“In Assam, People are Stopped on Streets to Prove their Citizenship”
MANIPAL: An absorbing panel discussion on the topic “What we talk about when we talk about North East” was held on the second day of Manipal International Literature and Arts Platform (M.I.L.A.P.), September 7, at the TMA Pai halls.
The panel comprised of Mitra Phukan, a prominent literary voice from Assam, author and human rights defender Prasenjit Biswas, and Padma Shri awardee journalist and activist Patricia Mukhim, with Romal Singh moderating the session.
The discourse was largely on the “othering” of the Seven Sister states by the rest of the country as well as the age-long conflict of illegal immigration in some of the states in the region. The speakers, each of them having lived or been brought up in one of the North Eastern states, gave a candid insight into the situation in the region.
Romal Singh initiated by saying, “The othering among ourselves arises because we have always been pushed to the wall and we want to be recognised. It is simply a mindset of ‘I am me only because I am not you.”
The panel, then, began discussing about the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of India and shifting of borders in the region, where over forty lakh people have been left state less only in Assam.
According to Prasenjit Biswas, Indian constitution does not demand documents to prove one’s citizenship, only Assam is an exception where citizenship is derived by producing documents and evidence for ancestry and bloodline. “Is there any place in India where people are stopped on streets to show documents for citizenship?”, questioned Biswas.
While talking about the absurd division of borders at the Radcliffe line of Indo-Bangladesh border, Patricia Mukhim told, “For those of you who don’t know, a man named Sir Radcliffe, a colonial figure, was instrumental in the division of Indian states, at the time of independence. He drew the borders of the Seven Sisters on a map and they run right through people’s houses.”
NRC and migration were, indeed, the main issues that were discussed during the session, but the panel also talked about several other problems that the region has been going through.
Talking about the environmental issues, Mukhim highlighted the reckless mining that takes place in Meghalaya, saying that around 300 trucks of limestone are smuggled to Bangladesh everyday, causing landslides that bring down entire mountains, and the governments have always turned a blind eye.
During the question and answer session, an audience member observed that the panel had not spoken anything onthe Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the region, which he found “astonishing”.
Mukhim, responding to this, said, “I once interacted with the Union Minister retired General V.K Singh on the issue who said that the Indian Army would never be used to fight our own people. I then questioned if the North Easterners and Kashmiris were not their own people.”
Featured Image Courtesy: Aradhika Jain
Edited by: Mehul Malpani