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Legal or Illegal?
by Ananya S Guha Bookmark and Share
Yasmeen Saikia a professor of history in the State University of Arizona, in the US, who is originally from Assam has written in the latest issue of The Outlook Magazine, that no one has the right to call or dub people as "illegal". This of course pertains to the recent trouble in the Bodo areas of Assam, against the Bangladeshi immigrant.

The problem in Assam as in different parts of North East India is the insecurity of the local people of being out numbered by migratory forces and this has created a xenophobia.
She has briefly outlined the historical causality of the present situation, tracing it back to the settlement of people from the then East Pakistan into Assam. The result was the import of Bengali Hindus in the wake of the partition of the country who, also were used by the British for their administrative functions. Prof. Saikia touches on this, but does not mention the Hindu factor or whether these people were Muslims as well.
Continuing with her argument of calling people illegal settlers as something which in itself is illegal; she says that this kind of a thinking goes against the basic tenets of humanity, that a person has a right to live and also, the right to speak his, or her, own language. She is scathing in her criticism of such an outlook and feels that the Assamese population have always welcomed such people since post partition days with open arms.

She then goes on to speak about the Assam movement against Bangladeshi immigrants, and says in this context; that the All Assam Students Union which was baptized as a new political party under the name of the Assam Gana Parishad ,did little to implement the Assam accord which was signed by the then Prime Minister of India, with the All Assam Students Union.

One of the tenets of the Assam accord was that: post 1971 settlers would be identified and if possible deported. Prof. Saikia goes on to say that all the political parties in Assam, the Congress, as well as the AGP have played their games and let the people down. After that she is silent as to what this letting the people down could be all about. Does she mean identifying the settlers, if so it contradicts with the essence of her argument that no one is an illegal settler, no human being can be dubbed or classified as illegal, it goes against the basic tenet of humanism, she says. This is no doubt a very philanthropic world view, but then why does she feel that the AGP also did nothing to follow up the Assam accord? If there is a falsification of the idea of the illegal immigrant , then the major tenet of the Assam accord that is, post 1971 settlers will be identified; holds no ground and, is redundant.

The whole issue is that the question of immigrants is also confounded with Hindu and Muslim identities, the common factor here being that both categories speak a common language and, that language is also spoken by the people of India. This is what makes the entire issue very sensitive and there are divergent view points on it.

Prof. Saikia says, towards the end of her article, that if one living in Assam has the right to speak in his or her own language similarly Bengali settlers have the right to speak in their own language.

In the present crisis I am not sure whether language is the issue. The issue could well be politicized for petty gains, the issue could also be that of economic possessions such as land. However her article is an eye opener to some of the basic tenets of humanity that is :leading a kind of life one wants to lead.

The problem in Assam as in different parts of North East India is the insecurity of the local people of being out numbered by migratory forces ; and this has created a xenophobia. We have to understand this perspective, at the same time issues must not be confounded so that the outsider and the insider are not seen as parts of the same coin. Prof. Saikia candidly admits that generations ago even her family had migrated to Assam but she discountenances this animosity against the illegal immigrant questioning the word illegal as one with a dubious antecedent which; militates against the very spirit of humanity. I wonder how many will buy this argument because, when it comes to economic subsistence all rules are flawed, and it is only survival which matters. And it is exactly this survival which is creating the conflict, enmity, hatred and bloodshed.
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