Northeast Dispatch: Assam to Get its Own Population Policy; Seven Districts Formed Amid Opposition From Naga Groups

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A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.

Nagaon: Muslim women showing their ink marked fingers after casting votes during the state assembly elections in Nagaon, Assam on Monday. Credit: PTI

Nagaon: Muslim women showing their ink marked fingers after casting votes during the state assembly elections in Nagaon, Assam on Monday. Credit: PTI

Assam: The BJP government makes its own population policy

The BJP government in Assam has decided to bring out its own population policy early next year. Among other things, the policy plans to deny jobs to those who have more than two children.

Though according to the state government, the decision has been taken keeping in mind “Assam’s unique social, economic, ethnic and geographical diversity”, senior commentators and political experts in the state have termed it a policy aimed at mainly addressing the rising population of the Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants residing in the chars or sand bars.

“The proposed policy is obviously meant to target people in the whole of Assam. But, to put it bluntly, the state government must be concerned about the large family sizes among the Muslim community of migrant origin who are mostly concentrated in the chars or the sandbars in the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. The districts where people of this community are largely settled for decades now are Barpeta, Dhubri, Goalpara, Darrang, Bongaigaon, Hailakandi, and Nagaon,” wrote senior journalist Wasbir Hussain in a recent article in the Guwahati-based daily The Sentinel.

As per the 2011 Census, Assam registered the highest rise in Muslim population, from 30.9% of the state’s three crore population in 2001 to 34.2% in 2011. Nine districts have been declared Muslim majority, out of which three – Darrang, Bongaigaon and Morigaon – were not so as per 2001 census.  

The 2011 census report has made Assam the second most Muslim populated state in the country after Jammu and Kashmir (68.3%).

Assam is also the state with one of the highest maternal mortality rates (MMR) in the country. Against the national average of 42 per 1000 children, the rate of MMR in Assam is 55 per 1000. Many cases of MMR are regularly reported from the char areas, where there is abject poverty and no basic facilities like healthcare and educational institutions. Typically, girls are married off earlier than their legal age, thus exposing them to poor reproductive rights. Boys too, are married before 21. As per Hussain, “A study conducted in the chars of Kamrup and Barpeta districts showed the fertility rate in these areas was 4.56% compared to 2.4 in Assam as a whole.”

Local media reports quoting members of the committee constituted by the state government to tailor the policy said “different quarters” felt Assam needed a separate policy to follow instead of the National Population Policy 2000, which it follows presently. Ilias Ali, a committee member told The Telegraph, “The greater vision of the separate population policy is maintaining a sustainable economy for all by arresting the population explosion.”

Besides denying government jobs to those with more than two children, there will be incentives for those employees who limit the number of their children to two. Maternity and child care leave will be denied to women employees if they go for the third child.

Though the committee members do not directly talk about addressing population growth, particularly in the char areas, they, however, say that the policy will mainly aim at empowering poor women through education and employment opportunities including forming self-help groups to make them financially independent. They say colleges and other education institutions have been planned in all the 34 districts exclusively for women. Many Muslim women in the char areas are not allowed by their families to attend schools and colleges attended by boys.

“Once a majority of women become educated and financially independent, the outlook of a large section, especially in rural areas to use women only to give birth, can be changed,” Ali said.

“Thirty-two percent males and 23% females get married in Assam before reaching their legal marriageable ages, which is being looked at as one of the main contributing factors to population explosion in the state,” he added. Under the proposed policy, the government plan to “strictly enforce” the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, which stipulates that a boy can marry at 21 years and girls at 18.

State finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, told local media recently, “The state government doesn’t intend to compel anyone to follow the two-child norm nor we want to force anyone to implement the policy.”

So far, Rajasthan is the only state which has a separate population policy, introduced in 1999.

Manipur: Centre announces Rs 22,000 crore package for the state to develop national and state highways

With the assembly elections barely a few months away in Manipur, the BJP government at the Centre seemed to have heightened its attention towards the state. On December 11, the Centre came up with a Rs 22,000 crore package meant for road development in the state.  

Union minister for road transport, highways and shipping Nitin Gadkari, who made the announcement at the state’s Tamenglong district, said the central package would include projects for widening of national and state highways besides restoration, reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads and construction of two major bridges along national highway 37 which connects Imphal to Jiribam bordering Assam.

Nitin Gardkari. Credit: PTI/Files

Nitin Gardkari. Credit: PTI/Files

Gadkari, who was in the district to lay foundation stones for the new Barak and Makru bridges, said the package would cover construction, widening and rehabilitation of a total of 1,877 kms across the state. The construction of these bridges, he said, “would take one-and-a-half years and the other projects would be taken up in two years.”

“I will not tolerate substandard quality of work, slow progress and lack of transparency in implementing the road development projects. We will complete the work ahead of schedule. We have handed over the road development projects to the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation,” Gadkari said.

State chief minister Ibobi Singh, who attended the function (but left the venue before Gadkari’s speech as he had to attend another state function), however, pointed out, “This year, the Centre has provided only Rs 3 crore for maintenance of 350 km of road in Manipur.”

“It is shameful that in the past many years, the Centre could not develop the state’s two national highways. The national highways are properties of the Centre and it should take full responsibility of their upkeep,” he said.

Arunachal Pradesh: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat visits Itanagar; shares stage with speaker, chief minister, top bureaucrats

RSS sarchanchalak Mohan Bhagwat paid a visit to Itanagar on December 11 which saw him sharing the stage with state assembly speaker Alo Libang and chief minister Pema Khandu of the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), an ally of the BJP.

Mohan Bhagwat.Credit: PTI/Files

Mohan Bhagwat.Credit: PTI/Files

Bhagwat, in the city to attend the outfit’s Arun Chetana Sammelan, embarked on a speech to clarify that the Sangh “does not work against anybody, works only for the uplift of the nation and welfare of all the people.” As per local media reports, he asked those present at the city’s IG Park “not to judge the Sangh though media reports” and refuted the allegation that the outfit “indulges in religious conversion.”  

The reports said Bhagwat opposed conversion from one religion to another stating, “Uniformity is not required for unity. The diversity that we have is only on the top but deep inside there is a common string of ethics and cultural identity which connects the different languages, food habits, ways of worship, etc.”

Congratulating the people for strongly opposing the Chinese claim over their state, Bhagwat said, “RSS does not differentiate people on the basis of minority and majority issues but likes to organise citizens to work for the upliftment and the welfare of the nation.”

Though RSS has close links with the BJP, Bhagwat claimed, “It maintains distance from politics, though we feel the necessity of honest and patriotic people in the political parties and try to send such people to the parties.”

“RSS does not own any political party, but would like to send good people to all parties, if they accept our workers,” he added.

Earlier, Taba Tedir, the president of the organising committee, counted Parasuramkund, Bhismaknagar and Malinithan as proof of Arunachal being an integral part of Bharat since the pre-Mahabharat period and also named the war memorials at Tawang and Wallong as a testimony to the state’s contribution to national integration.

Tedir urged the people “to positively respond to the efforts of the RSS and said that the more we get associated with the RSS the more the state shall be benefitted.”

Besides the speaker and the chief minister, the function was attended by deputy chief minister Chowna Mein, ministers Tamiyo Taga, Kumar Waii, Tanga Byaling, Wangki Lowang, former chief minister Gegong Apang, several parliamentary secretaries and MLAs besides the state BJP president Tapir Gao. The function also saw chief secretary Shakuntala Gamlin (former chief secretary of Delhi), principal secretary Satyagopal, state information commissioner Joram Begi and some other bureaucrats in attendance.

Manipur: Seven districts formed amid opposition from Naga groups

The Okram Ibobi Singh government in Manipur has gone ahead with its decision to form seven new districts in the state amid stiff opposition from powerful Naga civil society groups.

These groups, led by United Naga Council (UNC), called an economic blockade by preventing regular traffic on the two arterial national highways (37 and 2) since November one, thus severely affecting the supply of essential commodities to the state.

In a notification issued by the state revenue department on December 8, Tengnoupal (bifurcated from Chandel district), Kampong (from Ukhrul district), Pherzawl (from Churachandpur district), Kangpokpi (from Senapati district) and Jiribam (from Imphal East district) have been declared full-fledged districts. Deputy commissioners and superintendents of police have also been named for the new districts.

The decision has increased the number of districts in Manipur from the existing nine to 16.

The UNC has been vehemently protesting the state government’s decision, particularly the creation of Jiribam and Sadar Hills (Kangpokpi) claiming such a move would bifurcate the ancestral land of the Nagas. Till now, Sadar Hills has been a part of naga dominated Senapati district. The government said it had no ulterior motives behind the decision but had been done only for ease of administration.

In order to put pressure on UNC to lift the economic blockade, the state government, on November 28, arrested its president Gaidon Kamei and information secretary Stephen Lamkang. They have been in jail since, leading some Naga groups, including Naga Hoho, to urge the centre to intervene.

People of the Sadar Hills, mostly Kukis who are seen as the traditional rivals of the Nagas, have been demanding a full-fledged district since the 1970s. The agitation for a district had claimed a few lives too. On December 9, as per local media reports, “People danced all night in celebration.”

Jiribam, which has been a part of Imphal East district even though they are set apart by over 100 kms, can be reached through Naga dominated Tamenglong district. UNC’s contention has been, “If the state government went by logic, Jiribam should have been made a part of Tamenglong district or should have been within Churachandpur (Paite majority) district.” The Naga leaders protested that the state government took the decision without consulting them.

Ibobi Singh meeting Rajnath Singh in June. Credit: PTI/Files

Ibobi Singh meeting Rajnath Singh in June. Credit: PTI/Files

Addressing a press meet in Imphal this past week, Prakash Javdekar, union HRD minister and BJP’s national leader in-charge of the upcoming Manipur assembly elections, accused the Congress government of not doing enough to resolve the economic blockade. Ibobi Singh countered it saying, “Since UNC doesn’t respond to our invitations to hold talks on the stand-off, I went o Delhi to ask union home minister Rajnath Singh to hold a tripartite talk in New Delhi. But he did nothing.” Singh reportedly did meet UNC representatives but without the state government officials.   

On December 12, the ministry of home affairs came out with a statement which said, “The ministry has watched with concern the ongoing blockade on NH37 in Manipur and the consequent shortages of essential commodities faced by the people of Manipur. The government of India is firmly committed to maintaining rule of law. It considers blockades anywhere in India a gross violation of the law and a crime against humanity causing untold suffering to countless humans. No individual or organisation will be allowed to take the law into their own hands.”

In the poll-bound state, the issue is certainly going to gain more political credence between the Congress and the BJP, which has been eyeing Manipur after its electoral success in Assam.

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