Millennium Post

Exodus in free India

The year 1947 is remembered for two events that occurred in India. That was the year when India achieved its independence from the British and that was also the year when the country was partitioned. The partition of India changed the geography of the Asian sub-continent and created two different nations in the form of India and Pakistan. The border between India and its new neighbor Pakistan became a river of blood, as the exodus erupted into rioting which displaced up to 12.5 million people with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million.

The constitution of India provides freedom of speech and expression, protection of life and liberty, the right to practice religion of one’s choice and live in any part of the country. The recent exodus of people of the northeast states from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and parts of Maharashtra brings back the memory of 1947 in the minds of the people. At a time when India and its citizen commemorate 66 years of India’s Independence, such an incidence is a big impediment to the world’s largest democracy.  Rumors of impending attack on the people from Northeast has seen them fleeing the states in hordes notwithstanding appeals and repeated assurances from the state governments.

The law and parliamentary minister S Suresh Kumar of Karnataka said that, ‘The exodus of northeast people from the city is not due to threat factor, but due to anxiety to be with their parents at a time when Assam has been gripped by violence.’ Does his statement reflect the retaliatory sentiments of the people of the state or the state government to what happened recently in Assam? Whatever may be the reason, such insensitivity in both Assam and Karnataka truly reflects the callous approach of the political system.

The Assam Accord (1985) was a Memorandum of Settlement signed between representatives of the government of India and the leaders of the Assam Agitation in New Delhi on 15 August 1985. The accord brought an end to the Assam agitation and paved the way for the leaders of the agitation to form a political party and form a government in the state of Assam soon after.
President Pranab Mukherjee, while delivering his maiden Independence Day eve speech, joined the chorus of concern over the continuing communal conflagration, asking for a relook at the Assam accord that late Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi had signed with agitators protesting against the influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Expressing his concerns over the simmering tensions between the ethnic groups, Mukherjee said, ‘old fires that threaten the stability of our nation have not been fully doused the ash continues to smolder.’ ‘Our minorities need solace, understanding and protection from aggression. Violence is not an option; violence is an invitation to greater violence.

The recent spate of violence in Assam that saw hundreds of dead and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless right under the nose of the state government belonging to a party which also has its government at the centre and who appears to be in a state of helplessness.
After 66 years of Independence, the same problems stare in our face, under the garb of infiltrators; our very own people from the minority community are been targeted and made to flee their homes in the dark of the night. Innocent children, helpless women and elders are burnt alive in this ethnic violence. The state and central para-military forces stand as mute spectators and the perpetrators of crime go scot-free. What message does this send to rest of India? On the one hand, we are unable to protect our borders and express our inability to prevent infiltrators, and on the other hand we act as bystanders in ethnic violence and permit a human exodus of larger scale within the country.

In the recent past, Maharashtra raised the issue of non-Marathas and created a sense of insecurity in the minds of the migrant population from the state of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Can we allow this to happen?

It is fortunate that the human exodus of people of the northeast passed off peacefully. We may not be blessed every time. What if this had taken a ugly regional and communal ethnic turn? The very basic structure of India, our unity which lies in our diversity was threatened  and was in danger of being destroyed. These are the very fundamentals on which the pillars of democracy draw its inspiration and strength. The government is quick to blame Pakistan and wash its hands from all responsibilities. As we all acknowledge that our neighbor is a failed state, therefore, our role and obligation in much greater.

As the world’s largest democracy, our responsibility increases and we need to be more vigilant and act in a much more mature manner. The government must take all measures to curb such incidents with an iron hand and punish all the guilty. The politicians at such hour must rise above partisan politics and resist such acts in the national interest as a true nationalists and protectors of the constitution of India and the country’s democracy.

Vikas Gupta is an advocate based in New Delhi.
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