the mid -nineteenth century, when the British started tea-gardens in Assam, Lakhs of workers from Jharkhand region were taken to Assam. Supply of foodgrains to this huge population was a real problem. The British rulers had observed that the peasants in Mymensingh and nearby districts of Eastern Bengal knew the requisite technology of paddy cultivation in inundated areas. They encouraged the Bengali-speaking Muslims and low-caste Hindu peasantry of Eastern Bengal to settle in the “Char” areas of Assam and start cultivation.

Drums were beaten in the villages of Mymensingh and it was announced that anybody going to Assam would get as much land as he could till, get a pair of bullocks free and Rupees Five as grant. Encouraged by the British, the peasants went to Assam in large numbers and settled in the “char” areas of Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Nagaon and other districts. With their hard work, they converted the fallow lands of “char” into cultivable lands. The flood was found to be a blessing as it fertilized the land every year. The prosperous agriculture of the “char” areas in Assam is the contribution of these peasants.

In the fifties, sixties and seventies of the last century there were many riots, many settlers had been killed and their houses burnt. In the eighties, genocides were carried out in Nellie in 1983 and in other areas.

The more than four million people who have been declared non-citizens in 2018 are the descendants of the peasants who had migrated from one province of British India to another province in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Because of floods and riots, whatever documents they had had been destroyed. It is not possible for all of them to prove residence in Assam before 1971.

What does the state want to do with these four million people? They cannot be pushed back to Bangladesh, the government has stated. Then, they will be forced to live in Assam without any right, right to food, right to work, right to education, right to healthcare or even right to life. The Assamese ruling classes want them as slaves, who can be forced to work with a pittance as wage. If they don’t submit, they will be subjected to genocides sponsored by the state. The Assamese chauvinists have joined hands with the pan-Indian Hindutva fascists to declare a war against the peasants who had transformed Assam into a prosperous land.

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