LS Tejaswi Surya, Bangalore

More than 40 people killed, over a lakh people displaced, hundreds of villages in flames, trains and bus services disrupted, large scale rioting, army called in to control the situation, curfew imposed in the violence-hit districts, refugees overflowing at relief camps, state government clueless, central government directionless, political leaders in denial of the real cause of the problem and the main stream media conveniently overlooking the real problem  – this is the grim and worrisome picture of Assam from the past 3 days.

Violence is not new to Assam. Neither is mainland India’s apathy towards Assam and our north-eastern states. For Assam to figure in our momentary discussion and debates, there has to be either a large scale violence or a natural disaster of epic proportions. But unlike the earlier cases of violence and rioting, this week’s disturbances are a clear warning of a dangerous and complex security problem looming large. What is disturbing, is the fact that neither our political parties – barring the BJP – nor our national media is making an attempt at acknowledging and understanding the real problem plaguing the strategically important north-eastern state – the problem of the large scale infiltration by Bangladeshis.

Ask any layman from Assam for the real cause of the disturbances and you will get an unadulterated answer – the unabated infiltration of Bangladeshis into the state and more shockingly, the covert support of the political leaders to the infiltrators to build up a large vote bank.  This week’s clashes between the Bodos and the immigrant Bangladeshi Muslims is a culmination of half a century long design by Bangladesh and Pakistan and the opportunistic mischief by our political parties.

That this infiltration is a part of a larger design is evident from what Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had said, even before the formation of Bangladesh in 1971 –

 “Our controversy with India is not on the problem of Kashmir only. In Assam, there are some Muslim majority districts which should have been given to Pakistan at the time of Partition, these districts were wrongly included in India..”.

If that does not suffice, the words of Mujibur Rahman are more revealing –

 “The population of East Bengal is increasing at alarming speed. The inhabitants face acute shortage of land. The Bengalis need land which can be given by Assam. Assam abounds in good forests and beautiful scenes of nature. If some inhabitants of Bangladesh migrate to Assam and settle there permanently, they will be very happy. Actually Assam should have been included in East Pakistan”.

But these words, again did not receive the kind of attention they warranted. More importantly, what Henry Kissinger foresaw, decades ago could have served to be a warning to us. He had predicted –

“The inevitable emergence of Bangladesh – which we had postulated- presented India with fierce long term problems. For Bangladesh was in effect East Bengal, separated only by religion from India’s most fractious and most separatist state. West Bengal. They share language, tradition, culture, and above all, a volatile national character. Whether it turned nationalist or radical, Bangladesh would over time accentuate India’s centrifugal tendencies. It might set a precedent for the creation of other Moslem states, carved this time out of India. Once it was independent, its Moslem heritage might eventually lead to a rapprochement with Pakistan.”

Sadly, we did not attach much importance to his words either.

However, there were a few thoughtful Indians who had raised this issue at both national and international platforms. Dr. Nagendra Singh, India’s representative in the Sixth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, while speaking on the Definition of ‘Aggression’, made a statement, wherein he said: –
“……………..The first consideration, in the view of the Indian Delegation, is that aggression must be comprehensively defined… Aggression can be of several kinds such as direct or indirect, armed in nature or even without the use of any arms whatsoever.  There can be even direct aggression without arms….
For example, there could be a unique type of bloodless aggression from a vast and incessant flow of millions of human beings forced to flee into another State.  If this invasion of unarmed men in totally unmanageable proportion were to not only impair the economic and political well being of the receiving victim State but to threaten its very existence, I am afraid, Mr. Chairman, it would have to be categorized as aggression…”
(Vol. 11 (1971) Indian Journal of International Law p. 724).

Even the the Law Commission of India in its 175th Report on the Foreigners (Amendment) Bill, 2000 (submitted in September 2000) dealt with this issue. While noting that entry of illegal migrants and other undesirable aliens into India posed a grave threat to our democracy and the security of India, especially for the eastern part of the country and Jammu and Kashmir, the Law Commission observed that influx of migrants from Bangladesh remained unabated and had acquired frightening proportions.

Lamentably, the governments of the day did little to check the constant infiltration of Bangladeshis into India. In fact, rather than making attempts to fence the long and porous Indo- Bangladesh border and deport the infiltrators, the government passed the Illegal Migrants Determination Tribunals (IMDT) Act, which became a great impediment in deporting the infiltrators.

The Supreme Court, while striking down the IMDT Act as unconstitutional, quoted these figures from the Directorate of Census, Government of India, which mirror the startling levels of infiltration –

ASSAM – Growth in Population

Years Muslim % Hindu %
1951-61 38.37 33.20
1961-71 30.98 37.18
1971-91 77.42 41.89

The Supreme Court further explained –

“The chart given above clearly indicates that Muslim population of Assam has shown a rise of 77.42% in 1971-1991, whereas Hindu population has risen by nearly 41.89% during the said period…. The growth of Muslim population has been emphasized in the previous paragraph to indicate the extent of illegal migration from Bangladesh to Assam because as stated earlier, the illegal migrants coming into India after 1971 have been almost exclusively Muslims.”

The Supreme Court also made specific note of a few districts in its judgment. Ironically, they are the very same districts that are reeling under the Bodo-immigrant clashes today. The SC observed-

There are three Districts in Assam, which has borders with Bangladesh viz. Karimganj, Cachar and Dhubri.  All India percentage of decadal increase in population during 1981-1991 is 23.85% whereas the Border districts of Assam namely, Karimganj shows decadal increase of 42.08%, Cachar district 47.59% and Dhubri district 56.57%.  From the above it can be assumed that the infiltration of foreigners from Bangladesh contributed significantly to the sharp increase of population in Assam.”

Not just the Supreme Court of the country, even the then Governor of Assam, Gen SK Sinha, in his report to the President of India on 8th November 1998 had extensively spoken about the infiltration problem. He warned of the disastrous consequences in these words –

1. The unabated influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh into Assam and the consequent perceptible change in the demographic pattern of the State has been a matter of grave concern.  It threatens to reduce the Assamese people to a minority in their own State, as happened in Tripura and Sikkim.
2. Illegal migration into Assam was the core issue behind the Assam student movement.  It was also the prime contributory factor behind the outbreak of insurgency in the State.  Yet we have not made much tangible progress in dealing with this all-important issue.
3. There is a tendency to view illegal migration into Assam as a regional matter affecting only the people of Assam.  It’s more dangerous dimensions of greatly undermining our national security is ignored.  The long cherished design of Greater East Pakistan/Bangladesh, making in-roads into strategic land link of Assam with the rest of the country, can lead to severing the entire landmass of the Northeast, with all its rich resources from the rest of the country.  They will have disastrous strategic and economic consequences”

He further elaborated the dangers posed by the infiltrators to the indigenous population –

 These immigrants are hardworking and are prepared to work as cheap labour and domestic help for lower remuneration than the local people. This makes them acceptable. Moreover, with corruption being all-pervasive, corrupt officials are bribed to provide help…..

As a result of population movement from Bangladesh, the spectre looms large of the indigenous people of Assam being reduced to a minority in their home State.  Their cultural survival will be in jeopardy, their political control will be weakened and their employment opportunities will be undermined…. ”

These reasons are precisely the cause for today’s clashes – the snatching away of land, employment and economic opportunities and the cultural subjugation of the local Assamese people. What we are witnessing is a mere backlash by a people fighting for their socio-economic and cultural survival in their own homeland. This is what Bhargabi Baruah, a law student from Naogaon – one of the highest infiltrated districts of Assam, has to say – “Most of the jobs in the government is taken by Bangladeshis. You find them in schools, colleges, courts, markets – practically everywhere. There are certain areas which are forcibly occupied by the infiltrators in the market places, so the entire local market is in their hands. They are also employed in tea estates and other agricultural activities. It is impossible to find a single rickshaw driver who is an Assamese. Sometimes I end up wondering if I am in Assam or in Bangladesh- that is the scale of infiltration. That day is not far when we might end up as refugees in our own land.”

What Bhargabi is saying is in no way an exaggeration. Today, there are more than 4 crore Bangladeshi infiltrators in the country! The significant rise in the population of the Bangladeshis has naturally resulted in their political dominance in the state. The infiltrators are today, the decisive voters in more than 50% of the Assembly constituencies in both Assam and West Bengal – a vote bank that the ‘secular’ parties are jealously guarding.  It won’t be a surprise if these voters will elect one of their own – an infiltrator – as their MP and MLA tomorrow. We will then be the only country in the world to have foreign infiltrators as our constitutional representatives. Our liberalists and secularists can then pat their own backs on having set a new benchmark of liberalism and secularism for the rest of the world to emulate!

In spite of such alarmingly high levels of danger posed by the infiltration, we continue to stay in a state of denial. Successive governments in Assam with the Center looking the other way have done nothing to tackle this issue head-on. Even after this week’s incalculable crises, our reactions and response remain the same – denial and complacency.

A television debate last night on a national TV channel was a clear indication of this. There were four panelists – a senior journalist, a former General of the Army, a spokeswoman from the BJP and the President of the Muslim Political Council of India. The journalist acknowledged the fact of the large scale influx; the former General of the Army explained the grave security threat posed by the infiltration; the BJP spokeswoman placed before the panel a wealth of statistics from various governmental reports on the scale of migration; the President of the Muslim Political Council of India plainly denied the presence of any infiltrators in the state. He did not stop there, he went on to lament on the poor condition of Muslims in the country and accused Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi of neglecting the welfare of Muslims in Assam – a clever ploy to give a communal colour to the issue. With that, what had to be an objective debate on an issue of prime national importance was calculatedly made a communal issue. The mischief was done – all that was remaining was for the liberal–secularist brigade to take on from there.

By looking at the state of affairs in Assam, one can say that there is not much hope left for the indigenous people of Assam. We need to understand that what we are witnessing today in Assam is not merely a humanitarian crisis, it is more of an alarm of a complex security crisis waiting at the corner. If we do not heed to these alarm calls now, that day is not too far when we will witness another exodus of the indigenous people of Assam from their homeland – just like we mutely witnessed the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits.

The words of the 19th century philosopher Augustus Comte are ominous in today’s circumstances – “Demography holds the key in a Democracy”.

Will we ever understand this all important lesson?

















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