a saga of death and denial


I had written this article for Centre Right India (facebook, twitter, website) and present it here with some minor modifications and with an addendum wherein I have analysed the article by Banajit Hussain that appeared in The Hindu on 8th August, virtually dismissing the existence of Bangladeshi immigration in India. Aberrations may be pointed out. Thank You.

While Tarun Gogoi may dismiss that the entire state of Assam is not burning and only a few districts are it also goes on to highlight the fact that the three times chief minister (since 2001) of the north-eastern state thinks it all right to live in denial. Illegal Immigration of Bangladeshis is a historical problem for Assam and to dismiss the violence as an isolated conflict affecting only a few districts is outright silly. This matter is a cause of much concern and a source of constant strife between the migrants and the majority Assamese communities (Rajbongshis, Mishings, Rabhas, Tiwas, Boros, Axomiyas, Bengalis, etc). The political clout of the still-in-majority-but-god-knows-for-how-long primarily Hindu tribes is getting diminished by a flood of migrants from the neighboring country who are mostly Muslims. Some see this as a sinister ISI-backed design by anti-India forces to destabilize the insurgency hit North Eastern part of the country while still others as a grand plan of Bangladesh and Pakistan to Islamize India (Greater Bangladesh or greater Pakistan as they call it). Indigenous Muslims in Assam thus feel isolated in such conflicts because it is almost always impossible to distinguish between a genuine Bengali Muslim from India and one who has come from across the border. It is quite another thing that though the Urban class from Assam is quite vocal about illegal migration nothing much has transpired on ground. The trials and tribulations of Assam Agitation are still fresh in the minds of many but Assam continues to see an upsurge in its population of the Muslim Bengali and this has been a cause of much cultural and socio-economic conflict in this part of the country, where resources are limited for the teeming millions.

map of assam sowing the lower brahmaputra districts

I will not get into further historical anecdotes but the IMDT Act, 1983 which was struck down by honorable Supreme Court of India in 2005 (thanks to the efforts of former AGP legislator and incumbent BJP member Sarbananda Sonowal of Dibrugarh) virtually ensured that Bangladeshis who illegally entered India after 25th March, 1971 stay put in Assam and further consolidate their hold in the state. A window opening of more than two decades where the onus was on the accuser to prove that the accused was not from the country is more than a state could afford. I often think why was the Foreigner’s Act, 1946 amended to make it more immigration friendly when the Assam Agitation’s main purpose was to piggy bank on the discord between the indigenous and non-indigenous Assamese an push the illegal entrants out of the state? Perhaps a mutual understanding of sorts! First the Hiteshwar Saikia government in tandem with Indira Gandhi framed the IMDT Act in 1983 in wake of the Nellie Massacre (February, 1983) and two years down the line, in 1985, a lollipop was served which saw Asom Gana Parishad, led by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, coming to power in Assam. It is Nehruvian to frame laws for short-term benefits discounting national interest and the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act was no exception.

In the above historical context, it has become clear that Assam has reached the stage that no political party can dream to come to power without the help of the Bangladeshis and thus everyone continues to have a casual approach to this matter. Whether INC, AIUDF or the politically reduced AGP, all need the minorities to win seats. While some are emotionally attached to the Bangladeshis for cultural affinities or otherwise others might not be but ultimately it puts a question on the fight between limited resources between Assamese and the Bangladeshis. The Bodoland riots are a reflection of that angst, unaddressed by the Central and State government in the way it is required. There is absolutely no urgency felt by the incumbents at Dispur or at New Delhi to make illegal immigration an offence in Assam. Fencing of the border, albeit a slow and difficult task, empowering and managing the BSF efficiently and making stringent laws to curb down on infiltration are genuine demands by the citizenry of Assam concerned about their future and that of the state. Amidst this is the chasm shared by indigenous Muslims of Assam. They often bear the brunt of being either sympathetic towards their brethren from the other side of the border or plain confused or merely angry. So far the government continues to be indifferent to the plight of Assamese Hindu tribes this problem will hardly cool down.

map of dhubri showing the area in red where brahmaputra cuts into bangladesh

Coming to July, 2012, the riots in Kokrajhar and neighboring districts of Assam which have so far left at least 77 people dead, many missing and almost 4 lakh displaced (all approximate official figures only), is just a marker of the times to come. Tension was building up in Kokrajhar right from the first week of July when unidentified gunmen shot and killed two Muslims (leaders of All Bodoland Minority Students’ Union and the All Assam Minority Students’ Union) on 4th July at Magurmari which was followed by retaliatory killing of four former Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT) members on 19th July at Joypur. That resulted in an array of killing and counter killings that soon engulfed most of Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri. Lakhs of Bodos and Muslims were displaced without medical or ration facilities. Trains entering or moving out of North East were badly hit causing much inconvenience to the public at large while the center and the state government decided to wait and watch and slept over it for almost 4 days. A chronology of events wants answers to many baffling questions including the indifference of the Indian state over loss of lives and precautionary methodologies adopted in advance.

4th July: Two minority student union leaders killed in Magurmari by unidentified gunmen

19th July: Two more minority students were lynched by unidentified gunmen. People fail to identify the miscreants and tension simmers in the area.

20th July: Four former BLT members killed at Joypur by armed Muslims in retaliation

23rd July: PM Manmohan Singh instructs CM Tarun Gogoi to do whatever it takes to restore peace

24th July: Stone pelting at Guwahati bound Rajdhani Express by miscreants at Srirampur railway station (Kokrajhar district)

24th July: Centre deploys paramilitary forces and 13 columns of the Indian Army

24th July: Amidst continuing violence, shoot-at-sight orders issued in Kokrajhar

25th July: Indian Army conducts flag marches

26th July: Shoot-at-sight order extended to an indefinite period in Kokrajhar and night-curfews imposed in Chirang and Dhubri districts

26th July: CM Tarun Gogoi finally visits Kokrajhar after a delay of so many days (which raises important question over the reason for such laxity) and announced Rs 6 lakh as compensation to the closest kin of those who were dead and assured that people who were rendered homeless or displaced would be provided new houses at government expenses. He also assured that peace would soon return to the violence-affected areas. Besides the clichés nothing concrete came out and we perfectly understand why

28th July: PM Manmohan Singh visits Kokrajhar and said he was closely working with the state government to provide a sense of security to all affected areas and to ensure that they can go back to their houses in the knowledge that their lives and livelihood are secure. Singh said Rs 2 lakh would be given to the next of kin of those who died and Rs 50,000 to the injured. He announced Rs 100 crore for relief and rehabilitation of the affected people in the six affected districts, Rs 100 crore as Special Plan assistance for development programmes in the affected areas and another Rs 100 crore under the Indira Awaas Yojana. Rs 30,000 each would be given to those, whose houses were completely damaged, Rs 20,000 under the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund to those whose houses were partially damaged. The prime minister ordered an inquiry committee to be set up to look into the violence and directed the state government to provide security to the affected people so that they can go back home. Much like the CM of Assam, Manmohan’s visit was high on political rhetoric and less on substance. If money could buy peace then the world would have been a much peaceful place but sadly it doesn’t

28th July: Tarun Gogoi said that the late arrival of central forces, including the Army, led to the spread of clashes in the State. So the buck stops nowhere when it comes to taking responsibilities

It is quite clear from the above that the response from the State and the Centre has been awfully late and merely in announcing cash discounts to the affected most of whom will have to undergo bureaucratic hassles as and when peace gets restored which is not the solution to this problem. Not once did, either the PM or the CM, touch upon the issue of illegal immigration and the tensions thereof. A fact-finding team from BJP, led by Vijay Goel, did touch upon the issue but the party hardly has a voice in the state. It said, “Timely action could have been taken, but the State government failed to assess and control the situation because of its vote-bank politics.” It also pointed that Illegal migration was at the heart of the problem, as the Assam government neither bothered to prepare the National Register of Citizens nor identified the illegal migrants, especially Muslims from Bangladesh and asked the border with Bangladesh to be sealed.” Most political parties and journalists pounced on the BJP labeling their stand reeking of political opportunism. Understandingly so! Some journalists and a large section of the minority community on the contrary even said that the bogey of Bangladeshi immigration is a hyperbole! Sibalism is making inroads.

Vast stretches of the Assam-Bangladesh border are porous and somewhere it is almost impossible to have fencing, especially where the mighty Brahmaputra cuts into the neighboring state in Dhubri. Constant and closely monitored guarding, adoption of scientific patrolling in the border areas, efficient intelligence gathering, proficient maintenance of the National Register of Citizens are some of the ways by which infiltration can be checked but it requires strong political will which is hard to come by in a state which depends majorly on who the Bangladeshis vote and so far that happens it’s only a matter of time before a similar event erupts and the Assamese society gets further divided on lines of religion and a communal fire engulfs the whole state leaving no room for Mr. Tarun Gogoi to indulge in wordplay.

Meanwhile, media’s role has been hardly surprising. For the first week it tried to suppress the story but in today’s world of active citizenry on social media it is hard to fool people and hide facts or present them in the desired way to suit political or corporate agendas. Unethical comparisons were made to allegedly larger riots in India as if riots are a commodity requiring attention only when casualties are of a particular scale. (In reality, riots are to be reported when it happens in a particular state.) When it became clear that they can no longer hide it – when casualties kept mounting up, reports began appearing in newspapers from as late as 23rd July, hitting headlines only a day later. Journalists kept inflating the agony of the Muslims while downplaying the issue of illegal infiltration or the Bodo dilemma and suffering. The Hindu kept on harping how Muslims who have been living there for ages (didn’t mention for how long) were targeted. The problems of the Bodos, slowly being driven to a minority status were ignored and they were almost always referred to as “militants.”

are all these ancestors of early migrants mr banajit hussain?

Kokrajhar continues to boil and while the media continues to downplay the event and so does the central and state government it is for the aam junta at large to decide the course of their land free from alien encroachment. It must continue pushing its governing bodies for sincerity in identifying genuine Indian citizens and pushing out illegal ones so that the fight for resources is legitimate and doesn’t spiral down to a black hole because as we clearly see the blame will not be put on the responsible parties (the Indian National Congress in this case) but made into a general issue of how all political parties are the same and Indians themselves are apathetic to concerns of the poor Bangladeshis who provide cheap labor ignoring the fact that they indulge in population explosion, demographic change, cultural change, social tensions, land grabbing, arson n crime besides being a threat to national integrity.

Most of the articles I read in newspapers and newsmagazines were their usual self saying the humanitarian crisis needs to be contained, both Hindu Bodos and Muslims Bengalis (from Bangladesh) are equally to be blamed, Bodos must not forget their violent past, Muslims Bengalis have often not adhered to law and order themselves but what struck me hard was an article by some former scholar Banajit Hussain who puts Kapil Sibal to shame (of zero loss theory fame in 2G Scam) when he dismisses illegal Bangladeshi immigration as a bogey and goes on to present an analysis of Kokrajhar’s growth model to imply that all Muslims in Assam are descendants of early settlers, since circa 1901. Phew!

Banajit Hussain first says that in the period of 1901 to 1941, Assam’s population increased from 3.3 million (assuming all of them to be indigenous) to around 6.7 million of which Muslims comprised some 1.7 million which was way beyond the projected figure of 0.9 million (assuming the state grew in sync with the national figure of 75%). The additional 0.8 million Muslims he says were peasants who migrated from Bangladesh and occupied many parts of lower Assam, majorly Goalpara where their population in the span of 1901-1931 stood at 0.5 million. He then asks the Election commissioner of India, Harishankar Brahma, himself a Bodo, where are the descendants of those early settlers? I mean, why ask the question to him? They are very much there thriving in Assam and multiplying and bringing more of their kind. Mr Brahma merely said that illegal Bangladeshis (taking into the period since India became independent and not a loony 1901-1941 Mr Hussain talks of instead) are behind the (Kokrajhar) violence, and that this stream of migration into Assam started during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mr Hussain prefers to ignore his assertions and understandably so. Migration of Bangladeshis into India has been happening since time immemorial and what Mr Hussain wrote is simply an assertion of that fact though he actually wanted to deny it. I mean the early settlers formed a base in Assam all right but they breed like what to ensure that their growth of population remained well above the national average ever since I have known (read the growth model from 1971 to 2001). The 2001-2011 growth chart would be no exception.

Let me break it down for the sake of clarity. Mr Hussain talks of 1901-41 when Muslims grew alarmingly in Assam but India wasn’t independent then. Mr Brahma talked of illegal immigration in the span of 1960s and 1970s of independent India. Mr Hussain says they (the ones from 1960s and 1970s) are not migrants but descendants of early settlers. Ok! Assuming the base of even 1971 weren’t Muslims then supposed to grow at the national average (since that is the hypothesis taken by Mr Hussain) and not by a margin of almost 25% greater in the period since then. Mr Hussain can wittingly assume the national growth to extrapolate Muslim population in pre-independence times but prefers to ignore the growth percentage after the liberation of Bangladesh or is he poor with percentages?

In the earlier paragraphs he cries that people assume that entire Muslim population in lower Assam is illegal. I mean does he assume himself to be the only smart person on earth or does he follow dimwits like himself? If he had cared to follow right wing groups he would notice that it’s precisely them who have cared to segregate the fact that in the melee of violence indigenous Assamese Bengali Muslims are also suffering but they prefer to ignore it and cry bias because that paints them as victims when actually the largest noise against illegal Bangladeshi immigration should have been made by indigenous Assamese Muslims themselves. They ignore that and prefer to write tepid articles of bias and all that blah and rants against Hindu right-wing. Clichéd!

Towards the end Mr Hussain gives an example of Kokrajhar saying that population base of Muslims in the state has been only marginally rising ignoring the fact that the district has seen a continuous chain of violence and Muslims have been forced to flee from the district to other areas where the Assamese populace has been vocal but far more accommodating. In any case they comprise some 20% of Kokrajhar’s population as per 2001 but the growth has reduced in 2001-2011 implying the plight of Muslims from the district. He wouldn’t care to examine the neighboring districts of Goalpara and Dhubri because that would expose him out right. The rest of the article is as hogwash as it can be.

So in a nutshell, his article further reinforces that Muslims either breed in huge numbers or continue migrating into India and in districts where they try to consolidate their numbers against the majority they are pushed out and then these kinds of scholars cry foul by publishing bogus articles never caring to concentrate their energy on the fact that millions of Bangladeshis in India is a glaring reality, no matter how much they cry. Period!

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