Of fury of floods and misery of people trying to put together their citizenship documents

Floods have affected lives and livelihoods of millions across India, however, ignorant politicians have been indifferent to the misery of people and have done very less to tackle the situation

Photo Courtesy: Twitter
Photo Courtesy: Twitter

Humra Quraishi

Have you seen any of the state or central level ministers rowing boats and reaching out to those affected by the ongoing floods in the several regions of the country? Yes, severe flooding has destroyed lives and the very livelihoods of hundreds and thousands, yet the top political brass seems in little mood to move out from their comfort zones, to be there with those ruined in the fury of the flood.

What happens tomorrow and the day after? Instead of long term relief packages together with rectifying strategies to halt the floods, politicians harp on setting up of smart cities! Why can’t the existing infrastructures get a little settled, so that the human life is not washed away in raging waters?

Floods drag along an aftermath that one even shudders to detail. Imprints hold out, compounded by hollow political assurances. Tell me, if the developmental theories carried weight then why these flood related disasters? Un- managed and un-controlled the fury of the flood waters are hitting these ‘developed’ times and even an hour’s downpour spells doom. Not only the roads cave in, the affected also have to seek refuge in caves!

We always had the monsoon season, dripping with baarish- ka - paani , but never before this level of havoc inflicted on structures, human and otherwise. Ironic it may seem that poets of yesteryears wrote romantic verses, in the backdrop of rains and downpours. Now, of course, no poet will have the nerve to combine verse with the monsoon season.

Needless to mention that in the flood-wrecked state like Assam, the situation has become worse. The sheer worry and anxiety of being off the citizens’ list could be enough to kill. No health -related research has been formally or officially has been conducted on the affected residents of Assam to study the rising numbers hit by strokes and heart attacks or diabetes and blood pressure levels. Also, it would be significant to know if the sarkar of the day has appointed medical healers and health care givers for those falling ill because of the NRC ( National Register of Citizens) related stress.

This fact can’t be overlooked that people surviving in the flood affected states like Assam are often left with no belongings, what to talk of relevant documents and records and proofs!

To quote Professor VK Tripathi, who till recently was teaching Physics at IIT Delhi; he also runs the Sadbhav Mission and has been regularly travelling to Assam, “Be they Hindus or Muslims, speaking Assamese, Bangla, Bodo, Hindi or any other language, all working class masses are true sons of the soil, children of India. They are born here, their forefathers lived here for millennia, they laid their sweat and blood in the soil here and contributed half of their earnings to the nation. The piece of land where they live belongs to them. They never grabbed or robbed any one’s property, but fallen prey many a times to the exploiters and oppressors. They have the fundamental right to live in the motherland with freedom and dignity, much more than those who rule, dictate and exploit.”

Professor Tripathi also focuses on the Muslim population in Assam- “In 1871 census, Muslim population in Assam was 28.7%; in 1941, 25.72%; in 1971, 24.56%; in 1991, 28.43%; in 2001, 30.92% and in 2011, 34.2% (in total state population of 32 million). However, their percentage share in land and assets is far less. Only 7.9 % of them in cities and 5.8% in rural areas are in the formal (organized) sector. For Hindus these figures are 23.1% and 12.3%. Rest Hindu and Muslim masses are in the low income informal sector… 36% people in Assam are below the poverty line (against 26% All India average). In districts where Muslim population is above 45%, with the exception of Dhubri, the percentage of people below poverty line is higher (Dhubri 28.6%, Goalpara 60.3 %, Barpeta 50.19%, Kaila Kandi 43.79%, Karimganj 48.23%, Nagaon 38.96%, Marigaon 80.14%). ..The per capita income in Assam is only 60% of the national average while growth rate is half of the national average. The annual growth rate of wages in Assam during 1991-2000 has been negative (-0.12%) while for the country it was +3.36%. To this if we add the fear of insecurity (heightened by massive riots like Nellie massacre of 1983 that killed 2800 people), Assam can’t be a lucrative destination for working classes from elsewhere. In fact in last two decades sizeable people from Assam have migrated to Kerala as many locals from Kerala moved to Middle East”

To further quote Tripathi - “ Partition of India can’t be made an excuse to attack the citizenship of working classes. The partition was merely the division of ruling authority – few states came to be ruled by the Muslim League and remaining by the Congress. People could live wherever they wanted. There was no consideration for the interests and plight of the working classes. Justice demands that any one among the working classes born in India be treated as Indian citizen. In fact the 2003 amendment (Section 3) to Citizenship Act 1955 says any one born i) between 1950 and 1987, irrespective of the citizenship of the parents, is Indian by birth, ii) between 1987 and 2003, is Indian if one parent is Indian citizen, iii) after 2003 would be Indian if both the parents are Indian citizen. The NRC must look afresh the drop out cases in view of this amendment. The government must strive to make India-Pakistan-Bangladesh borders porus for the working classes as these classes were never given their rightful due in British India or new born nations…Indians going abroad get the citizenship of that nation after working for few years. Many countries give full citizenship to the children of illegal migrants born there. Here we are dealing with people whose forefathers, for millennia, lived here and served this land. They deserve at least the rights we demand for NRIs in other nations.”

In a recently published book – ‘Insider Outsider: Belonging And Unbelonging in North -East India’ (Amaryllis), relevant questions hit, in these turbulent times, when those insider -outsider controversies are doing the rounds, when citizenship rows are the talk of the day, when the term nationalism is getting hijacked by political opportunists.

To quote writer Preeti Gill from this anthology, “Who is an Indian really? Why are we made to wear our nationality, our identity, on our sleeve? Why are we required to constantly prove ourselves as Indian nationalists, as patriotic citizens? Can we not just be human, people who live together as neighbours, very different, very distinct, but still inhabiting the same space in a peaceable, gracious way?”

In fact, writer Samrat elaborates on the insider – outsider factor in the very preface to this anthology, “Among the stories from North- East India, a compelling and untold bunch revolves around the experiences of the ‘outsiders’ in the region. This is a fascinating case of role reversal; people from communities that are majorities in India or the countries around its North - East live in the region as oft - persecuted minorities. Theirs is a story, that begins, typically, with the partition of Indian in 1947.It is a story of those who suddenly, with drawing of new international borders, found themselves as nowhere people in hostile lands. These people and their descendants are still, seventy two years on, victims of Partition. Their experience of being and becoming refugees is, two or three generations later, still not over - the debate over the National Register of Citizens in Assam is proof… The dividing lines between the insider and the outsider are often confusing and unclear, even for those who have grown up experiencing being the ‘othered.’ In the hills of the region, in towns such as Shillong for instance, the clash was often seen as one between tribal insiders and non- tribal outsiders. However the Chakma tribals, the Chin tribals, and the tea tribes of Assam have all faced the outsider tag in the North East, and the discrimination that goes with it.”

Yes, never before as in these so called hyped ‘developed’ times have we witnessed this turbulent phase compounded by the politics of the day; chaos and confusion reigns on the insider-outsider issue.

If lakhs and lakhs of human beings were to be ‘un-accepted’ as citizens, then what happens to their lives! Are we going to deport people just because they cannot prove that they belong to this land? What if all their identity papers and relevant proofs and documents have been washed away in these uncontrolled floods?

Perhaps, bruised sentiments lie best captured in this verse of Devi Prasad Mishra (translated from Hindi ) tucked in the pages of ‘Kavita 93 ’ ( Virgo Publications)

“Remains of me/

Here I was born/

On this stone/

On a face like/

My own face/

I put my face and /

Wept for days/

Here I sat holding my head/

And there flowed my blood/

Somewhere here/

On this part of the earth/

I was threatened to vacate the earth/

And here perhaps

In the neighbourhood of me/

Are traceable/

Remains of me.”

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