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Roots of a divided past

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18.01.2019

Assam has lived under a threat of marginalisation of its culture and ethos. Adding to the tale of continual tension, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act lit a fire that is yet to die down

For a good century and a quarter, Assam has lived under a dual threat of its culture and ethos being marginalised. On occasions, the threat came from immigrants whose language would overshadow the indigenous tongue, pushing it into the background. And there were times when there were deliberate designs to reduce the sons of the soil to a religious minority. It has been a tale of continual tension caused by neighbours to the south and frequent anxiety emanating from friends in the west. The Assamese could not always be sanguine that their own sons were playing the sly role, enabling the neighbours who were short of fertile lands to till and live off them. A threat engineered and egged on by persons within is worse than a danger posed by antagonists without.

The anxiety among the Assamese people at the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is wholly understandable. Merely assuring the people that protecting their culture is as much the Centre’s concern as securing the culture of the entire country is hardly satisfying. For several good reasons, Assam is a very special and distinct case. For one, Assam and Bangladesh share a border. It is, therefore, most convenient for immigrants to cross over. Since the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries, there was infiltration, especially from Mymensingh district into the Brahmaputra Valley. From Sylhet into Cachar district, a cross over is even easier as they were twin districts pre-Partition. The two formed the legendary Surmah Valley.

Unless one has lived or frequently travelled in Assam, it is difficult to appreciate what nightmares the Assamese see when they think of infiltration. They are a gentle people with a soft, peace-loving nature. They have their own festivals. They were gifted by nature with plenty of land or even more rivers and water. They do not have to work too hard for survival. The climate is mostly warm and humid and does not lend itself to hard work. They are not competitive by nature and understandably shudder at the fear of this ethos being disturbed by outsiders.

Believe it not, until two decades ago it was a popular impression that the Congress strategy for winning elections in

Assam has lived under a threat of marginalisation of its culture and ethos. Adding to the tale of continual tension, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act lit a fire that is yet to die down

For a good century and a quarter, Assam has lived under a dual threat of its culture and ethos being marginalised. On occasions, the threat came from immigrants whose language would overshadow the indigenous tongue, pushing it into the background. And there were times when there were deliberate designs to reduce the sons of the soil to a religious minority. It has been a tale of continual tension caused by neighbours to the south and frequent anxiety emanating from friends in the west. The Assamese could not always be sanguine that their own sons were playing the sly role, enabling the neighbours who were short of fertile lands to till and live off them. A threat engineered and egged on by persons within is worse than a danger posed by antagonists without.

The anxiety among the Assamese people at the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is wholly understandable. Merely assuring the people that protecting their culture is as much the Centre’s concern as securing the culture of the entire country is hardly satisfying. For several good reasons, Assam is a very special and distinct case. For one, Assam and Bangladesh share a border. It is, therefore, most convenient for immigrants to cross over. Since the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries, there was infiltration, especially from Mymensingh district into the Brahmaputra Valley. From Sylhet into Cachar district, a cross over is even easier as they were twin districts pre-Partition. The two formed the legendary Surmah Valley.

Unless one has lived or frequently travelled in Assam, it is difficult to appreciate what nightmares the Assamese see when they think of infiltration. They are a gentle people with a soft, peace-loving nature. They have their own festivals. They were gifted by nature with plenty of........

© The Pioneer