Allowed to fester

The problem is one of continuing influx of Bangladeshis to Assam, which has changed the demography of six districts. 

The exodus of people of the North East from Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune is reminiscent of August  16,1946, the ‘Direct Action Day,’ as announced by Mohammad Ali Jinnah which finally led to partition and the largest ever migration of population that took place in the history of the world. The trauma suffered by both countries and communities beggars description.

 However, just as the partition on the basis of religion did not solve the problem, the current situation in Assam has been allowed to fester for decades as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh continue to sneak into the region like extravasated blood. The ecchymosis of migration threatens to change the demography of the state which has risen in revolt. It was an ethnic conflict between the local residents and the immigrants then and the recent clashes between the Bodos and the Bangladeshi immigrants in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts were also ethnic. 

But Pakistan with its diabolical design successfully converted it into a communal issue. SMS/MMSes carrying hate messages and offensive images created national scare and those from the North East started returning home from different cities in droves. Union home secretary R K Singh has revealed that the bulk of the messages were uploaded in Pakistan and Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has spoken to his Pakistani counterpart in this regard. However, the statement of the home secretary that bulk of messages was uploaded in Pakistan creates confusion as he has not said that all messages were uploaded in Pakistan. It means that the remaining messages were uploaded somewhere else. It needs to be clarified.

Fingers have been raised against Badruddin Ajmal, chief of the All India United democratic Front, set up with the sole agenda of furthering the Muslim cause, for leading a disinformation campaign that Muslims were being targeted. His party got a huge success in the last Assembly elections and emerged as the main opposition party. He has been accused of motivating people to move into relief camps to prove how Muslims have become refuges in their own country. Nearly 5 lakh people are staying in relief camps at the moment which is biggest ever migration of population inside country. It is outnumbered only by the migration at the time of partition but that was across the border.

Violence erupted in Assam after July 6 when two student leaders were shot and injured by unidentified gunmen at Anthihara village in the Kokrajhar district. Another incident that triggered off violence on a large scale took place on July 20 in which four former members of the now defunct Bodoland Liberation Tigers were hacked to death at Joypur village. The main cause of clashes between the Bodo tribals and the immigrant Muslims is the control over land. Bodos claim themselves to be the original inhabitants of the land and Shankar Dev, the great Vaihnav saint, has called them ‘mlechchas.’ Bodos are deeply peeved over this nomenclature and demanded to ban the writings of Shankar Dev.

Continuing influx 

Anyway, the problem is the only one of the continuing influx of Bangladeshis to the state which has changed the demography of at least six districts which have Muslims in majority now. The problem of illegal migration at least into Assam was created by the British East India Company, who first brought the Bengali Muslim peasant from East Bengal to the Brahmaputra valley in the beginning of the 19th century.

 Within 30 years, the Bengali Muslim migrants had settled in four districts of Assam clearing forest lands and cultivating waste lands and multiplied so fast that the Census Commissioner C S Mullen wrote prophetically in his census report of 1931-“Whither there is vacant land, thither goes the Mymensinghia. Without fuss, without tumult, without undue trouble a population amounting to about half a million has transplanted itself from Bengal to Assam during the last 25 years. A time will come when Sibsagar district will remain the only district that the Assamese can call their own.”

 Realising the threat to demography, the government introduced the line system that designated the area in each district that could be settled by the immigrant Bengali Muslim. However, the Muslim League government headed by Sadullah Khan (1944-45) de-reserved grazing reserves in Kamrup, Darrang and Nowgong districts for settling East Bengali peasants, ostensibly for increasing paddy production. Lord Wavell described the settlements as – “Grow more Muslims, rather than grow more food.”  Jinnah’s private secretary had promised him to offer Assam on a platter as part of Pakistan.

Even after independence, the migration continued and the myopic government with an eye on the vote-bank did nothing to stop the migration. In fact, former Congress president D K Baruah had said that he would rule over the state with the help of Aali (Immigrant Muslims) and coolie (labourers from Bihar and other states who went there to work in tea gardens).

 When Rajiv Gandhi signed the Assam Accord with All Assam Students Union, it was decided that immigrants who came on or after March 25, 1971 would be identified and deported. The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act was enacted, but it was subsequently set aside by the Supreme Court. However, very few illegal immigrants were identified and only a miniscule percentage was deported.

 Now the Congress party asks where they should be deported when Bangladesh denies that they are its citizens and is not willing to accept them. But at least their voting rights should be withdrawn and be allowed to stay in the extreme cases on work permits. The problem of illegal migration must be addressed if peace is to have a permanent innings in Assam.

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