The raging violence in
Territorial Autonomous Districts, Khokrajhar and Chirang (July 2012) has shaken
the conscience of the nation. The Prime Minister has rushed to the area and
called it as a Kalank, a shame for the nation. He also reprimanded the Chief
Minister from his own party for the violence. There was some inexcusable delay
in deploying the army in the area, which resulted in worsening of the issue. In
this case of violence while on one side there is a great loss to the lives of
people, still the larger tragedy is that lakhs of people have been displaced from
their areas, home and hearth, just around the sowing season. The refugee camps
housing them are grossly inadequate and not having enough facilities so far.
Still at another level this violence has been presented to be one between Bodos
and ‘illegal Bangala Deshi infiltrators’ majority of whom happen to be Muslims.
|Courtesy: India Today|
While this is not the first time that such violence has hit
impact wise, this violence is one of the major tragedies of the area. The
strife between ethnic groups and Muslim minority, that are labeled as ‘Bangala
Deshi Infiltrators’ has been going on from last many decades. The local
issues have been given the color as if the problems are due to the illegal
migrations. It is propagated that the time bomb is ticking. Such a propaganda
is accompanied by the slogan ‘ Assam
for Assamese’, this is very similar to the one floated by the parochial Shiv
Sena in Maharashtra, which has been doing violence on the slogan of ‘ Maharashtra for Marathis’. The roots of this Assam conflict
have been in the society, which have been ignored by the state and central
The first major catastrophe in this direction occurred when All Assam Students Union started the agitation on the issue of electoral rolls, to exclude the ‘Bangla Deshi infiltrators’ from the lists. This was backed up by BJP through and through. During this time a massive violence was unleashed against the minorities, the Nellie massacre, when over three thousand Muslims were done to death within a matter of few hours. In the wake of these; two things happened. One, All Assam Students Union AASU, now Assam Gana Parishad, came to power, and two and inquiry commission in to Nellie massacre, Tribhuban Das Tiwary Commission was instituted. AGP, after coming to power dropped all the criminal cases against the culprits of Nellie massacre and the report of Tiwary Commission was not made public.
A decade later, series of violence took place, the victims of which are still living a pathetic life in the refugee camps. During early part of first decade of this century, the demand of Bodos was met with the formation of Bodo Territorial Autonomous Districts after the treaty with Bodos. The districts covered in this territory are Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalgiri. As per agreement the Bodo militants were to surrender their arms which they did not do, with the result many of them continued intimidating others. The percentage of Bodos in these districts varies from 22 to 29% according to different estimates. The others are the Santhals, Rajbangshis, Adibashis and Muslims. Despite being in the minority, with full powers in the region, the Bodos initiated policies where by non Bodos have been neglected in different aspects of their lives. The condition of these groups is very bad and they are against the formation of Bodo Territorial Council. In this area, the present carnage was preceded by the rumor that people from Bangla Desh have come with large number of armaments. This got triggered into violence leading to the present tragedy. The Chief Minister of
denied any such ‘foreign hand’. The real issue has been the pressure on land
and jobs due to the natural rise in population over a period of time. This
pressure has been deflected by saying that it’s all due to the Bangla Deshi
infiltrators, a phrase very popular all over the country and more so in Assam.
True, the overall lopsided development has caused the pressures on employment
all over the country. In a place like Mumbai, this got presented as being due
to immigration of non Marathis into Maharashtra.
While in Assam
the added part of parallel politics is that the problem is projected on to the
foreigners. Is that true?
The Bengali speaking people in
Assam are a
sizeable part of the population. Amongst these also the majority are Muslims.
Have they come recently or have they come to infiltrate for political motive?
Have they come during last few decades? The myth of Bangla deshi immigrants has
been the major plank of communalists all the time. It has become a sort of
‘social common sense’ all over the country. This pet theme of Bangla Deshi
immigrant is quite a myth to a large extent. While some immigration of Bengalis
began in last quarter of 19th century, the seeds of this issue were sown by the
British in the first decade of twentieth century. That was the time when
neighboring Bengal was over populated and
politically a very aware state. Famines were one of the symptoms of
overpopulation of Bengal. Assam was
grossly under populated not giving much revenue to British. The British
resorted to ‘Human plantation program’, where by the people from Bengal were
encouraged to migrate to Assam,
with lots of incentives. British also wanted to pursue their core policy of
Divide and rule here’ so they allowed this migration with a ‘line system’,
where by the immigrants and the natives were kept in separate areas. This
migration of Bengali speaking Muslims went on for quite some time and by 1930s
a good chunk of Assamese population was constituted by these Muslims. In post
independence India the
Muslim population of Assam
has shown decadal growths which match with other states of India. (Source:
‘Muslims in India
by S.U.Ahmed’, based on analysis of Census data)
One is very clear about the census figures of
and the number of Muslims during that period. During the Pakistan army atrocities in East
Pakistan many a Bangla Deshi did emigrate. After that also the
economic migration might be going on as is the case in most of the regions. The
question is how this immigration is looked at. For example the immigration to India by huge number of people from Nepal is never
looked down or demonized. Even the Hindus’ coming from Bangla Desh were treated
as immigrants, while Muslims coming from Bangla Desh were seen as infiltrators,
threat to security of India
and what not. In whole of North Eastern states trade is by and large controlled
by Marwaris from Rajasthan. There are good numbers of Biharis also in Assam.
The BJP associates’ propaganda about the ‘infiltrators’ is based on political calculations, not on reality. As in other parts of the country they have used medieval history to demonize minorities here they are using the Bangladeshi factor. The worst part of the scenario is that even National Council of Churches in
India spokesperson has also been so taken in by
this propaganda that he went on to say the Bangal Deshi infiltrators are
occupying 10000 square kilometers of land in Assam! From the time of India’s partition Assam had a good deal of Muslim
population. Later of course some migration did take place from Bangla Desh for
economic reasons, it sounds to be large as after the carving out of other six
states from Assam, the
majority of Muslims remained in Assam,
so percentage wise it sounds larger.
The propaganda by communal forces about so call infiltration by Bangle Deshis has assumed huge proportions. It has become the part of the mind set in
it was also at the backdrop of many agitations in Assam. Surely the basic issue of
lack of development in Assam
has been deflected by political groups including communal groups as being the
issue of displacement of locals from their lands by infiltrators. Case of Assam has a mix
of Mumbai’s Shiv Sena politics, mixed with ‘communal-foreigner’ tones. The
issue has also been the one related to Adibashis, the ethnic component has also
been a part of the whole thing. Crucially right from Nellie to the present
violence, in which displacement is the most dominant factor, the infiltrator
propaganda has prepared the ground for carnage.
What is required today is to disarm those having arms of various types, to rehabilitate the refugees and to ensure that they are able to go back to their own areas to catch up with the sowing season. If this is not met, surely a bigger disaster of food deprivation is baying for all the year. What is also needed is that the myth of infiltrators is to be debunked for good by scholars and activists who have observed the pattern of population profile during last one century. The communal forces have misused this very word of Bangla Deshi infiltrator. And lastly the wounded psyche of communities needs to be healed by a process of dialogue and justice.