“To ask a Bengalee, to give up his mother tongue and inherited culture, of which he is as much proud as an Assamese of his own, in exchange for a patch of land – to which he is as much entitled as an Assamese – is to ask him barter away his birthright for a mere mess of pottage. This attempt to convert the Bengalee immigrants into an Assamese, under the duress of economic pressure, is foredoomed to failure. Years of German rule failed to compel the people of Alsace and Lorraine to adopt German language and German culture; where mightiest forces, in other parts of the world, have failed, the protagonists of Assam Sanrakhini are not likely to succeed. Minorities in all parts of the world cling tenaciously to their own language and culture. The League of Nations everywhere concedes to the minorities this inalienable right. This is one of the fundamental rights which no one would light-heartedly agree to relinquish. Taking advantage of the numerical superiority of Assamese in Local Boards, in Assam Valley, and of the economic helplessness of the immigrants to start educational institutions unaided, systematic attempts are being made to impose Assamese as the medium of instruction even in primary schools. Boys of tender age, living in compact immigrant areas, segregated from contact with Assamese boys of similar age, never hearing of Assamese spoken either at home or outside are required to have their lessons in Assamese when they attend the elementary school. No wonder progress of education amongst the immigrants is retarded, and one has to tour many a mile, before coming across an Immigrant Matriculate. Grants from Local Boards are refused to primary schools, which use Bengali as a medium of instructions. So the practice has grown in many schools of boys keeping two sets of books. One in Assamese and other in Bengali, the former for inspection by Visitors and the latter for actual use. The position would have been ludicrous if it were not so tragic too. No one objects to Bengalee Immigrants “learning” to speak the Assamese language. In many cases, it may be a necessity for daily intercourse in life, but to insist that the “Immigrant from East Bengal, Sylhet and Cachar should adopt” it, is an entirely different proposition. There ought to be limits, to which even blatant aggressive Jingoism can go.” 
These are the exact words Abdul Matin Chaudhurty and Syed Abdur Rouf wrote in their joint ‘Note of Dissents’ as members of the Line System Committee way back in 1938. The Committee was formed to recommend whether the Line System in Assam should stay or go. Earlier in 1937 when Munnawar Ali, a prominent political leader from Sylhet (then a district of Assam now in Bangladesh), moved a motion at the Assam Legislative Council to abolish the Line System, a fiery speech was delivered by the same Abdul Matin Chowdhury highlighting the feeling of injustice the Bengalis were subjected to in Assam, even during those days:-
“If Sir, your ancestors came to Assam with Mirzumla or Ahom kings, if you came as invaders, despoiled the population, usurped the land and settle here, you will be called an indigenous Assamese, you will be treated as a pet child, you will be shown all the favor that a benign government can bestow. But Sir, if your ancestors came as pioneers, if they developed the country, if they cleared the jungle and made prosperous villages and habitable tracts, if they contributed to the development of the province, you will be treated as a pariah in your land and you will be saddled with all the difficulties and all the disadvantages that human ingenuity can invent. Sir, a more unjust, a more illogical and a more absurd system it is difficult to conceive ……… 
The ‘Line System’ was introduced in Assam by the British in 1920 to appease the Assamese middle class. Under this system, the Bengali Muslims of East Bengal (then in India) were allowed to settle only in certain earmarked areas of Brahmaputra Valley of Assam Province. It was a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination akin to APARTHEID system that had earned worldwide notoriety in South Africa (1948 – 27 April 1994). Despite several efforts, the Bengali Muslims could not abolish the Line System with their forceful arguments at Assam Legislative Council. For instance, an attempt made by Khan Bahadur Nuruddin Ahmed of Nowgong in 1936 through a motion was lost by seven votes to twenty. All seven voters for the motion were Muslims and none of the Hindu voters including the Bengali Hindus had supported it .
After the partition, many influential Bengali Hindus of East Pakistan shifted to Assam whereas most of the prominent Bengali Muslims leaders shifted to East Pakistan. As a survival strategy, numerous Bengali Muslims left behind in Assam had to declare their mother tongue as Assamese. This accounts for the absurd growth of nearly 150% of Assamese speaking population in Assam within a span of only 20 years, from 19.83 lakh in 1931 to 49.14 lakh in 1951 census reports. Thus, Assamese was made the sole official language of Assam despite the State Reorganization Committee Report that the Assamese language did not fulfill the formula laid down for an official language. The Assamese Official Language Bill was passed on October 24, 1960  thereby anointing Assamese as the only official language of Assam. Widespread agitation erupted against it spontaneously in the Bengali majority Barak Valley in Assam but the government was determined to silence all opposition. In an unprovoked police shootout, eleven unarmed young lives including a young girl of barely sixteen years of age Kamala Bhattacharjee were brutally gunned down at the Silchar railway station on May 19, 1961. That made Kamala the youngest & the first female “Language Martyr” in the world; Bengali was then finally restored by Assam Government as an official language in the Barak Valley. Next in 1972, Gauhati University made Assamese the only medium of instruction in the state colleges. In protest against the clandestine designs of infringing on the linguistic right of the Bengalees of Assam, one more language activist laid down life in Karimganj on 17 August 1972. 
Ironically, before the independence of India, the Bengali Muslims in Assam were fighting for the abolition of the “Line System” that included inter alia the imposition of Assamese language on them. At that time, the Bengali Hindus did not support it. Post-independence when Assamese was made the sole official language of the State, the Bengali Hindus were protesting but the Bengali Muslims facilitated the imposition with their declaration of Assamese as their mother tongue although many of them lacked even the elementary chatting skill of the language!
In his book “Sons of the Soils”, Myron Weiner, an American political scientist and renowned scholar on India, made some significant reference such as (i) “Fortunately for the Assamese, the Bengali Muslims and Bengali Hindus were unable to come together politically” or (ii) “There is thus an unspoken coalition between the Assamese and the Bengali Muslims against the Bengali Hindus. It is not a wholly stable coalition, however, since it could be shattered if there were to be a new major influx of Bengali Muslims or if Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims coalesce.” Weiner also worked out his own calculation to show that the ethnic Assamese formed only 30.5% of the total population of Assam whereas Bengali Hindus and Muslims of Bengali origin (now enumerated as Assamese speakers) formed more than 41% of the population. Thus, his narration in the book that was published in 1978 brought out to the fore an upsetting (for the Assamese) possibility of wiping out the traditional divide between the Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims.
Since the 1970s, there were numerous mindless assaults and murders of Bengalis, in Assam. The butchers did not discriminate between Hindu and Muslim while attacking the Bengalis. When the so-called foreigners' issue rocked Assam's socio-political situation, both Bengali Muslims and Bengali Hindus had to bear the brunt of other kinds of maltreatment including unjustified branding as “Doubtful” Voters and uncalled for harassment in updating Assam’s NRC. It is understood that most of the forty lakh odd residents of Assam whose names are excluded from the final list of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) are Bengalis - both Hindu and Muslim. Many of them are reported to be genuine Indian citizens. Thus the Bengali speaking Muslims and Hindus eventually found them ‘on the same boat’. However, the ‘boat’ started shaking a little bit on the issue of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
Broadly speaking, this Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 only to facilitate citizenship of illegal migrants, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian. The bill proposes to bring down the requirement of eleven years to six years of continuous stay in the country to obtain citizenship by naturalization. However, the Muslims are kept out of this bill. This is against the concept of secularism and the right to equality guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Naturally, the Indian Muslims including the Bengali Muslims in Assam are opposing the bill because of its discriminatory provisions. There is, however, a misconception among the common people that with the enactment of this bill all the above category of immigrants except Muslims would automatically become Indian Citizen overnight. So in Assam, the Bengali Hindus are vociferous in their support of the bill whereas both the Assamese and the Bengali Muslims are totally against its enactment. The Assamese people apprehend that with the passage of this bill the stay of a large number of unwanted "illegal Bangladeshis' in Assam would be legalized. As usual, the unscrupulous politicians are misleading the common men in different ways according to their vested political interests and thus adding fuel to the fire.
At a time when the controversy over citizenship vis-à-vis NRC updating was simmering in Assam, the visit from 7th May to 9th May 2018 by 16-member Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the state reignited the suppressed sentiments of various communities. The resultant public rallies by the Bengali Hindus in the Barak Valley for early enactment of the bill and protest march by the Assamese in the Brahmaputra Valley against its enactment gave rise to a speculation of fresh realignments of the fluid socio-political equation involving the three major players Assamese, Bengali Hindu and Bengali Muslim in Assam.
Then on 13th October 2018, a bomb blast occurred at Guwahati, Assam, injuring four persons - just before the biggest annual festival Durga Puja of Bengali Hindus. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), a separatist outfit operating in Assam, ostensibly for protecting the interests of the indigenous Assamese people, claimed its responsibility. According to it, the blast was carried out in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and NRC updating exercise as it felt that the NRC will be used to settle non-Assamese people in the state.  Next, on the 1st November 2018, suspected ULFA terrorists gunned down five innocent Bengalis in Assam's Tinsukia district. The unprovoked killings gave rise to spontaneous protests by Bengalis not only in Assam but also in Kolkata and New Delhi.
Significantly, the targets selected by the ULFA point towards a definite game plan. Apparently, its ultimate aim is to prevent the Hindu-Muslim unity of the Bengalis. The separatists and their mentors are believed to be nervous at the fearful prospect of Hindu-Muslim unity threatening years of manipulated Assamese dominance in Assam. The recent violence is the manifestation of this panic. It seems that these fanatic Assamese are now hell-bent on creating an atmosphere of fear and mistrust in the minds of the Bengalis just to break the Concord. It would be interesting to see if the Bengali Hindus and the Bengali Muslims can ‘coalesce’ - a possibility envisaged by Myron Weiner as early as in 1978 .
 Page 25, Report of the Line System Committee (1938). It’s available at the National Library, Kolkata.
 Page 132, The Assamese Language Issue: An Analysis from Historical Perspective by Habib Fazlul Basid. https://www.ripublication.com/ijhss16/ijhssv6n2_02.pdf
 2014 February 14 issue of The Daily Star, the largest circulating daily English-language newspaper in Bangladesh. https://www.thedailystar.net/the-valley-of-sacrifice-11301
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. MyIndMakers is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of MyindMakers and it does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.