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By Manzar Imam

The ongoing bilateral conflict among Bodos and non-Bodos which has led to one of the largest internal displacements in India has forced people to think about the future of Assam. The issue is now being discussed on various platforms. The complexity and subtlety of the problem has triggered debate even in the academia. It was in this perspective the newly-formed Centre for North East Studies of Jamia Millia Islamia convened a “Discussion on the Situation in Assam” at the University's Mir Anis Hall on 3rd September.

The tone and tenor of the discussion was set by the brief opening remarks of Vice-Chancellor Najeeb Jung who offered to “do anything” at all to attenuate and bring back normalcy in a disturbed Assam. Jung was seconded by Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika who called the situation in Assam the “single largest tragedy in India post-Partition”. We are disturbed also because it sends completely different signals to the rest of the country, said Hazarika, who is also the Director of the Centre.

Calling it as a human tragedy that was very difficult to describe, Prof. Udayon Misra said that things such communalization were rooted in a very recent history. Things are seen on majority-minority index, which is not correct. We have to find some different index to understand the issue. He also said that simply scrapping the Bodoland Accord would not solve the problem. Lots of problems are seen from the nationality point of view. He said that the Bajrang Dal and RSS were a non-welcome entrant to Assam who were polarizing people on the issue. Misra criticised the role of 'certain governments' adopting migration for political agenda' and suggested to protect the rights of tribals and minorities.

Dr. Monisha Behal of the North East Network held the government responsible for delaying what was “needed”. She said that the ongoing conflict had raised the school dropout rate very high. Taking a dig at those blaming Bengali Muslims for the present state of affairs Advocate Helal Choudhury of Supreme Court said that Bengali language and culture existed in Assam for long and any contrary impression must be 'repelled'.

Stressing the need for brining right images to people, TV journalist Kishalay Bhattacharjee pointed that many issues regarding the conflict in Assam were simply overlooked and misrepresented. He cited the example of census report which 'shows growth in population and not migration'. He also questioned why the Bodos were not disarmed.

One participant appreciated the stand of the state's chief opposition party AIUDF and its chief Badruddin Ajmal for not terming the conflict as Bodo-Muslim conflict. While demanding to fulfil the immediate needs of the people, Dr Roshmi Goswami of a UN Women's unit said that putting things into a communal framework would make people more vulnerable.

Prof. Veena Sikri demanded a national discussion on illegal immigration. Talking about the possible solution to the problem, activist Harsh Mandar said that culture of immunity should be stopped. Referring to some government sources, Wajahat Habibullah, chairman of the National Minorities Commission said that individual reports from those who had suffered needed to be recorded. He called for a need for issuance of identity cards and for rehabilitation.

Research scholar Mirza Rahman noted that there was lack of trust and lack of understanding between people. Such situations were creating wrong “perceptions”, he maintained. He said that there has to be a moving-ahead from the situation and playing politics was affecting the local people in Assam, Rahman added.

Speaking about the need for more debates and discussions on the issue, Hazarika said that the recommendations from the ongoing dialogues will set the tone for the future of Assam. In reflecting these complexities media has a role in it, he opined.

Veteran journalist George Verghese, Suhas Chakma, Prof. Anil Boro, K. Kokho and many other experts participated in the programme, exchanged ideas and proposed ways to solve the Assam problem.

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