The Assam government on Saturday announced a number of measures ostensibly to protect the land rights of so-called indigenous people of the state, and preserving Assamese language and culture, The Indian Express reported. This came amid rising protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in which five people have died in the state, while the nationwide toll is 23.

“In the coming Assembly session, the government will bring in two new laws,” Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said at a press conference in Guwahati on Saturday. “First one will be for securing land rights of indigenous people. The outlines of the law were discussed in the Cabinet today…After we bring the law, an indigenous person can sell his/her land to an indigenous person only, not to anyone else.”

On December 18, state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary had said the government had “already adopted a new land policy that protects the land rights of the indigenous people”. However, an examination of the policy – adopted by the state government in October –
by showed that the land policy was not novel in terms of securing the land rights of people believed to be indigenous to the state. The policy is, in fact, a rehash of the previous land policy adopted in 1989.

Since the definition of “indigenous” person is contentious, Sarma said the government was waiting for the recommendations of a committee set up to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord that seeks to protect the “cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage” of Assamese people. “Otherwise, we have readied a definition of our own…,” Sarma told reporters. “The basic motto of the law is that an indigenous can sell land to an indigenous – a Himanta Biswa Sarma can sell to a Chandan Brahma but a Himanta Biswa Sarma cannot sell to an infiltrator, whether he has come in 1951 or 1971...not even if he has come in 1941. That means our land will be preserved for our people.”

The minister said the Sarbananda Sonowal government had asked the Modi government at the Centre to “suitably amend” Article 345 of Constitution “to make Assamese state language”. “Assamese will be a compulsory subject in all English, Hindi and Bengali schools [up to class 10],” he added. “However, this provision will not be applicable in BTAD, hills districts and Barak Valley [dominated by Bengali speakers].”

Sarma said the state government would also ask the Centre for “constitutional status” for tribal autonomous councils of Mising, Rabha, Sonowal Kachari, Thengal Kachari, Deori and Tiwa communities so that that they can receive central grants.

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Why Assam government’s claim that new policy protects ‘indigenous’ land rights is misleading