Gurkha Rights in Assam
The Gurkha communityin Assam has sought gazette notification on the issue of including it for constitutional safeguards according to Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord.
1. What is the significance of Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord? Why has the definition of “Assamese people” been a subject of discussion for decades?
● The Assam Accord was signed in 1985 between the Centre and the All Assam Students’ Union after a 6-year agitation in the state against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
● Clause 6 of the accord sought to provide constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the indigenous Assamese people.
● Clause 6 was inserted to safeguard the socio-political rights and culture of the “indigenous people of Assam”.
● The Justice Biplab Kumar Sharma-led High-Level Committee(HLC), formed by the Union home ministry, to define who constitute Assamese peopleand suggest measures for safeguarding their rights, submitted its report in February 2021 to then Assam chief minister.
● The definition of “Assamese people” has been a subject of discussion for decades. The HLC defined, “Assamese people” are those who or whose forefathers have been citizens of India, residing in Assam, from on or before January 1, 1951.
● Reason for choosing cut-off year as 1951
➢ During the Assam agitation, the demand was for the detection and deportation of migrants who had illegally entered Assam after 1951. The Assam Accord, however, set the cutoff at March 24, 1971. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) was updated based on this cutoff.
➢ Clause 6 is meant to give the Assamese people certain safeguards, which would not be available to migrants between 1951 and 1971.If the recommendation is accepted, those who migrated between 1951 and 1971 would be Indian citizens under the Assam Accord and NRC, but they would not be eligible for safeguards meant for “Assamese people”.
It was a tripartite accord signed between the Government of India, State Government of Assam and the leaders of the Assam Movement. It was signed on the Independence Day in 1985.
In the 15 clauses of the Assam Accord, the key focus areas were:
Restricting acquisition of immovable property by foreigners
Prevention encroachment of government lands
Registration of births and deaths
This was done to ensure protection of political, social, economic and cultural identity of the local people.
➢ Safeguards recommended for “Assamese people”: Among various recommendations, the key is the reservation of seats in Parliament, Assembly and local bodies; reservation in jobs; and land rights.
● The Assam Accord clause 6 committee report did not mention anything about the constitutional, legislative, and administrative safeguards of the Gorkhas of Assam under clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
● This means Gorkhas of Assam are not eligible for safeguards under clause 6 like benefits of reservation in Jobs.
● However, the government assured Gorkhas will be treated “at par with other indigenous communities and protect their constitutional rights while implementing Clause 6”.
The Gorkhas have a population of around 25 lakh in Assam.
The Gurkhas were permanently settled in the scheduled areas in the last part of the 18th century as grazers and cultivators and were accordingly given permits.
They were declared as a protected class by the British in the tribal belts and blocks according to the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation Act, 1886.
The rights of both indigenous people of Assam and Gorkha people must be protected without raising any clashes.