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Explained: Why All Things NRC Lead to the Assam Accord of 1985

How does the Assam Accord of 1985 affect the National Register of Citizens? Read to find out. 

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Explainers
5 min read
The Assam Accord was signed in 1985 amid growing anti-immigrant sentiments in the northeastern state.
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Snapshot

An updated report of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has listed 2.89 crore people in Assam as citizens, while leaving out 40,07,708 applicants who had applied for the inclusion process.

But why did people living in the northeastern state have to prove the validity of their citizenship and how did those compiling the list decide whether a person is an Indian citizen or not?

The answer to these questions lies in the Assam Accord of 1985, which was signed between the government and certain groups, as an outcome of the social, political and economic conditions that prevailed in the state.

Explained: Why All Things NRC Lead to the Assam Accord of 1985

  1. 1. Assam's Tryst With Immigration

    Assam’s tryst with migration goes back as early as the 20th century. According to the White Papers on Foreigners’ Issues released by the Assam government in October 2012, the conquest of Assam by the British in 1826, created a large number of “petty jobs.” As the British expanded their base in Assam, these positions were filled by hiring educated Bengali clerks, who were tasked with the upkeep of the empire.

    Around the same time, the discovery of tea in Assam, followed by its growing cultivation, required a large number of low-cost workers. This, the British ensured, by bringing in tribals from Bihar, Odisha, Chotanagpur, Central and United provinces.

    The British wanted to set up agriculture in Assam and readily handed over permits to settlers and even gave tax holidays of two to three years. This led to an influx of migrants from East Bengal, a region with a predominantly Muslim population of Bengali origin. 

    Further, episodes of mass-migration were witnessed in Assam during Partition and finally during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971. It is reported that nearly 10 million people migrated from East Bengal (Bangladesh) to India during this period.

    The combination of these factors eventually led to a surge in the number of Muslims in Assam. According to the 1991 Census, their number grew to 8,20,000 in Assam, which political scientist Myron Weiner claimed, “ was 4,24,000 more than could be accounted for through natural increase.”

    Expand
  2. 2. Enter the All Assam Students Union

    In 1951, the first NRC was prepared on the basis of a national census published in the same year. The register took into account each and every village, the number of houses, along with the names of people residing in them. The NRC came in response to a growing number of Assamese extremists, who suspected Pakistan of attempting to alter the state’s demography.

    In the year 1978, bypolls to the Assam’s Lok Sabha constituency of Mangaldoi suddenly gained limelight. The seat had a high concentration of immigrants from East Bengal and had seen the number of voters double, in comparison to an election held just two years back.

    Assam, by now, was already witnessing a demographic change and nationalist groups pledging allegiance to the Assamese sentiment were brimming with discontent. On 8 June 1979, one such group by the name of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) called for a 12-hour strike.

    They had three fundamental demands: Detention, disenfranchisement and deportation of all foreigners, who were mostly Muslim immigrants from East Bengal.

    Expand
  3. 3. 1980-1983: The Long Years

    After having registered their presence in the state’s socio-political sphere, the All Assam Students Union now had to grow, if they were to have a state-wide effect. For this purpose, the Assam Gana Sangam Parishad was formed, which in the days to come would be at the forefront of what came to be known as the “Assam movement.”

    On 2 February 1980, the AASU presented a charter to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, conveying their “profound sense of apprehensions regarding the continuing influx of foreign nationals into Assam and the fear about adverse effects upon the political, social, culture and economic life of the State.”

    According to The Indian Express, over 23 rounds of negotiations were held between 1980-82.

    In 1982, the Centre and the leaders of the Assam movement decided that those who had crossed over to India between 1951 and 1961 and settled in Assam, would be declared Indian citizens, while those who entered India after 1971 would be deported. But the leaders remained undecided on the fate of those who crossed the border between 1961 to 1971.

    Expand
  4. 4. The Assam Accord of 1985

    Finally after years of negotiations, the Assam Accord was signed on 15 August 1985. An accord which would go on to have an overarching consequence in the lives of millions of immigrants settled in the state.

    • All residents of Assam who entered the state until 1 January 1966 would be regularised. This means they continue to be Indian citizens.
    • All foreigners who crossed over to Assam between 1 January 1966 and 25 March 1971, would be disenfranchised for 10 years.
    • All foreigners who who entered Assam after on and after 25 March 1971 would be deported.

    The updated NRC list that has excluded more than 40 lakh people in Assam is based on these rules that were framed by the Assam Accord, almost 33 years ago.

    The provisions of the Assam Accord created a new citizenship criteria applicable to the state alone and not to the rest of the country. In order to reflect this change, an amendment was passed in 1987, which added Section 6A to the Citizenship Act of 1955. This addition would now determine citizenship in Assam on the basis of the 1985 accord.

    Expand
  5. 5. Will Bangladesh Take its Lost Children Back?

    Although the Assam Accord was signed in 1985, political compulsions ensured that it wasn’t implemented by successive governments. Although the cut-off date beyond which people in Assam would be deported was decided, there was no clarity on how exactly the deportation would be done.

    How would a person who’s lived in Assam for years prove that they are Indian citizens? What documents would come to their rescue?

    In 2005, these were some of the pressing questions before the central government, which in the presence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, held negotiations with representatives of the All Assam Students Union and those from the Assam government.

    It was decided that in order to prove citizenship and thereby inclusion, a persons or their ancestors’ name must appear in the 1951 NRC or in the electoral rolls up to the midnight of 24 March 1971. The cut-off date was arrived at by keeping in mind Bangladesh’s war of liberation, which began on 26 March 1971.

    In 2014, the Supreme Court directed that the process of updating the National Register of Citizens to be completed by 31 January 2016. But as officials race against time to update and decide who in Assam is not an Indian, there’s one more problem that awaits them.

    Although New Delhi enjoys strong diplomatic ties with Dhaka, there’s no existing treaty or framework to facilitate the deportation of people from India to Bangladesh.

    Even if 10,000 people are finally identified as the opposite of ‘genuine Indians,’ how will they be deported to Bangladesh, which doesn’t recognise the problem of immigration in the first place?

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Assam's Tryst With Immigration

Assam’s tryst with migration goes back as early as the 20th century. According to the White Papers on Foreigners’ Issues released by the Assam government in October 2012, the conquest of Assam by the British in 1826, created a large number of “petty jobs.” As the British expanded their base in Assam, these positions were filled by hiring educated Bengali clerks, who were tasked with the upkeep of the empire.

Around the same time, the discovery of tea in Assam, followed by its growing cultivation, required a large number of low-cost workers. This, the British ensured, by bringing in tribals from Bihar, Odisha, Chotanagpur, Central and United provinces.

The British wanted to set up agriculture in Assam and readily handed over permits to settlers and even gave tax holidays of two to three years. This led to an influx of migrants from East Bengal, a region with a predominantly Muslim population of Bengali origin. 

Further, episodes of mass-migration were witnessed in Assam during Partition and finally during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971. It is reported that nearly 10 million people migrated from East Bengal (Bangladesh) to India during this period.

The combination of these factors eventually led to a surge in the number of Muslims in Assam. According to the 1991 Census, their number grew to 8,20,000 in Assam, which political scientist Myron Weiner claimed, “ was 4,24,000 more than could be accounted for through natural increase.”

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Enter the All Assam Students Union

In 1951, the first NRC was prepared on the basis of a national census published in the same year. The register took into account each and every village, the number of houses, along with the names of people residing in them. The NRC came in response to a growing number of Assamese extremists, who suspected Pakistan of attempting to alter the state’s demography.

In the year 1978, bypolls to the Assam’s Lok Sabha constituency of Mangaldoi suddenly gained limelight. The seat had a high concentration of immigrants from East Bengal and had seen the number of voters double, in comparison to an election held just two years back.

Assam, by now, was already witnessing a demographic change and nationalist groups pledging allegiance to the Assamese sentiment were brimming with discontent. On 8 June 1979, one such group by the name of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) called for a 12-hour strike.

They had three fundamental demands: Detention, disenfranchisement and deportation of all foreigners, who were mostly Muslim immigrants from East Bengal.

1980-1983: The Long Years

After having registered their presence in the state’s socio-political sphere, the All Assam Students Union now had to grow, if they were to have a state-wide effect. For this purpose, the Assam Gana Sangam Parishad was formed, which in the days to come would be at the forefront of what came to be known as the “Assam movement.”

On 2 February 1980, the AASU presented a charter to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, conveying their “profound sense of apprehensions regarding the continuing influx of foreign nationals into Assam and the fear about adverse effects upon the political, social, culture and economic life of the State.”

According to The Indian Express, over 23 rounds of negotiations were held between 1980-82.

In 1982, the Centre and the leaders of the Assam movement decided that those who had crossed over to India between 1951 and 1961 and settled in Assam, would be declared Indian citizens, while those who entered India after 1971 would be deported. But the leaders remained undecided on the fate of those who crossed the border between 1961 to 1971.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Assam Accord of 1985

Finally after years of negotiations, the Assam Accord was signed on 15 August 1985. An accord which would go on to have an overarching consequence in the lives of millions of immigrants settled in the state.

  • All residents of Assam who entered the state until 1 January 1966 would be regularised. This means they continue to be Indian citizens.
  • All foreigners who crossed over to Assam between 1 January 1966 and 25 March 1971, would be disenfranchised for 10 years.
  • All foreigners who who entered Assam after on and after 25 March 1971 would be deported.

The updated NRC list that has excluded more than 40 lakh people in Assam is based on these rules that were framed by the Assam Accord, almost 33 years ago.

The provisions of the Assam Accord created a new citizenship criteria applicable to the state alone and not to the rest of the country. In order to reflect this change, an amendment was passed in 1987, which added Section 6A to the Citizenship Act of 1955. This addition would now determine citizenship in Assam on the basis of the 1985 accord.

Will Bangladesh Take its Lost Children Back?

Although the Assam Accord was signed in 1985, political compulsions ensured that it wasn’t implemented by successive governments. Although the cut-off date beyond which people in Assam would be deported was decided, there was no clarity on how exactly the deportation would be done.

How would a person who’s lived in Assam for years prove that they are Indian citizens? What documents would come to their rescue?

In 2005, these were some of the pressing questions before the central government, which in the presence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, held negotiations with representatives of the All Assam Students Union and those from the Assam government.

It was decided that in order to prove citizenship and thereby inclusion, a persons or their ancestors’ name must appear in the 1951 NRC or in the electoral rolls up to the midnight of 24 March 1971. The cut-off date was arrived at by keeping in mind Bangladesh’s war of liberation, which began on 26 March 1971.

In 2014, the Supreme Court directed that the process of updating the National Register of Citizens to be completed by 31 January 2016. But as officials race against time to update and decide who in Assam is not an Indian, there’s one more problem that awaits them.

Although New Delhi enjoys strong diplomatic ties with Dhaka, there’s no existing treaty or framework to facilitate the deportation of people from India to Bangladesh.

Even if 10,000 people are finally identified as the opposite of ‘genuine Indians,’ how will they be deported to Bangladesh, which doesn’t recognise the problem of immigration in the first place?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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